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,
And the Gods of the Copybook Maxims, I notice, outlast them all.
We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision, and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach Gorillas while 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 usually word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its ice-field or Creation crashed at Rome.
With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch.
They denied the Moon was Stilton, they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshiped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
When the Cambrian marshes were forming, they promised perpetual peace,
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
And when we disarmed they sold us and delivered us bound to our foe
And the Gods of the Copybook Maxims said:—“Stick to the Devil you know.”
On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbor and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith.
And the Gods of the Copybook Maxims said:—“The Wages of Sin is Death.”
In the Carboniferous Epoch we were 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 would buy.
And the Gods of the Copybook Maxims said:—“If you don’t work you die.”
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 Maxims 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 the Larger Primates 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 after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
Where all men insist on their merits and no one desists from his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Maxims with terms and slaughters return!
—Rudyard Kipling, Harper’s Magazine (January 1920).
[First published in 1919 as “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.”]