from “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” – Rudyard Kipling

NSRW Rudyard Kipling

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Our friendly dentist sent this today, a reminder from days gone by.

“….Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew

And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true

That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more. 

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,

And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!”

 – Rudyard Kipling, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”, 1919

Rudyard Kipling from John Palmer

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About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
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One Response to from “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” – Rudyard Kipling

  1. Pete says:

    Modern readers may not immediately grasp what the title of this famous poem means, but any reasonably-well educated student in Kipling’s time would have understood immediately. Every student was then issued a copybook – a lined writing tablet, often with an aphorism, folk saying, or other bit of wisdom printed at the top. The student would practice cursive writing by writing the phrase repeatedly down the length of the page. The “gods” of the copybook headings is a shorthand means of referring to the wisdom of the ages, the eternal truths about human nature and existence. The poem has a rather dark tone, especially in the last lines, which may refer to WWI, just concluded when the poem was written (in 1919), a conflict in which Kipling’s son John was killed. “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” also contains some social commentary (not shown) about ill-advised social engineering schemes then faddish in England, which ran counter to the “eternal verities” of human nature. Then, as now, attempts to circumvent human nature eventually run aground on the rocks of reality. There can be no utopia, no heaven on earth; we humans are not made for perfect things.

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