The poetry of Rudyard Kipling in Soviet Russia.
The popularity of Kipling's poetry in the Soviet Union may well have seemed incongruous to an outsider. Having read very little of his work, I was certainly surprised to learn while interviewing the poet Mikhail Dudin in Leningrad early in 1990 that Kipling was very widely read and admired by poets of his generation: that is, the generation born at about the time of the First World War. Kipling's reputation among British non-readers of his work as a second-rate writer with embarrassing imperialist and racist views hardly seems to make him suitable reading-matter for people growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. That his unflattering reputation in Britain is based to a considerable extent on prejudice and a limited knowledge of his work is now, however, widely accepted, and the verdict of a turn-of-the-century critic who considered Kipling to be an apologist for empire who celebrated the Englishman as a brute and a philistine has long since been superseded. (2) Among those who set out to give a more balanced account of Kipling the poet, while continuing to express reservations about some aspects of his work, political and artistic, were T. S. Eliot and George Orwell in the early 1940s. The process of reassessing his work gathered pace during the 1960s and 1970s, and in the years since 1986, the fiftieth anniversary of his death, a good deal of critical attention has been paid to the ambiguities in the work of this writer, much of it linked with the field of colonial and postcolonial literature. (3)
Kipling first came to Russian readers' attention in the late 1890s as the author of exotic prose accounts of British colonial life. Early critical articles recognized his talent as a poet, but suggested that his poetry would present considerable difficulties to Russian translators. Very little of his poetry was translated, in fact, until the early 1920s, when Mikhail Lozinskii and two of his students, Elizaveta Polonskaia and Ada Onoshkovich-Iatsyna, produced translations of major works, including 'If' and 'The Ballad of East and West'. In 1922 a slim volume of Kipling's poetry, translated by Onoshkovich-Iatsyna, appeared. Subsequently translations of Kipling's poetry appeared regularly in literary journals, together with critical articles. The poet Aleksandr Prokof'ev complained at the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934 that there was as yet no sizable collection of Kipling's poems in Russian; (4) this omission was addressed by the publication, in 1936, of a volume of selected verse that included translations by M. Gutner and Mikhail Froman. (5) By 1939 the young poet Konstantin Simonov had published the first of his translations of Kipling's poetry. Between 1939 and 1941, when Germany was considered a friendly power and Britain a potential aggressor, Kipling publications ceased, but after June 1941 translations by Samuil Marshak appeared regularly in periodicals. After 1946, Kipling fell victim to the Cold War, and was largely ignored until the 1960s, when new translations and critical articles began to appear once more, a clear signal that the time had come to reassess his reputation. (6) Since then numerous publications have allowed Russian readers to build up a more complete picture of his verse. (7)
It would be misleading to assume that the reception of Kipling abroad is the same as it has been in Britain. Russian responses to his work have been far less complicated by postcolonial guilt and elitist suspicion of genuinely popular poetry. Even when critics in Britain and other countries were looking at Kipling from what might appear to be a shared perspective, their views did not necessarily coincide. This discrepancy was pointed out in a 1965 article in Marxism Today, which noted that Marxist critics in Britain practically ignored the fact that he was highly regarded in Russia and admired by Bertolt Brecht. (8) Given his popularity among those who might be expected to detest his imperial ideals, it seems reasonable to conclude, as does E. P. Zinner, that Kipling's foreign readers did not necessarily focus on the question of empire. (9) This is not to say that the question of Kipling and imperialism did not exercise Russian critics both before and after the 1917 Revolution. It is highly likely that at least some of the early criticism of him as an imperialist writer derived from the rivalry between the British and Russian empires over India, which in turn seems to have informed Kipling's own feelings of mistrust towards Russia. His 1898 poem, 'The Truce of the Bear', deals with the rivalry between an untrustworthy Russia and Britain over Afghanistan. (10) It is unlikely, however, that Russian readers knew this poem at the time; before the Revolution most Russian translations of Kipling were of his prose work. While he was condemned for his imperialist stance, he was almost invariably praised for his innovative use of colloquial language and sheer creative energy. Lev Tolstoi was an exception in seeing him simply as an untalented imperialist. (11) One Russian critic, writing in 1890 under the initials N. V., saw his work as a reaction against the predominant cultural trend:
After a lengthy period of art which was purely intellectual, idealistic and refined to the point of losing all colour, a reaction was inevitable, and to succeed it has emerged art which is more straightforward, perhaps, but which is, at the same time, more forceful, healthy and energetic. Kipling is its main representative, and this is how he has answered the unconscious needs of the majority. On the other hand, he has also turned out to be the spokesman of the English people's imperialist ambitions, which have become particularly intense in recent times. (12)
As the Bolsheviks established power after the October Revolution of 1917, they dismantled the tsarist empire but did not attempt to consign the 'imperialist' Kipling and his work to oblivion. In fact his popularity among Russian readers rose, his works were widely published for the mass reader, and the first large-scale efforts to translate his poetry were made in the early 1920s. Kipling's own response to the Revolution was, perhaps, more predictable. He declared that a sixth of the area of the globe had 'passed bodily out of civilisation'. (13) In a poem of 1918, 'Russia to the Pacifists', he voiced the revolutionaries' imagined boast that they were on their way 'to dig a nation's grave as great as England was', and that nothing remained of past glories 'except the sound of weeping and the sight of burning fire, | and the shadow of a people that is trampled into mire'. (14) His hostility towards the Soviet Union proved no obstacle to his popularity there. Until the onset of the Cold War his poetry continued to be translated, published, and widely read even if, as in the late 1930s, it was accompanied by introductory essays that denounced him in vigorous terms: for example, 'In his poems Kipling unfolds a developed fascistic concept of the future western world. He draws a reactionary-utopian picture of the triumph of British imperialism in new world wars, the final enslavement of the coloured races and the establishment of an openly fascist literature of the "new" caesars' (Miller-Bludnitskaia, p. 27).
