50 Kipling Poems Unearthed During Home Renovation

Host Scott Simon talks with scholar Thomas Pinney, who recently stumbled upon a trove of previously unpublished Rudyard Kipling poems.

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Later this month, a massive Cambridge edition of the poems of Rudyard Kipling will be published, including a trove of newly discovered works.

THOMAS PINNEY: There are 50 unpublished poems. There's something like 1,300 poems in the edition. He wrote a lot.

SIMON: That's editor Thomas Pinney, professor emeritus at Pomona College in Claremont, California who unearthed the writings.

PINNEY: One of them came from a man in Florida, whom I don't know; another came from the daughter of one of the recipients. Some come from the British library; another from Syracuse. The material is there but nobody had been looking.

SIMON: Kipling was arguably the most popular writer of his time.

PINNEY: Yes, no question.

SIMON: Short stories, including works very well known today, like the "Jungle Book," which has Rikki-Tikki-Tavi; "The Man Who Would Be King." Poems, including "Gunga Din," and "If," which to this day, I'm pleased to say, is read in grammar schools. Why do you think he's been overlooked?

PINNEY: Well, I think for most people, the proposition that he's an imperialist is all they need to know, and if you don't go beyond that you're not likely to take an interest.

SIMON: Do you have something you can read us that you have in front of you?

PINNEY: Well, I have - there's a little poem that I particularly like that comes from a time in the First World War. It goes like this: (Reading) Never again in any port that sailor people use can, we or our broken sons consort with the joys shipping there. After our shame we have lost our right to the fellowship of the sea. We dwell alone without the camp till our habitation be.

Quite desolate, quite enigmatic. If we have room for another?

SIMON: Please, yes.

PINNEY: This is quite different. It's only eight lines long. He wrote it to a little goddaughter, four years old. He had red hair. Her name was Ursula, so he called her Red Bear and she lived with prosperous parents in France where she had two languages, and they had not only a house in Paris but a house in the south of France, so it was sometimes difficult to know where she might be. And that's what the poem is about and it goes like this:

(Reading) Bear, bear, with the copper hair, where in the world do you make your lair. (Foreign language spoken.) Or, as she says: Follow me, for I've got a place across from the woods.

That's the whole poem, but can you imagine receiving that on a postcard when you're four years old?

SIMON: Oh, my gosh.

PINNEY: I got that from the recipient's daughter, not because I was looking for it but because she simply gave it to me.

SIMON: Thomas Pinney, emeritus professor of English at Pomona College. Thanks so much for being with us.

PINNEY: My pleasure.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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