Rudyard Kipling

(30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936 / Bombay)

The Gods Of The Copybook Headings - Poem by Rudyard Kipling

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 Headings, 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 the Gorilas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither clud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market-Place;
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch.
They denied that 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 promiced these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promiced perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: 'Stick to the Devil you know.'

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promiced 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 Headings said: 'The Wages of Sin is Death/'

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selective Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: 'If you don't work you die.'

The the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tounged wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to belive it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four---
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings 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 Social Progress 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 that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!


Comments about The Gods Of The Copybook Headings by Rudyard Kipling

  • (11/14/2017 12:49:00 PM)


    this poem is so true, , , true then...true now. (Report) Reply

    0 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • (11/28/2008 8:13:00 PM)


    Copybook headings were Biblical sayings and moral axioms that 19th century English schoolboys copied over and over again to improve their penmanship. My interpretation of this poem is; When humankind ignores the ancient wisdoms passed down throughout history, when we march to the drum of a 'new morality' (or immorality) as we have done many times in the past, when we abandon reason and logic and turn our eyes from God, when fad replaces good sense and the false gods (the gods of the marketplace) fail and fall, as they eventually always do, then and only then will we return to those wisdoms that were ignored, and, .... 'The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return.' (Report) Reply

  • (1/10/2007 3:01:00 PM)


    I took it as meaning 'the writing of obvious truths' but indeed the title is very intriguing. I plan to stitch some of it (I hope! Add it to the stash :)) . (Report) Reply

  • (9/21/2004 1:25:00 PM)


    My mother loved this poem and read it to me, and all my life I have wondered the real significance of this specific title. Why copybook headings? Specifically why the headings? Would love comments and responses. I still love the poem.
    Linda Myers
    (Report) Reply

Read all 4 comments »



Read this poem in other languages

This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.

I would like to translate this poem »

word flags

What do you think this poem is about?

Read poems about / on: money, fire, water, dog, future, birth, women, faith, beautiful, children, work, moon, peace, world, lost, wind, death, child, hope, horse



Poem Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Poem Edited: Thursday, November 17, 2011


[Report Error]