Before returning to questions of empire, I consider why Kipling may have appealed to Soviet poets writing in support of those he called Russia's gravediggers. In many ways his poetry provided an effective model for the kind of poetry needed in a new era. I. F. Martynov makes the valid point that most home-grown models were not particularly well suited to promoting new Soviet attitudes and values: 'Neither dry Briusov, nor fading Blok, nor egocentric Maiakovskii, nor the flock of noisy but untalented Proletkult poets, for a variety of reasons were able to found a poetic school which had the potential to form a sound basis for the flowering of Soviet poetry which was energetic and strong, dynamic, just the kind of poetry which the new masters of the "cherry orchard" so badly needed.' The most suitable model, in Martynov's view, was Nikolai Gumilev, who disobligingly refused to offer ringing endorsements of the new regime and was executed in 1921 for alleged participation in a counter-revolutionary plot. (15) Martynov sees an affinity in style connecting Kipling with poets who belonged to the Acmeist movement, headed by Gumilev.
In the years before the First World War, the Acmeists reacted to Symbolism by calling for a return to clarity and the real, material world. Like Gumilev, their leader, members of the short-lived Acmeist movement found little favour in post-revolutionary Russia. In matters of style, which will be discussed further below, as well as in ethos, Kipling the poet had something to offer that was in short supply among the politically acceptable Russian poets. The latter suffered in most cases from being closely identified with sectional interest groups. Either they claimed that they represented workers or peasants, or else they could readily be labelled by default as spokesmen for the intelligentsia. Kipling did not suffer from this disadvantage. Distanced from the peculiarities of his native context, he could escape easy categorization and appeared to address his readers on behalf of a broad social consensus. He could serve as a model of what was badly needed in the Soviet Union after revolution and civil war: the voice of a society united by shared ideals.
Of course, all the elements in Kipling's work that struck a chord with official Soviet culture of the 1920s and 1930s were drawn from a selective version of the writer; he was recast, as it were, as a 'Soviet' Kipling whose doubts and barbs at complacency and corruption were edited out. (16) By prefacing his poetry with introductory essays exposing the evils of empire, but leaving out the poet's own criticisms, his Soviet editors removed the awkward ambiguities of his position, but offered readers two perspectives on the poet as both negative and positive role model. In critical accounts he was berated for being an unapologetic imperialist, but the wholehearted support for a grandiose and noble project expressed in his poems, and many of the values promoted in his poetry, offered a useful model to those who wished to celebrate worthier aims: the building of socialism.
Among characteristics that transferred easily to the Soviet context was Kipling's facility for writing poetry that was topical and tendentious. Furthermore, the messages conveyed by him and by many Soviet poets, despite the fact that they seem to be coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, have a good deal of common ground. Both promote values such as duty and selfless dedication to a noble cause. Kipling praised technology and progress; among his heroes were engineers, doers, people who made things work. In a similar vein, for example, Vladimir Lugovskoi's 'Bol'shevikam pustyni i vesny' ('To the Bolsheviks of the Desert and Spring') (1931) celebrates the work of administrators, technicians, agronomists, irrigation specialists, and border guards who combine to turn desert into farmland. (17)
An interest in the exotic and a taste for adventure is another point of contact. The distant Asian republics of the new Soviet Union replaced India as an exotic setting in which heroes could demonstrate their virtues. The trials of 'building socialism' in remote and sometimes hostile environments echoed Kipling's verse chronicles of the lives of colonial administrators. The mystical aspects of eastern culture and religions that had attracted Silver Age writers such as Andrei Belyi, Konstantin Bal'mont, and Gumilev helped to launch Kipling among his earlier Russian readers.
In the new Soviet era there was little interest in oriental culture for its own sake, but there was emphasis on the need to bring backward societies into the twentieth century, and on the action and adventure this entailed. With little native tradition of adventure writing, apart from nineteenth-century works by authors such as Bestuzhev-Marlinskii, which tended to be strongly marked by exaggerated patriotic fervour, Kipling supplied a useful model that carried no awkward associations with the tsarist past. The battles of the civil war and skirmishes with rebel groups provided plenty of scope for tales of military virtue and camaraderie; Kipling was a favourite among numerous poets who contributed works on the 'military-patriotic' theme in the 1930s. His seafaring ballads spawned imitations from Eduard Bagritskii and Boris Kornilov. Whether in war, at sea, or struggling with the task of bringing progress to distant peoples, his heroes were felt to epitomize the mysterious quality of 'manliness'. This view, formed by pre-revolutionary critics, was maintained after 1917, as qualities such as determination, decisiveness, and an unshakable conviction in one's own rightness suited the ethos of the early Soviet era.
The stylistic innovation of Kipling's poetry had been recognized by pre-revolutionary Russian critics, who seem not to have been troubled, as some of their British counterparts were, by a certain perceived 'vulgarity' in his energetic use of colloquial speech. They did, however, express doubts as to the likelihood of translations into Russian giving an adequate rendering of his style. Some of the earliest translations of Kipling's poetry by Lozinskii's protegees Ada Onoshkovich-Iatsyna and Elizaveta Polonskaia, as well as later contributions by Samuil Marshak, Mikhail Froman, M. N. Gutner, and Konstantin Simonov, show that it is possible to find close Russian equivalents to Kipling's rhythms and use of everyday speech. There are, however, particular problems connected with rendering his colloquial English into Russian, which will be discussed below.
