Gods of the Copy Book Headings
Date: Tue, 9 Jan 96 14:55:16 -0800
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Subject: Gods of the Copy Book Headings
[See the "NB" below for an explanation of "copybook headings" -psl]
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The Gods of the Copybook Headings
-- Rudyard Kipling, 1919
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 Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.
We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud 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
With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses: they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.
When the Cambrian measures were forming, they promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would
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 promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbor and ended by loving his wife)\
Till our women had no more reason 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 selected 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."
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe 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.
The copybook was a primer for young children learning to read and write.
Each page was headed with a saying (often rhyming) in as beautiful a
handwritten script as could be accessible to a child. Whose work was to
aspire to the original in the twenty or so blank lines below it.
The rhymes were pleasant enough as nonsense, like mother goose, but were
Adam and Eve their god did grieve
Life to mend this book attend.
The cat doth play and later slay
The dog will bite a thief at night
The idle fool is whipped at school
Wrought by hand great works do stand
Job felt the rod yet blessed his God
Time cuts down all, the great and small
Xerxes the great shared the common fate
Quarrelsome persons are always dangerous companion.
Employment prevents vice.
Great men were good boys.
Praise follows exertion.
Trifles alienate friends.
X begins no English word.
Build your hopes of fame on virtue.
Death to the good brings joy instead of terror.
Zinc is a white semi-metal useful in galvanism.
Justice is a common right.
Overcome all prejudice.
Justice will pursue the vicious
© 1996 Peter Langston