Rudyard Joseph Kipling, born in Bombay, India, on December 30, 1865, made a significant contribution to English Literature in various genres including poetry, short story and novel. His birth took place in an affluent family with his father holding the post of Professor of Architectural Sculpture at the Bombay School of Art and his mother coming from a family of accomplished women.
He spent his early childhood in India where an ‘aya’(1) took care of him and where under her influence he came in direct contact with the Indian culture and traditions.
His parents decided to send him to England for education and so at the young age of five he started living in England with Madam Rosa, the landlady of the lodge he lived in, where for the next six years he lived a life of misery due to the mistreatment — beatings and general victimization — he faced there. Due to this sudden change in environment and the evil treatment he received, he suffered from insomnia(2) for the rest of his life. This played an important part in his literary imagination (Sandison A. G.). His parents removed him from the rigidly Calvinistic foster home and placed him in a private school at the age of twelve. The English schoolboy code of honor and duty deeply affected his views in later life, especially when it involved loyalty to a group or a team.
Returning to India in 1882 he worked as a newspaper reporter and a part-time writer and this helped him to gain a rich experience of colonial life which he later presented in his stories and poems (Martinez, Gabriel A.). In 1886 he published his first volume of poetry, ‘Departmental Ditties’ and between 1887 and 1889 he published six volumes of short stories set in and concerned with the India he had come to know and love so well. When he returned to England he found himself already recognized and acclaimed as a brilliant writer. Over the immediately following years he published some of his most exquisite works including his most acclaimed poem “Recessional” and most famed novel “Kim”. In 1907 Kipling won the Nobel prize in literature in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterized his writings. Death of both his children, Josephine and John, deeply affected his life. Both these incidents left a profound impression on his life, which his works published in the subsequent years after their deaths displays. Between 1919 and 1932 he traveled intermittently, and continued to publish stories, poems, sketches and historical works though his output dwindled. As he grew older his works display his preoccupation with physical and psychological strain, breakdown, and recovery. In 1936, plagued by illness, he passed away into the world beyond, leaving behind a legacy that will live for centuries to come.
The Nobel Prize in Literature 1907
‘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.’
Kipling's works span over five decades, with Tennyson and Browning still writing and Hardy and Yeats unheard of, when his first work Schoolboy Lyrics hit the press (Page, Norman). He wrote during the period now known as the Victorian Age. According to English and Western Literature, conservatism, optimism and self-assurance marked the poetry of this age. Though Kipling's works achieved literary fame during his early years, as he grew older his woks faced enormous amount of literary criticism. His poems dealt with racial and imperialistic topics which attracted a lot of critics. Critics also condemned the fact that unlike the popular model of poetry, Kipling’ poetry did not have an underlying meaning to it and that interpreting it required no more than one reading. Maguills Critical Survey of Poetry indicates that some critics even attributed the qualities of coarseness and crudeness to his poetry. As Kipling grew older his poetry came under even more scrutiny and doubts began to arise about poetic abilities. These views of the critics come as a surprise due to the fact that even in face of his dwindling reputation in literary circles, his popularity among the masses persisted without change. In fact due to his ability to relate to the layman as well as the literary elite through his works, he joined a select group of authors who reached a worldwide audience of considerable diversity. Kipling's reputation started a revival course after T. S. Eliot's essay on his poetic works where Eliot describes Kipling's verse as “great verse” that sometimes unintentionally changes into poetry. Following Eliot's lead many other critics reanalyzed Kipling's verse and revived his poetic reputation to the merited level. In his lifetime Kipling went from the unofficial Poet Laureate of Great Britan to one of the most denounced poet in English Literary History. In contrast to the path his reputation took, Rudyard Kipling improved as a poet as his career matured and by the time of his death Kipling had compiled one of the most diverse collection of poetry in English Literature.
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