Part of what made the poetry such a success in the Soviet Union was that appearing in a new context, it was freed from the conventional expectations against which works of literature were measured in British literary circles. Ann Parry neatly encapsulates the problems in the reception of Kipling's poetry by his British contemporaries: 'Kipling's poetry is seen as a failure to be something else, it is lacking in a range of qualities and characteristics for which high literature is valued' (Parry, p. 2).
His poetry was indeed unashamedly popular, simple, and accessible. The simplicity and clarity of his style meant that his work was treated with suspicion in Britain, where the division between popular and elitist poetry was growing. He came to be seen not as a poet who wrote poetry but as a craftsman who produced verse. T. S. Eliot's introduction to his 1941 selection of Kipling's poetry claims not to be making value-judgements, but Eliot lays much emphasis on a perceived division between poetry, which, he claims, Kipling did not set out to write but occasionally achieved, and verse, which was Kipling's proper element. There is more than a tinge of self-justifying elitism in his arguments, which tend to be undermined by vague distinctions such as: 'The difference between the art and craft of poetry is of course as difficult to determine as the difference between poetry and balladry' (A Choice of Kipling's Verse, pp. 6-35). Perhaps Eliot was right to say that modern critical tools were incapable of dealing adequately with Kipling's poetry: 'We expect to have to defend a poet against the charge of obscurity: we have to defend Kipling against the charge of excessive lucidity' (p. 6).
Kipling's poetry was in fact just the sort of thing Soviet poets of the 1920s and 1930s were encouraged to produce for a new mass readership. Nikolai Tikhonov recommended him as a model for young writers in 1930. (18) Few of the poetic schools that after 1917 might have had a claim to being the founders of Soviet poetry came close to Kipling's clarity of expression. It is true that poets such as Dem'ian Bednyi who had begun their careers before 1917 as revolutionary agitators were successful in producing poetry of the utmost clarity. They wrote topical verse satires, with folkloric overtones, but their work functioned best as out-and-out propaganda, and had little potential beyond that. Vladimir Maiakovskii and other futurists had an interest in formal experimentation that made their work inaccessible to the average reader, while the cosmic bombast of the Proletarian poets made their work ponderous. If there was any Russian near-equivalent to Kipling, as far as clarity was concerned, it was the work of Gumilev and his followers, though Gumilev's concern for concrete detail and clarity of expression is sometimes more prominent in his theory than his practice. For political reasons, of course, Gumilev and his associates could not serve as models for Soviet poetry.
Apart from the clarity and simplicity of Kipling's style, it was his vigorous use of rhythm and rhyme that contributed to his fall from critical favour in Britain and his enthusiastic reception in Russia. In British literary circles these were features that had come to carry associations with low-brow, popular poetry. In Russia, by contrast, easily discernible metrical patterns and rhyme were part of any poet's repertoire, and, in themselves, gave no indication as to the 'literariness' or otherwise of the piece. His Russian translators have shown themselves adept at reproducing Kipling's rhythmic effects, as, for example, in Onoshkovich-Iatsyna's version of 'Boots'. Admittedly, the concentration of monosyllables at the start of each line has forced a change from the word 'boots' to the word 'pyl'' (dust), but the result shows impressive dexterity:
Try-try-try-try-to think o' something different--
me from goin' lunatic
(Boots-boots-boots-boots-movin' up and down again)--
There's no discharge in the war!
Count-count-count-count-the bullets in the bandoliers,
If-your-eyes-drop-they will get atop o' you!
(Boots-boots-boots-boots-movin' up and down again)--
There's no discharge in the war!'
(Works, p. 473)
This is transformed into Russia thus:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (19)
Kipling's choice of form, particularly his frequent use of the song and the ballad, proved popular in the Russian context; many Soviet poets, particularly Nikolai Tikhonov, adopted the ballad form, exploiting what Eliot termed the privileging of narrative over metrical form in order to deliver a story rapidly and laconically (A Choice of Kipling's Verse, p. 9). The 'Soviet' ballad was separated from echoes of an oral tradition, stripped of archaic diction, and of any 'old-fashioned' connotations that it might have had in the British context. Conversely, Kipling's use of archaizing, ecclesiastical language when dealing with serious matters of national concern found a parallel in Soviet poetry, even though it could not appeal to God as Kipling does, for example, in 'Recessional' (Works, pp. 328-29).
Songs played a considerable part in Kipling's poetic output. If they had undesirable connotations of the music hall for some British readers, they were suitable models for the era of the 'mass song' in the Soviet Union, as they purported to express commonly held thoughts and feelings in easily accessible and memorable language. The fact that Kipling wrote relatively little lyric poetry made him a suitable model for Soviet poets at a time when debates about the nature and purpose of lyric poetry meant that two views of the genre existed in tandem: it could be seen as a leftover of individualistic bourgeois culture, or as an expression of the seamless unity of the individual and society, in which personal concerns were presented in the context of the collective. Poets who failed to blend the personal and social sufficiently risked severe criticism. (20) In short, what made Kipling's poetry a misfit in Britain during the 1920s and 1930s made him welcome in the Soviet Union. The 'defects' Ann Parry enumerates were, with the possible exception of the last two items (use of dialect and vituperation) virtues in a different context: 'His whole poetic discourse was at variance with most of the poetry that was being written in his own time--in terms of form, content and language. The lyric was ignored, the political and social were central, and dialect and vituperation provided the oratorical means of expression' (Parry, p. 138).
