Rudyard Kipling: Biography, Poems & Books

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You might be familiar with Mowgli and Baloo, but what about their creator? In this lesson, you'll explore the life and works of Rudyard Kipling, one of the most beloved children's authors of all time!

Complicated: A Brief Biography of Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Photo of Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling's complex relationship with India began when he was born there on December 30, 1865, in the city of Bombay (present-day Mumbai). His father, John Lockwood Kipling, was an architect and artist who worked to rescue native Indian art from encroaching British influences, and his work undoubtedly influenced young Rudyard's disposition toward art of the subcontinent. Kipling was forced to leave his 'paradise,' however, when he and his sister Beatrice were sent to England in 1871 to be schooled and avoid health concerns. There, Rudyard lived under the stern watch of Mrs. Halloway in what he called the 'House of Desolation.'

There were some happier times for Kipling in England, though, particularly when visiting The Grange - a prominent hang-out for the country's artistic community. It was here he met Cormell Price, who was the head of the United Services College in Devon that had been established for the families of military servicemen. Kipling was admitted to the school in 1878, no doubt through Price's influence. Afterward, Kipling had no money to attend one of the prestigious English universities, so in 1882 he returned to India to join his family and began a career in journalism.

Between the years of 1882 and 1887, Rudyard wrote for the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore. In 1888, though, he moved to the much higher-profile paper, the Allahabad Pioneer. Kipling's journalistic endeavors even took him to South Africa in 1900 as a war correspondent covering the Second Boer War for independence from Britain. However, even before his war coverage, Kipling had already earned a solid reputation as a writer.

While employed as a journalist in India, Rudyard had also been working on his more creative efforts. In 1886, he published his first collection of poetry (Departmental Ditties), followed by the publication of Plain Tales from the Hills - his first anthology of short stories - in 1888. Due to the great popular appeal of his work in India, Kipling decided to return to England to pursue a career as a fiction writer in 1889. He was met with instant recognition, with his work inspiring either immediate love or disdain among readers. Kipling was soon getting worldwide attention, and even entered into a co-writing venture with American writer Wolcott Balestier.

Their The Naulahka was never well-received; however, it did afford Rudyard the opportunity to meet Wolcott's sister Caroline, whom Kipling married in January 1892. The couple had three children, and many of Kipling's most notable works were produced for them and other young readers and listeners like them. Despite his knack for creating much-loved pieces for young audiences, Kipling and his work have often been harshly criticized over the years. He was unpopular with the American press because of his reserved nature, and many even now consider his imperialist sympathies and mistrust of democratic rule to be black marks against his work.

Nevertheless, Kipling's well-crafted literature won him a spot as a Nobel Laureate in 1907. Even though he was noted as having become increasingly bitter and vengeful following the deaths of two of his children, Rudyard Kipling has still managed to touch the hearts of millions with his tender and evocative stories and poems. Even almost 80 years following his death at his home in Sussex, England on January 18, 1936, the works of Rudyard Kipling - as controversial as some have been - have never been out of print. Take a look at a few examples of the author's literary legacy to see why they have been so long considered classics of English literature.

Some Books and Poems by Rudyard Kipling

Gunga Din

Published in 1892 as part of Kipling's Barrack-Room Ballads, Gunga Din is a poem highlighting the harsh treatment of a native bhisti ('water-carrier') serving a regiment of British soldiers. Despite brutal physical and emotional barrages, Gunga Din maintains his composure and helps the men to the best of his ability. He even saves the Cockney narrator (commonly found in Kipling's work) from certain doom at the cost of his own life. In the end, the narrator must acknowledge that 'You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.'

The Jungle Book

Perhaps Kipling's most notable and cherished collection of short stories, The Jungle Book was published in 1894, shortly after the births of his first two children. In this anthology, we find some of Kipling's most enduring stories, such as those surrounding the adventures of Mowgli or Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Rudyard himself claimed that much of the inspiration for these stories came from a book he read as a child involving a hunter in South Africa who teams-up with a pride of lions against some baboons. However, there are also obvious influences from the Jakata (Sanskrit 'origin stories') of India, which are tales related to various incarnations of the Buddha.

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