In the Neolithic Age

by Rudyard Kipling

The last line of this poem, a plea for cultural diversity, is quoted fairly often; I think the rest of the poem is worth reading too, and I'm afraid I habitually quote the last two stanzas at people far too often.

"Certified by Traill" is a sarcastic reference: when Tennyson died in 1892, there was some discussion as to who should be the new poet laureate, and a man named H. D. Traill wrote an article listing fifty possible contenders. He added Kipling's name as the fifty-first, as an afterthought.

In the Neolithic Age, savage warfare did I wage
For food and fame and woolly horses' pelt.
I was singer to my clan in that dim red Dawn of Man,
And I sang of all we fought and feared and felt.

Yea, I sang as now I sing, when the Prehistoric spring
Made the piled Biscayan ice-pack split and shove;
And the troll and gnome and dwerg, and the Gods of Cliff and Berg
Were about me and beneath me and above.

But a rival, of Solutré, told the tribe my style was outré—
'Neath a tomahawk, of diorite, he fell.
And I left my views on Art, barbed and tanged, below the heart
Of a mammothistic etcher at Grenelle.

Then I stripped them, scalp from skull, and my hunting-dogs fed full,
And their teeth I threaded neatly on a thong;
And I wiped my mouth and said, "It is well that they are dead,
For I know my work is right and theirs was wrong."

But my Totem saw the shame; from his ridgepole-shrine he came,
And he told me in a vision of the night: —
"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And every single one of them is right!"


Then the silence closed upon me till They put new clothing on me
Of whiter, weaker flesh and bone more frail;
And I stepped beneath Time's finger, once again a tribal singer,
And a minor poet certified by Traill!

Still they skirmish to and fro, men my messmates on the snow
When we headed off the aurochs turn for turn;
When the rich Allobrogenses never kept amanuenses,
And our only plots were piled in lakes at Berne.

Still a cultured Christian age sees us scuffle, squeak, and rage,
Still we pinch and slap and jabber, scratch and dirk;
Still we let our business slide— as we dropped the half-dressed hide—
To show a fellow-savage how to work.

Still the world is wondrous large— seven seas from marge to marge—
And it holds a vast of various kinds of man;
And the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandhu,
And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.

Here's my wisdom for your use, as I learned it when the moose
And the reindeer roamed where Paris roars to-night:—
"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And— every— single— one— of— them— is— right!"

Postscript from me:

And you know there came a day when they found another way,
but rejected it— for "seventy" won't scan.