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1998-01-03 14:09:30


The 1919 Poem That Said This Would Happen



In 1919, the year after World War I ended (9 million dead) and the Asian flu ended (20 million dead), Rudyard Kipling wrote "The Gods of the Copybook Headings." Copybooks have been used by educators to teach students since the days of the pharaohs. In copybooks, the truths of one generation are passed down to the next.

The truths in Kipling's poem have been forgotten. The gods of the marketplace reign supreme today. But the older truths will reassert themselves nonetheless. Soon.

* * * * * * * *

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,

I make my proper prostrations to the gods of the market place.

Peering through reverent fingers, I watch them flourish and fall.

But the gods of the copybook headings, I notice, outlast them all.

+ + +

We were living in trees when they met us, and showed us each in turn

That water would certainly wet us and fire would certainly burn.

But we found them lacking uplift, vision, and depth of mind.

So we left them to teach the gorillas as we followed the march of mankind.

+ + +

We moved as the spirit listed; they never altered their pace,

Being neither cloud- nor wind-borne like the gods of the market place.

But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come

That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

+ + +

With the hopes that our world is built on, they were utterly out of touch.

They denied that the moon is Stilton; they denied that she's even Dutch.

They denied that wishes were horses, they denied that pigs had wings.

So we worshipped the gods of the market, who promised these beautiful things.

+ + +

When the Cambrian measures were forming, they promised perpetual peace.

They swore, if we lay down our weapons, the wars of the tribes would cease.

But when we disarmed they sold us, and delivered us bound to our foe.

And the gods of the copybook headings said, "Stick to the devil you know."

+ + +

On the first Feminian sandstones, they promised the fuller life,

Which started by loving our neighbour, and ended by loving his wife.

'til our women had no more children, and our men lost reason and faith.

And the gods of the copybook headings said, "The wages of sin is death."

+ + +

In the Caboniferous Epoch, they promised abundance for all

By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul.

And though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy.

And the gods of the copybook headings said, "If you don't work, you die."

+ + +

Then the gods of the market tumbled, and their smooth tounged 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.

+ + +

That as it will be in the future, it was at the dawn of man.

Only four things certain since social progress began:

That a dog return to its vomit, and a sow returns to her mire,

And the burnt fool's bandaged finger, goes wobbling back to the fire.

+ + +

When all this has been accomplished, and a brave new world begins,

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

As surely as water will wet us, and as surely as fire will burn,

The gods of the copybook headings with terror and slaughter return.


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