The Gods of the Copybook Headings

Elaine Diane Taylor – The Gods of the Copybook Headings
words | Rudyard Kipling
music | Elaine Diane Taylor
©2009 Intelligentsia Media SOCAN/ASCAP. Available on  iTunes.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings” is a poem written by Nobel prize winning author Rudyard Kipling in 1919.

Kipling lived during the decline of the British Empire, and wrote about the changes he observed and the future as he predicted it would occur. He is well known for his short stories and series of poems, including the poem The Jungle Book, which was adapted into the Disney animated classic.

He wrote The Gods of the Copybook Headings just after World War I had ended. He predicted what would happen if society continued to worship the market. He predicted this before the world saw the Roaring 20s, or the Great Depression, or World War II, when his prophetic poem came true – when ‘terror and slaughter returns’.

Copybooks are school books used by children worldwide to learning how to write. At the top of each page is a wise saying, followed by blank guide lines where the child copies these saying again and again.

Kipling believed that if a society turned from the basic wisdom and courtesies learned from these headings, and instead worshiped the material gain of the marketplace, that society would fail, bringing war and suffering.

It’s a somber poem.

It is so relevant today as history gears up to repeat itself. Currencies and empires all fall down.

I wrote the music to Kipling’s poem, and then recorded it live off the floor for emotional impact. This means I recorded it live from start to finish in one take, playing the guitar and singing at the same time. I had to start over numerous times because I’d be crying by the time I reached the end, and couldn’t finish the last few words. It foretells terrible things.

The song replaces minor words in the poem in a few places for clarity, as it meant more to me at the time to bring out Kipling’s emotional intent, as opposed to exact words that may not be understood at this time in history. For example, I used the words “blue cheese” instead of “stilton”.

I believe history is a wheel, as groups of people throughout history tend to do similar things given similar situations. People are fundamentally the same no matter when and where we live. I would love to believe that we learn from looking at the past, but that seems to be slow going.

I tend to look at the finer things in people and life, and hold on for the sunny silver lining. But there are times to prepare for a deluge, as wave upon wave of past lessons-not-learned smash the shoreline again and again.

Perhaps we can stop it this time.

And if there isn’t the power to change the course of the storm, at least we might prepare to move aside and lay low when we observe the clouds forming.

History is a wheel. ‘Round and ’round we go.

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