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An American

by Rudyard Kipling, 1919


The American Spirit speaks:

          IF the Led Striker call it a strike,
            Or the papers call it a war,
          They know not much what I am like,
            Nor what he is, my Avatar.

          Through many roads, by me possessed,
            He shambles forth in cosmic guise;
          He is the Jester and the Jest,
            And he the Text himself applies.

          The Celt is in his heart and hand,
            The Gaul is in his brain and nerve;
          Where, cosmopolitanly planned,
            He guards the Redskin’s dry reserve.

          His easy unswept hearth he lends
            From Labrador to Guadeloupe;
          Till, elbowed out by sloven friends,
            He camps, at sufferance, on the stoop.

          Calm-eyed he scoffs at Sword and Crown,
            Or, panic-blinded, stabs and slays.
          Blatant he bids the world bow down,
            Or cringing begs a crust of praise;

          Or, sombre-drunk, at mine and mart,
            He dubs his dreary brethren Kings.
          His hands are black with blood—his heart
            Leaps, as a babe’s, at little things.

          But, through the shift of mood and mood,
            Mine ancient humour saves him whole—
          The cynic devil in his blood
            That bids him mock his hurrying soul;

          That bids him flout the Law he makes,
            That bids him make the Law he flouts,
          Till, dazed by many doubts, he wakes
            The drumming guns that—have no doubts;

          That checks him foolish-hot and fond,
            That chuckles through his deepest ire,
          That gilds the slough of his despond
            But dims the goal of his desire;

          Inopportune, shrill-accented,
            The acrid Asiatic mirth
          That leaves him, careless ’mid his dead,
            The scandal of the elder earth.

          How shall he clear himself, how reach
            Your bar or weighed defence prefer—
          A brother hedged with alien speech
            And lacking all interpreter?

          Which knowledge vexes him a space;
            But, while Reproof around him rings,
          He turns a keen untroubled face
            Home, to the instant need of things.

          Enslaved, illogical, elate,
            He greets the embarrassed Gods, nor fears
          To shake the iron hand of Fate
            Or match with Destiny for beers.

          Lo, imperturbable he rules,
            Unkempt, disreputable, vast—
          And, in the teeth of all the schools,
            I—I shall save him at the last!

Published in Rudyard Kipling's Verse: Inclusive Edition, 1885-1918

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