Imitations of colloquial speech form a large part of Kipling's repertoire. At times this can be awkward, when the rendering of a cockney accent leads to a forest of inverted commas signifying the missing aspirate 'h'. Orwell saw signs of a patronizing class perspective here (Collected Essays, II, 221). On the other hand, Jack Dunham, in Marxism Today, found nothing demeaning or vulgar in Kipling's use of working-class dialects, claiming that 'Mandalay' was 'a real poem in working-class language' (p. 244). Kingsley Amis felt that Kipling had given the ordinary man's views on important matters some weight by transferring the cockney monologue from the music hall to a more serious setting (p. 64). Ann Parry finds in poems such as 'Tommy', one of the Barrack Room Ballads, the potential for using the forms of working-class culture in order to mobilize working-class dissent (p. 42). Here the ordinary soldier is given a voice, clearly marked as that of an uneducated man, to speak cogently of low pay, poor conditions, and the hypocritical switch from public derision to esteem when the soldier was needed to defend his countrymen (Works, pp. 398-99). The earliest Soviet poets, for example Vladimir Maiakovskii and Dem'ian Bednyi, had used colloquial language to distance their work from what was perceived to be the excessive 'literariness' of pre-revolutionary poetic diction. Their attempts to speak to a mass readership in a language that was closer to the language of the street were praised by Nikolai Bukharin in his speech at the 1934 Writers' Congress. (21) The use of colloquial expressions was evidently seen by the author of a 1936 book on the development of Soviet poetry as an indication of a poet's close connection with 'real life'. (22)
In Russian translations of Kipling's poetry, however, the colloquial flavour of the original is often replaced by more standard language. This is, of course, a problem inherent in translation. Translators of Russian into English have been faced with the same difficulties; Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich uses labour-camp slang and colloquial expressions that do not have obvious English equivalents. (23) It is possible that no satisfactory Russian equivalents exist for some of Kipling's main indicators of working-class speech. In 'Mandalay', for instance, the apostrophe is widely used to replace missing consonants at the beginning and end of words: 'Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?' It is difficult to see how Polonskaia could do more than translate this with the standard Russian: '[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]'.
Similarly, non-standard versions of words, such as 'yaller' for 'yellow' and 'seed' for 'saw', are rendered with standard Russian words; the lack of equivalents may be to blame. Perhaps the closest acceptable Russian literary models came from the nineteenth century, in Nikolai Nekrasov's peasants, and seemed inappropriate in the mouths of Kipling's urban working-class heroes. Whatever the reasons behind translators' unwillingness to attempt to provide an equivalent for his use of colloquial speech, the effect is to make Kipling's characters classless and universal. The style, thus neutralized, seems more 'polite' and loses some of its energy and colour. This can be seen in lines from 'Mandalay', where not only the register but some of the details have been smoothed over:
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o' mud--
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd.
In translation, the 'Burma girl' brings flowers to the idol rather than being seen in the unladylike act of smoking, and the mixture of incomprehension and derision in the rendering of Buddha's name is removed, and there is no mention of mud. The non-standard use of the infinitive 'zvat'' to mean 'he is called' goes a little way towards redressing the balance, but the translation is still a rather pale imitation of the original:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]
(Bremia belykh, p. 61)
By side-stepping Kipling's use of colloquial speech, his Russian translators added to the list of factors that give the impression that he is speaking on behalf of the generality. Other factors at work here are his avoidance of lyrical introspection and facility for expressing sentiments broadly acceptable to most of his intended audience in a way that made his work accessible to them. His poetry is not aimed at persuading the uncommitted to change their opinions. Instead, it speaks to an audience that is expected to hold the same values. This, surely, is what was expected of Soviet poets, playing their part in creating a consensus, or the appearance of a consensus, after the divisions caused by revolution and war. Naturally, the claim that poetry speaks on behalf of the common man has consequences for its style. At worst, it may result in the predomination of empty slogans; at best, in the hands of a talented writer, it can produce phrases that become part of everyday language. In his 1942 essay George Orwell noted Kipling's knack for producing phrases that give concise and energetic expression to thoughts that everyone thinks, providing, as it were, ready made responses to a variety of situations. 'Good bad poetry' is how Orwell described Kipling's work; reading it was almost 'a shameful pleasure, like the taste for cheap sweets'. Orwell characterized a 'good bad poem' as 'a graceful monument to the obvious', expressing emotions everyone would feel at some time or other. The fact that such poetry could exist, he felt, was 'a sign of the emotional overlap between the intellectual and the ordinary man' (Collected Essays, II, 226-28).
Many of Kipling's lines have indeed survived outside their original context, and have given ammunition to his detractors. Among these phrases, for example, are 'east is east and west is west and ne'er the twain shall meet', and 'the female of the species is more deadly than the male'. (24) It would be worth exploring whether any of the classics of Soviet poetry have given similar phrases to the Russian language; perhaps the final couplet of Tikhonov's 'Ballada o gvozdiakh' ('Ballad of the Nails') might be a candidate, summing up the tale of sailors who willingly embark on a fatal mission: '[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]' ('If nails could be made out of such as these men: there'd never be any nails stronger than them'). (25) Aleksandr Tvardovskii's wartime narrative poem Vasilii Terkin contains some lines that have done sterling service supplying titles for anthologies of war poetry:
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (26)
Battle rages, just and sacred,
Mortal strife, but not for glory--
For the sake of life on earth. (26)
So far this article has discussed thematic and stylistic aspects of Kipling's poetry that demonstrate that his favourable reception in the Soviet Union is not as anomalous as it might at first seem. The major stumbling-block, recognized by Evtushenko's British interviewer and by Stalin-era literary critics, is, of course, the question of imperialism. The official Soviet attitude on Kipling's imperialism was to condemn it without reservation. Such condemnation rested on the assumption that empires were built and defended by the enemies of socialism, and that the history of imperialism in Russia ended with the October Revolution. However, when Kipling's views on the nature and purpose of the British Empire are taken into account and then placed alongside Soviet poets' views on Caucasian and Asian republics of the Soviet Union, it is clear that colonialist attitudes are not exclusive to Kipling's poetry.
