(Poem #17) The Way Through the Woods
They shut the road through the woods Seventy years ago. Weather and rain have undone it again, And now you would never know There was once a road through the woods Before they planted the trees. It is underneath the coppice and heath, And the thin anemones. Only the keeper sees That, where the ring-dove broods, And the badgers roll at ease, There was once a road through the woods. Yet, if you enter the woods Of a summer evening late, When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools Where the otter whistles his mate. (They fear not men in the woods, Because they see so few) You will hear the beat of a horse's feet, And the swish of a skirt in the dew, Steadily cantering through The misty solitudes, As though they perfectly knew The old lost road through the woods . . . . But there is no road through the woods.
This is a totally uncharacteristic example of Kipling's work - it is imbued with a delicate wistfulness and a misty twilit atmosphere very much at variance with the drive and energy of such better known poems as 'East and West', 'If' or 'Danny Deever'. It is nonetheless a lovely piece, and would rank among my favourite Kipling poems if I ever felt myself able to make a list. Biographical Note: Much of his childhood was unhappy. Kipling was taken to England by his parents at the age of six and was left for five years at a foster home at Southsea ... He then went on to the United Services College at Westward Ho, north Devon, a new, inexpensive, and inferior boarding school. It haunted Kipling for the rest of his life--but always as the glorious place celebrated in Stalky & Co. (1899) and related stories: an unruly paradise in which the highest goals of English education are met amid a tumult of teasing, bullying, and beating. Kipling returned to India in 1882 and worked for seven years as a journalist. His parents, although not officially important, belonged to the highest Anglo-Indian society, and Rudyard thus had opportunities for exploring the whole range of that life. All the while he had remained keenly observant of the thronging spectacle of native India, which had engaged his interest and affection from earliest childhood. He was quickly filling the journals he worked for with prose sketches and light verse. When Kipling returned to England in 1889, his reputation had preceded him, and within a year he was acclaimed as one of the most brilliant prose writers of his time. His fame was redoubled upon the publication of the verse collection 'Barrack-Room Ballads' in 1892. Not since the English poet Lord Byron had such a reputation been achieved so rapidly. When the poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson died in 1892, it may be said that Kipling took his place in popular estimation. -- excerpts from the Encyclopaedia Britannica Criticism: Kipling's poems and stories were extraordinarily popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, but after World War I his reputation as a serious writer suffered through his being widely viewed as a jingoistic imperialist. As a poet he scarcely ranks high, although his rehabilitation was attempted by so distinguished a critic as T.S. Eliot. His verse is indeed vigorous, and in dealing with the lives and colloquial speech of common soldiers and sailors it broke new ground. But balladry, music-hall song, and popular hymnology provide its unassuming basis; and even at its most serious--as in "Recessional" (1897) and similar pieces in which Kipling addressed himself to his fellow countrymen in times of crisis--the effect is rhetorical rather than imaginative. -- Encyclopaedia Britannica 1907 Nobel Laureate in Literature ... ... in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author. (from The Nobel Prize Internet Archive, which gave no source. <http://nobelprizes.com/nobel/literature/1907a.html> ) Martin p.s. No, this is not by any means the first and last this list shall see of Kipling.