Featured Poem: The Changelings by Kudyard Kipling

The Reader’s Marketing and Communication Manager, Martin Gallagher-Mitchell, shares his experience of this week’s Featured Poem, The Changelings by Rudyard Kipling.

I must confess that, before I started working at The Reader, my Kipling knowledge extended as far as The Jungle Book and Just So Stories – his poetry was unknown territory for me. It was only when I started running my own Shared Reading group at our Calderstones HQ that I truly began to appreciate the breadth of his work.

It was around this time of the year that I first experienced The Changelings in a Shared Reading group. I paired the poem with A Game of Soldiers, a play by Jan Needle, Vivien Gardner and Stephen Cockett, for a session themed for Remembrance Day.

It might look, on first reading, like The Changelings is quite a simple poem; but as I discovered when exploring it with the group, there’s so much more to it.

I am thankful that I have never been affected by war personally; I did, however, grow up in Kuwait in the mid-90s and several of my schoolmates lived through the Gulf War. When they felt able to talk about their memories and experiences, it was often senses and emotions that left the greatest impression. With this in mind, when I was preparing for the session, the lines that I focused on were:

We saw more than the nights could hide–
More than the waves could keep–
And–certain faces over the side
Which do not go from our sleep.

There’s just so much in those four lines – stillness, motion, emotion, experience, remembrance, regret, pain, hurt – a full spectrum of humanity.

When it came to reading it in a group setting, as with most Shared Reading sessions, the life experiences and personal history of the other group members brought so much to the discussion, enriching and enhancing the conversation.

The Changelings

Or ever the battered liners sank
With their passengers to the dark,
I was head of a Walworth Bank,
And you were a grocer’s clerk.

I was a dealer in stocks and shares,
And you in butters and teas;
And we both abandoned our own affairs
And took to the dreadful seas.

Wet and worry about our ways–
Panic, onset and flight–
Had us in charge for a thousand days
And thousand-year-long night.

We saw more than the nights could hide–
More than the waves could keep–
And–certain faces over the side
Which do not go from our sleep.

We were more tired than words can tell
While the pied craft fled by,
And the swinging mounds of the Western swell
Hoisted us Heavens-high…

Now there is nothing — not even our rank–
To witness what we have been;
And I am returned to my Walworth Bank,
And you to your margarine!

by Rudyard Kipling

Would you like the opportunity to read this or other poems in a Shared Reading group?

If you like the idea of listening along to story or poem, why not come along to a Shared Reading group? We run groups across the UK, you can find one near you here.

If you can’t find a group in your local community, why not help us bring Shared Reading to your area by becoming a volunteer?

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