There is no doubt that Kipling was a staunch supporter of empire, and had every faith in the rightness of this institution. His understanding of empire was more complex, however, than his critics might suggest. He was born in India and spent much of his early childhood and early adulthood there, so that he became familiar with the local languages and culture. He was therefore less likely to subscribe wholeheartedly to the colonialist viewpoint drawing clear distinctions between superior self and inferior colonized other. (27) This assumption is questioned in his poem, 'We and They', in which a child muses on the fact that the customs of the English are as bizarre to foreigners as the foreigners' customs are to the English, making the English a 'they' in relation to the foreigners' 'we'. In his well-known 'Mandalay', Ann Parry points out, he inverts the presumption that the West is inherently superior to the East by having his hero long for Mandalay, in every respect preferable to the dirt and dullness of London (Works, pp. 763-64; pp. 418-20; Parry, p. 45).
Central to Kipling's understanding of empire was the idea that nations which enjoyed the benefits of enlightenment and civilization had a duty to bring these advantages to other peoples. As he saw it, empire had nothing to do with economic exploitation of foreign resources, or with the repression of other peoples, but with duty. George Orwell interpreted the infamous 'white man's burden' as an expression of this duty rather than of racial superiority, when defending Kipling against the charge of being a fascist (while finding him nevertheless guilty of being a jingo imperialist, morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting). (28) While Kipling had considerable respect for Indian culture and tradition, he could not believe that India was capable of successful self-government. The country needed its colonial rulers, who were expected to show the utmost moral rectitude and self-sacrifice in carrying out hard work that would go largely unnoticed and unrewarded.
Orwell's comments about Kipling failing to realize that 'an empire is primarily a money-making concern', and seeing it instead as a process of 'forcible evangelising', making 'natives' accept laws, roads, and railways at gunpoint, are relevant to the Soviet poets of the 1920s and 1930s too. His view of Kipling as 'the prophet of British imperialism in its expansionist phase' (Collected Essays, ii, 217), seems more appropriate to the Soviet poets' sense of mission unmarred by the doubts Kipling voiced. Kipling was increasingly a poet not of imperial expansion but of decline. While he celebrates the unsung heroes of empire, he also attacks those, such as careerist politicians, who fall short of the expected standards. His 1897 poem 'Recessional' is far from being a triumphal celebration of Britain's imperial might, but has been described as 'a horrified and humble prayer for escape from the doom that the system was bringing on itself'. (29) By 1913 he was aware that those forcibly exposed to the 'benefits' of empire would eventually, and inevitably, become enemies of their 'benefactors'. (30) The post-1991 collapse of the Soviet Union might be seen as confirmation of Kipling's misgivings.
The theme of empire in Russian literature had, by the beginning of the twentieth century, become well established. Empire in nineteenth-century Russian literature is the subject of an absorbing recent study by Susan Layton. (31) One of the book's central concerns is exploring how Russians' perception of themselves as a people occupying an ambiguous position between west and east was affected by attributing an Asian identity to the newly-colonized Caucasus. The acquisition of its own 'Orient' allowed Russia to define itself by contrast as progressive and western, while contrast with western Europe threatened to show it as backward and Asiatic. Yet as Layton shows, the simplistic division between colonizing self and colonized other was made more complex by Russians' perception of their dual heritage. The Asian colonized other acts as a flattering mirror of the Russian self when it reflects desirable national qualities such as hospitality that Russians attribute to their Asian heritage, but it is perceived as wholly and dangerously 'other' when it reveals an underground self capable of uncontrolled acts of violence. In this case it is felt to express an Asian heritage the Russians have not taken up. The complex interrelation of ideas of the self and other was mirrored by the estrangement in Russian society between the westernized aristocracy and the peasants, who were embodied in literature sometimes as a dangerous, irrational mob, and sometimes as dignified carriers of 'true' national values.
The Bolshevik revolution of 1917 brought an end to the tsarist empire, and a condemnation of colonialism. Nevertheless, as much of the territory of the former empire was reintegrated into the new Soviet Union, sometimes by force, the legacy of the tsarist empire was reassessed in a more positive way as the foundations of the Soviet Union and a means of spreading enlightenment and technological progress. As in the nineteenth century, Soviet Russia was able to use the contrast with its 'own' Orient to present itself as the civilizing west, compensating for any feelings of inferiority in relation to western Europe. Stalin's declared intention of 'catching up and overtaking' the West indicates how vital it was to Soviet self-image (as well as political and military survival) to be reckoned as a force for western-style progress and technological advance. Although the word 'empire' is not mentioned in connection with their activities, the Bolshevik heroes celebrated in works by Tikhonov and others seem to belong to the literature of empire just as much as Kipling's do. Soviet literary critics could not countenance this possibility; to find imperialism in Russian literature they looked back to pre-revolutionary writers such as Gumilev. The view of Gumilev as an unrepentant imperialist is not completely unjustified, as some of his pre-war 'African' poems drawn from trips to Abyssinia do indeed seem to correspond to the expected features of colonialist or imperialist writing. Here is the point of view of the European surveying a non-European land, convinced of his moral, cultural, and racial superiority, and of the rightness of empire. Here is the tendency to feminize that which is not self and which must therefore be controlled. Here is a sense of unease produced by the alien nature of the foreign setting (the sound of a grand piano being played on board a ship passing through the Suez canal, surrounded by the dark African night). (32) Gumilev's treatment of the colonized other is not, however, always easily reducible to colonialist criteria. Some of Gumilev's 'African' poems reveal a genuine interest in people and customs, an interest that goes beyond using them as mirrors of the self, reflecting back the author's superiority. (33) An interest in Indian mysticism makes itself felt in Gumilev's work, too, as, for example, in a poem spoken by an Indian man reliving his previous incarnations as he sits by a river.
