Poem for the Week/Book of the Week

I chose this poem this week because I am currently reading Daniel Hannan’s book, Inventing Freedom: How The English-Speaking Peoples Made The Modern World. Hannan excerpts this poem in a section on how language is a prerequisite of mutual understanding and how it influences one’s perspective and ideas. Hannan notes that English as a language is “protean, freewheeling, and voracious.” It is unregulated, and when you have freedom of language you have freedom of ideas. Societies with more tightly controlled language also tend to have governments that more tightly control the people. The English language has been a vehicle and a guarantor of liberty for centuries and has enabled the English-speaking peoples to understand each other and work together, to the immense benefit of mankind. Thinking in terms of how language alters our perspective and understanding of one another also helps explain things like why diplomacy between nations can often be so difficult and why it’s so important that immigrants learn and use the language of their adopted country in order to be properly assimilated.

“The Stranger” by Rudyard Kipling

The Stranger within my gate,
He may be true or kind,
But he does not talk my talk–
I cannot feel his mind.
I see the face and the eyes and the mouth,
But not the soul behind.

The men of my own stock,
They may do ill or well,
But they tell the lies I am wanted to,
They are used to the lies I tell;
And we do not need interpreters
When we go to buy or sell.

The Stranger within my gates,
He may be evil or good,
But I cannot tell what powers control–
What reasons sway his mood;
Nor when the Gods of his far-off land
Shall repossess his blood.

The men of my own stock,
Bitter bad they may be,
But, at least, they hear the things I hear,
And see the things I see;
And whatever I think of them and their likes
They think of the likes of me.

This was my father’s belief
And this is also mine:
Let the corn be all one sheaf–
And the grapes be all one vine,
Ere our children’s teeth are set on edge
By bitter bread and wine.

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Filed under Book Club, Poetry

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