Monday, 2 January 2012

365 Reasons To Be Proud To Be British: Kipling writes 'If'

January 2nd: The Jameson Raid of 1896 fails and later inspires Rudyard Kipling to write 'If', one of the most mawkish poems in English literature.

It graces the likes of over-wrought Powerpoint presentations, sports trailers on TV and the entrance to Centre Court. And it never fails to bring a little bit of sick up into my mouth when I read it.

Victorian spin-poetry at its worst. Jameson made a ballsup of the Transvaal raid yet was venerated as a hero upon his return. And as for rot such as this:

"If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
And never breathe a word about your loss"

That makes you a problem gambler, not a man.

As an ex-rugger-bugger I've always had a softer spot for Invictus:

"In the fell clutch of circumstance 
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance 
My head is bloody, but unbowed"

After all, there's only one version of 'If' that really resonates. That by Max Boyce.

Well, two other 'If's are rather splendid too. Steve Bell, possibly the best political cartoonist since the days of James Gilray, with his strip for the Grauniad,

and Robert McDowell's cinematic crowing glory. For many reasons, but especially for the line:

" There's only one thing you can do with a girl like this. Walk naked into the sea together as the sun sets. Make love once... Then die".

By Simon Johnson with No comments


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