Although similarities between Kipling and Gumilev did not go unnoticed, the work of the former was published, while the work of the latter was suppressed, referred to only as an example of unacceptable Russian imperialist attitudes. It has been suggested that Kipling acted as a 'surrogate' Gumilev in the Soviet Union (see Martynov, p. 166). Since Kipling belonged to an alien context, he could be presented to Soviet readers selectively; Gumilev's anti-Bolshevik attitudes could not be ignored so easily. What, then, made it acceptable to publish Kipling's poetry about the British Empire? The answer lies in a reluctance to link the concept of empire with anything other than a foreign power. It was out of the question to suggest that the Soviet Union and the British Empire had, after all, something in common, both being large political entities that embraced many different nationalities and cultures, but were governed by a strong central power. Through Kipling's poetry, the idea of empire could be openly communicated to readers, while being safely condemned, if necessary, as a wicked, foreign, and ideologically alien one. If we look at Soviet poetry of the late 1920s and early 1930s with the characteristics of colonialist literature in mind, the rhetoric of empire can be seen to inform these works if anything even more strongly than the poems of Kipling or Gumilev. The juxtaposition of western civilized self and Asian, primitive other is presented in absolute terms, even if the division between the two is allegedly based on political doctrine rather than racial superiority. The image of the Russians, in the figure of the Komsomol volunteer, is unequivocally linked with western ideas of progress. Gone is the nineteenth-century literary device of treating the exotic other as a surrogate self, symbolizing freedom, values, and emotions uncompromised by western ideas. In theory, at least, the Asian nomads brought into collective farms have the potential to transcend the traditions of superstition and passivity ascribed to them and become communists. There is little sign of this in poetry written around the time of the collectivization of agriculture and the first Five Year Plans. The mission of the new arrivals, noble young Russian communists venturing into distant republics to organize spring sowing or set up new industries, is to liberate the local people from the burden of the past, endowing them with all the benefits of progress. Like Kipling's colonial administrators, they endure hard labour in a hostile environment far from home. They too are under obligation to live up to high standards. The peoples they are helping are mostly silent, passive, or very frequently totally absent. This emerges strongly in a 1930 poem by Nikolai Tikhonov, depicting tractors ploughing through the night in Turkmenistan in order to fulfil the plan. Here the forces of progress, epitomized in the tractor, are set against the background of 'diabolical night', superstition, disease, and slavery. Fired by enthusiasm, Tikhonov's communists argue while Asia 'listens in silence'. Actual human representatives of this silent continent are absent from the scene, just as they are in Lugovskoi's 'Bol'shevikam pustyni i vesny'. In true colonial style, the colonizer appears to take possession of an empty landscape that waits to be informed with meaning or reclaimed from chaos. Tikhonov again presents the communist work-ethic as an antidote to Asiatic indolence in a 1924 poem about Armenia, where the landscape ravaged by war is ploughed up for peaceful ends: 'Before the Asiatic abyss of tribes embraced by idleness, Armenia shows itself off as an outpost of hard work.' (34)
Even when Tikhonov appears to be condemning British imperialist rule in India, and offering Communism as the force that will liberate the colonized peoples, he upholds colonialist attitudes about fundamental differences between East and West. His poem 'Sami' of 1920 narrates the story of a young Indian boy who, having heard of Lenin and his great wisdom, learns to defy his tyrannical sahib. He reports Lenin's teaching: 'That man, far away, lives beyond the snows, which lead to the sky like steps, in a city with big buildings, and people call him Lenni [a note explains that this is how Indians pronounce Lenin's name]. He gives a crust of bread to the hungry, he can turn even a wolf into a man, he is a great sahib before heaven, and doesn't beat you with a riding-crop.' Sami declares that he will go and serve Lenin, who will reward him with 'more wise advice and rupees than anyone ever gave in the universe: Sami will destroy all the sahibs'. Sami's enlightenment is depicted in pseudo-religious terms; not for him a rational exposition of Leninist ideas. Instead he kneels and prays to 'far-off Lenin, as incomprehensible as a yogi', and this leads to his rebirth, 'this time as a man' (Stikhotvoreniia i poemy, pp. 570-73). The Indian boy, Tikhonov implies, gains true humanity only through the influence of a white man, whose wisdom saves him from his own ignorance and passivity.
