Acclaimed 19th-century writer Rudyard Kipling was born 150 years ago today. Best remembered for creating the Jungle Book children’s stories, Kipling was also a major poetry figure in the UK and India. During the first decade of the 20th-century, he earned high praise in literary circles, with Henry James once remarking, “Kipling strikes me personally as the most complete man of genius (as distinct from fine intelligence) that I have ever known.”
As times changed, so did Kipling’s legacy. His poem “The White Man’s Burden,” initially celebrated as an enlightened piece, soon came to be seen as pro-Empire propaganda. George Orwell, Kipling’s harshest critic, once called him “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting” and a “prophet of British imperialism.” Whether or not the famous poem was intended to praise or condemn Western imperialism is still up for debate.
Today, the Bombay-born writer remains both controversial and celebrated. Despite his imperialist-ties, recent decades have brought a reassessment of Kipling’s work and reputation: In his home country of India, many cite the author as an inspiration and in 1995, his poem “If—” topped the BBC’s list of greatest all time poems.
On the occasion of his 150th birthday, here’s a look back at some of Rudyard Kipling’s most memorable quotes:
The Light that Failed, 1891:
“We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”
“The Finest Story in the World,” 1891:
“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.”
“The Law of the Jungle,” 1895:
Now this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.
Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. Not only do words infect, egotize, narcotize, and paralyze, but they enter into and colour the minutest cells of the brain
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
Feature image via Poetry Foundation