Do you remember the poem by Rudyard Kipling If?
Many of us were raised on this poem, perhaps a framed copy was on our walls where we could see it daily. Although I find the whole poem inspiring, the second verse has a particular resonance for me:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
How powerful is the verse “Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch”?
Only recently I had a rant about how we ban thoughts, ideas, books because they do not fit with today’s mores and manners. Just when my blood pressure was returning to normal I read this: Students paint over the mural of Rudyard Kipling’s If poem claiming he was racist.
Fatima Abid, the general secretary of Manchester’s SU, posted on Twitter: “Today, as a team we removed an imperialist’s work from the walls of our union and replaced them with the words of Maya Angelou.” (See the report in The Sun here.) In the world I live in, this would be considered an act of vandalism. Instead, they said: “We understand that we made a mistake in our approach to a recent piece of artwork by failing to garner student opinion at the start of a new project.”
Now I happen to love Maya Angelou’s work, she speaks in a strong, vivid voice of her experiences in a racist world. But as with any good literature, I don’t see her writing as being only applicable to those who were enslaved. In the poem Still I rise chosen to overwrite If the following lines to me, are so inspirational:
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Reading Angelou’s prose and verse is one of my life’s joys. At the risk, however, of being labelled an “imperialist” I also love Rudyard Kipling’s stories and verse. The way Kipling expresses some things are not acceptable now, but does that mean that we should destroy something as beautiful as If?
Why would you choose to put the words of two amazing authors into a competition to decide who is the most politically correct? Is there so much outstanding literature in the world that we can destroy even one word of it?
It is rare for our freedoms to be lost in one fell swoop; rather they drip away under laws designed for “our protection”. We come from the generation of those who protested publically about, among many things, conscription, women’s rights and yes, even censorship.
So I have two questions:
Are we allowing freedom of speech to be suppressed under the smokescreen of not offending anyone?
Are we prepared in Mr Kipling’s words to “… watch the things you gave your life to, broken …”?