In a poem written after Indian Independence, similar views persist. Tikhonov's 'Encounter in Chittagong' of 1951 describes how a group of exotic Indian women, dressed in brightly coloured saris, cluster round a Soviet female visitor. They are described in patronizing terms that emphasize their difference in appearance, with reference to the 'resinous gleam of their eyes', and their secondary status to their guest, as they 'beam like children' and ask whether all Soviet women are as beautiful as she is. At one point they are reduced to features of the landscape: 'It seemed to you that you were talking to valleys, with white jasmine flowers in their hair, where the rusty clay was cracked from grief, and, where the dew fell like tears in the meadows' (Stikhotvoreniia i poemy, pp. 384-85). What might Kipling's detractors have done with such ammunition? It does not seem an exaggeration to say that here the rhetoric of internationalist solidarity offers a veneer beneath which racist and colonialist ideas lurk.
In taking Kipling as a model for treatment of the unmentionable and unnamed theme of empire, without being able to take a critical position on the subject, Soviet poets seem, at times, to have fallen victim to their critics' stereotyped perceptions of him. Their work shows little awareness of the difficulties of empire Kipling recognized, and little of his interest in and sympathy for the colonized peoples. It is tempting to interpret aspects of the 'Soviet' Kipling, particularly the 'crimes' attributed to him, as a reflection of the system that created him. The introduction to the 1936 Russian edition of the poems accuses him of wanting to create a new moral code for a new humanity (p. 4) and with creating a vision of the future western world as an empire based on ancient Asiatic despotism (p. 8). This could be seen as a distorted echo of utopian dreams of the 'new Soviet man' and world revolution. Kipling is charged with placing his artistic strength at the disposal of the 'social command' (p. 15) and subordinating art to the aims of propaganda (p. 25). The term 'social command' is taken straight from Soviet literary practice, and by the early 1930s it was clear that the Writers' Union existed to make sure that literature served political ends first and foremost. The introduction ends with a statement to the effect that Kipling's work is of interest to the Soviet reader because it gives artistic expression to the ideas of the enemy (p. 28).
There is little doubt that what made Kipling acceptable to Soviet editors and to the public was, to adapt the title of his autobiography, that they saw 'something of themselves' in him. His perceived faults were attributed to the fact that he was fundamentally alien, yet his colonialist attitudes were reproduced by the poets who admired him. His perceived virtues (idealism, heroism, energy) were those that the Soviet poets wished to claim for themselves and their society. If with the benefit of hindsight we can now say that the faults seen in Kipling reflected real faults in the system, we should not forget that the same is true for the virtues. There was genuine idealism voiced by poets such as Tikhonov, Lugovskoi, and Simonov. For the time being their work is little read in Russia; it was rejected when the ideology it was associated with crumbled. Only time will show whether their poetry has the qualities that enabled Kipling's poetry to survive and find new readers and critical attention in a Britain that has little nostalgia for its imperial and colonial past. (35)
(1) V. A. Shoshin, 'Poet romanticheskogo podviga', in Nikolai Tikhonov, Stikhotvoreniia i poemy (Leningrad: Sovietskii pisatel', 1981), p. 27.
(2) Richard le Gallienne, Rudyard Kipling: A Criticism (London: Lane, 1900).
(3) See T. S. Eliot's introduction to A Choice of Kipling's Verse (London: Faber & Faber, 1941), George Orwell, 'Rudyard Kipling', in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, 4 vols (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), II, 215-29. Later Kipling criticism includes: Kipling's Mind and Art, ed. by W. L. Renwick (Edinburgh; Oliver & Boyd, 1964), Jack Dunham, 'Rudyard Kipling Re-Estimated', in Marxism Today, August 1965, pp. 242-49, John Gross, Rudyard Kipling: The Man and his Work (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1972), Kingsley Amis, Rudyard Kipling and his World (London: Thames & Hudson, 1975), Angus Wilson, The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling (London: Secker & Warburg, 1977), J. A. McClure, Kipling and Conrad: The Colonial Fiction (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981), Norman Page, A Kipling Companion (London: Macmillan, 1984), B. J. Moore-Gilbert, Kipling and 'Orientalism' (London: Croom Helm, 1986), Kipling Considered, ed. by P. Mallett (London: Macmillan, 1989), Ann Parry, The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling: Rousing the Nation (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1992), Zohreh T. Sullivan, Narratives of Empire: The Fictions of Rudyard Kipling (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), P. J. Keating, Kipling the Poet (London: Secker & Warburg, 1994).
(4) Aleksandr Prokof'ev, speech at First Congress of the Union of Writers, Pervyi vsesoiuznyi s"ezd sovetskikh pisatelei: stenograficheskii otchet, facsimile repr. of 1934 edn (Moscow: Sovietskii pisatel', 1990), p. 570.
(5) Izbrannye stikhi, ed. by V. Stenich, with introduction by R. Miller-Bludnitskaia (Leningrad: Khudozhestvennai a literatura, 1936).
(6) See, for example, K. Paustovskii, 'Rediard Kipling', in Dalekie i blizkie (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1967), pp. 230-32; M. K. Tugusheva, 'K voprosu o "pereotsenke Kiplinga"', Voprosy Literatury, 3 (1966), 143-46. For a fuller account of the publishing history of Kipling in Russia, see I. F. Martynov, 'Kipling i Gumilev: poety dvukh imperii--k voprosu o sud'be poeticheskogo naslediia R. Kiplinga v Rossii', Vestnik russkogo studencheskogo khristianskogo dvizheniia, 3 (1987), 166-89.
(7) Recent collections include Stikhotvoreniia (Moscow: Kniga, 1991); Stikhotvoreniia (Moscow: Kniga i bizness, 1991; 2nd edn 1992); Sobranie sochinenii, 5 vols (Moscow: Terra, 1991); Bremia belykh: stikhotvoreniia i rasskay (Moscow: Panorama, 1995); Sobranie sochinenii, 6 vols (Moscow: Terra, 1996).
(8) Dunham, p. 242. For an account of Brecht and Kipling, see J. K. Lyon, Bertolt Brecht and Rudyard Kipling: A Marxist's Imperialist Mentor (The Hague: Mouton, 1975).
(9) 'Kipling-poet v Rossii: k voprosu ob anglo-russkikh literaturnykh vzaimootnosheniiakh v XX stoletii', in Sravnitel'noe izuchenie literatur, ed. by A. S. Bushmin and others (Leningrad: Nauka, 1976), p. 309.
(10) 'The Truce of the Bear', in The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1994), pp. 274-76 (hereafter Works).
(11) See Tolstoi i zarubezhnyi mir, Literaturnoe nasledstvo, 75 (Moscow: Nauka, 1965), II, 36.
(12) 'Khudozhnik ekzoticheskogo mira', Knizhki nedeli, July 1900, p. 193, quoted by I. F. Martynov in 'Kipling i Gumilev', p. 167.
(13) 'Independence', in A Book of Words (London: Macmillan, 1928).
(14) 'Russia to the Pacifists', in Works, p. 277.
(15) I. F. Martynov, 'Kipling i Gumilev', p. 169. Valerii Briusov (1873-1924), poet, leader of the Russian Symbolist movement, who took on a largely administrative role in post-1917 literary affairs; Aleksandr Blok (1880-1921), leading Symbolist poet, whose last major work The Twelve (1918) shows the cathartic elemental violence of the Revolution; Vladimir Maiakovskii (1893-1930), Futurist poet and dramatist, fervent supporter of Bolshevik Revolution, whose political and artistic views were increasingly at odds with predominant Soviet views; Proletkult, short for proletarian culture, an organization encouraging workers' literary and other cultural activities. The cherry orchard is clearly a reference to Chekhov's play of the same name, in which the sale of the family estate to the successful entrepreneur son of a serf carries wider implications about social change in Russia around the turn of the century.
(16) Ann Parry's The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling gives an interesting account of Kipling's reception in Britain by contemporary critics, showing their selective presentation of his work, and the establishment's reactions to his fierce satirical criticisms of the ruling classes.
(17) Vladimir Lugovskoi, Stikhotvoreniia i poemy (Moscow: Sovietskii pisatel', 1966), pp. 125-27.
(18) 'Kak ia rabotaiu', Literaturnaia ucheba, 5 (1930), pp. 105-06.
(19) 'Pyl'', in Bremia belykh (see note 5), p. 66.
(20) George Reavey's Soviet Literature Today (London: Drummond, 1946), quotes a 1933 review by N. Stepanov of Bagritskii's poems which attempts to redefine lyric poetry by rejecting the limitations of individuality and subjectivity traditionally associated with it: 'Lyrical poetry is now in a state of breaking up. The possibility of lyricism based on the biography of the poet and verses about the "destination of poetry" have proved too limited and emotionally subjective for the reflection of the contemporary world. It becomes progressively clear that it is essential to overcome this lyrical inertia, reiteration, and the "literariness" of the lyric-and to speak out in a "full voice" about our age and to make for the road leading to the epic' (p. 141).
(21) Nikolai Bukharin, speech at First Congress of Union of Writers, in Pervyi vsesoiuznyi s"ezd sovetskikh pisatelei, pp. 490-91.
(22) A. Selivanovskii, Ocherki po istorii russkoi sovetskoi poezii (Moscow: Khudozhesvennaia literatura, 1936), in connection with Bednyi (p. 146) and Sel'vinskii (p. 231).
(23) See Alexis Klimoff, 'Solzhenitsyn in English: An Evaluation', in Solzhenitsyn: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by Kathryn Feuer (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976), pp. 132-39.
(24) 'The Ballad of East and West' (Works, pp. 234-38); 'The Female of the Species' (pp. 367-69).
(25) Nikolai Tikhonov, Stikhotvoreniia i poemy (see note 1), p. 116); my translation.
(26) Aleksandr Tvardovskii, Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 3 vols (Moscow: Khudozhestvannia literatura, 1990), II, 99. Trans. by April FitzLyon, in Twentieth Century Russian Poetry, ed. by Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward, selected with an introduction by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (London: Fourth Estate, 1993), p. 567.
(27) See Elleke Boehmer, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 3, for a discussion of the terms 'colonial', 'colonialist', and 'postcolonial'.
(28) 'The White Man's Burden' (Works, pp. 323-24); Collected Essays, II, 215.
(29) See Collected Essays II, 221; Dunham, p. 243.
(30) 'The Riddle of Empire', quoted by George Shepperson, 'The World of Rudyard Kipling', in Kipling's Mind and Art, p. 130.
(31) Russian Literature and Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
(32) See particularly 'Afrikanskaia noch'' and 'Suetskii kanal', in Nikolai Gumilev, Stikhotvoreniia i poemy (Leningrad: Sovietskii pisatel', 1986), pp. 233, 289.
(33) For example, his cycle 'Abissinskie pesni' (pp. 181-84); 'Prapamiat'' (p. 265).
(34) 'Vesna v Deinau', and 'Armeniia', Stikhotvoreniia i poemy, pp. 179; 128.
(35) I am grateful to Rachel Clogg, Rachel Polonsky, Mike Basker, and Ian Kogan for their invaluable help in preparing this article.
<ADD> KATHARINE HODGSON UNIVERSITY OF EXETER </ADD>
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|Title Annotation:||British poet|
|Publication:||The Modern Language Review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 1998|
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