Of Cafés and Kipling

Long long ago when we were sitting in a café, chatting, sipping on a delicious cup of coffee / hot chocolate, we realized how much we liked it all. To visit local coffee shop when time permitted during the weekends. To soak in the artistic ambiance the place had to offer. To spend few hours together discussing the happenings in our lives. What better way to relax every once in a while, we thought. And, so we decided to make it a tradition.

With time, we got to observe other people in the cafes we went to, and saw how some of them had a particular thing that they did while they were there – be it people playing scrabble or getting together with friends or reading or writing or even just plain getting comfortable on the couch and taking a short nap. And that made us wonder if we should add some flavor to the time we spent there.

How about we discuss a book we recently read?” came forth a suggestion. As much as I liked that, we didn’t go forward with it because it was unlikely for both of us to have read the same book within a specific timeframe, out of which my mind tends to lose focus of the nitty-gritty points necessary to carry on a decent discussion. “Then how about we buy a book of poems. We can read and discuss some over our cup of coffee” another idea was proposed. And there was no reason for me to say no. I was more than excited to accommodate this as our new ritual.

Weeks later, I was given a book that had a collection of poems by Rudyard Kipling. To say that I was thrilled to own my very first book of poetry would be understating what I felt as I held it in my hands. And yes, I was a little tense too. Given that I haven’t actually dedicated time to reading any poetry other than what I had to during school / college years, I was afraid how much of this form of art my mind can comprehend.

Would I be able to understand the depth of the poet’s words? Would I be able to appreciate the beauty it carried? Would I be able to grasp the knowledge it presents, at least a bit if not all? What if I fail miserably trying to do all that? What if reading poetry is not my forte? Too many questions, all of which had to wait for time to reveal the answers.

As the sun set that evening, and as the cold weather took its true form, we concluded our hike and started our search for a local café. We kept calling one place after the other to see which was open and where we could go until we finally found one. We drove to the coffee shop, went in, placed our order of a coffee and a hot chocolate, and settled down on the couch to mark the beginning of a beautiful custom.

To begin with, we read “If” by Rudyard Kipling –

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

What wonderful verses! So much wisdom in each and every sentence!

Here’s one more that stood out of all the poems I read that evening – “My Boy Jack” by Rudyard Kipling.

“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

I read that Kipling wrote this poem after his son went missing while in a war. I am no parent; I might not fully understand how it must feel to lose a child. But reading those lines made me misty eyed for a second. Such brilliant use of language is enough to evoke strong emotions in anyone who reads it. Simply superb, don’t you think?

After that we went on to read some more poems by Kipling, Wordsworth, Emerson in the few hours we spent at the café. And, needless to say, each one of those works of art was exceptional in its own ways.

So, how did I feel at the end of it all? While I was able to appreciate the poets for their genius work, while I was able to take away some wisdom after that endeavor, I can’t quite say that I fully understood the deep meaning of everything we read. And I doubt if I will ever get to that point. All I can do is try, which I will most definitely do. Also, when I have for company a person who will take the time and make the effort to explain to me patiently everything I may not have followed, what more could I ask for?

All in all, it was an evening well spent – I can’t wait to continue this journey that we have embarked upon. And I hope we carry on with this tradition for years to come.


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  1. #1 by bitsofchocolate on January 25, 2011 - 6:27 pm

    Breathing in the atmosphere of a coffee shop, soaking in the sights, smells, textures, the myraid folk passing through – this is as rewarding as good coffee itself 🙂

    Kiplings’s poetry is somewhat different in mood and style as compared to his short stories – but both are equally delightful

    yes yes and yes about the coffee shop 🙂


  2. #2 by Psych Babbler on January 25, 2011 - 9:28 pm

    I love coffee shops…but my stay there is confined to people-watching and deep & meaningfuls about psychology and other soapbox issues. In addition to enjoying my coffee/iced chocolate of course! 😛

    I remember reading ‘If’ years ago and it being one of the few poems I liked. My boy Jack does sound good. For some reason (maybe because I did English Lit for 2 yrs in college) I am not the biggest fan of reading poems (apart from those by bloggers!) even though I enjoy writing them…I think maybe the pressure on us in Eng Lit to analyse the reason behind why the poet must have written this verse and that verse annoyed me! I do enjoy Ogden Nash’s poems though…they are quite funny! 🙂

    2 years of Lit eh? Nice! I took only couple of Lit classes and quite liked those 🙂 Will check Nash’s poems, thanks 🙂


  3. #3 by PNA on January 25, 2011 - 11:26 pm

    I love coffee shops and Kipling, his stories and poems. No wonder many books stores have a mini place to sit around, a huge mug of coffee and a huge book… or are located next to a coffee place, so we hop in there, be comfortable and start to read… One of those public and private places and If is a fav poem 🙂 But I don’t read too much poetry either! But they do have an ability to take you away to a different plain



  4. #4 by chroniclesofdee on January 26, 2011 - 2:29 am

    My favorite passtime – good filter coffee with a kick-ass book.

    I can do that for eternity 🙂



  5. #5 by ambulisamma on January 26, 2011 - 6:35 am

    Loved your version of Coffee shops,but i have been there mostly on business meetings.Sigh,there is so much more than that.

    there definitely is.. 😀


  6. #6 by celestialrays on January 26, 2011 - 8:47 am

    The coffee shops around here are not conducive for relaxing with a cuppa, more like drink and run 😛
    I would love to go to one of those cafes that have comfy sofas, no waiters hinting you to leave and doing good cupcakes(thats just for my craving :P) as well. That day, I would love to discuss books with a nice friend 😀

    😀 come here and we can go


  7. #7 by Writerzblock on January 26, 2011 - 8:54 am

    I’m miles, MILES away from poetry 🙂 Don’t think it will ever sink into thick skinned folks like me 🙂

    err me too…but it’s fun reading it, something different…so no harm in trying 😀


  8. #8 by Scribby on January 26, 2011 - 11:17 am

    what a way to spend time together…great idea 🙂

    the verses are wonderful…honestly I will have to read it again to get deeper 😉

    wishing you more such lovely times at cafes and of poetries, girl 🙂

    thank you, dear 🙂


  9. #9 by Swaram on January 26, 2011 - 11:30 am

    Oh I luvvv this T 🙂



  10. #10 by Ruchira on January 26, 2011 - 11:36 pm

    Good cafes have an ambience that is difficult to talk about – you need to experience it. I think you have been extremely lucky to find such a café and even luckier to find a person who enjoys discussing Kipling over coffee ! 🙂



  11. #11 by priyaiyer on January 27, 2011 - 12:48 am

    I loved this post! I feel the same way about poetry and cafes. 🙂
    So glad to hear about this tradition. I would have loved to do so, if I had a literary-minded friend here, willing to try it out with me. 😦
    Anyways, wishing you all the best to continue the tradition. May you grow and learn with it.

    thank you 🙂


  12. #12 by priyaiyer on January 27, 2011 - 12:55 am

    I’ve never properly read Kipling’s poetry, but the samples that you have mentioned in your post are lovely. They are so simple and yet so meaningful. Your post reminds me I should be reading more poetry. I have almost given up.

    BTW you SHOULD read Tagore’s poetry. I am a big big big fan of his poems. I don’t always understand everything from his poems, but they sure have my heart fluttering with their simplistic beauty. Do give them a shot. I’m so sure you’ll get hooked to them, like I did.

    I’ve read a poem or two of Tagore, but will definitely read more when I get the chance. Thanks for the suggestion, Priya!


  13. #13 by Kavya on January 27, 2011 - 1:36 am

    I just loved this post :). Spending time at Coffeeshop with friends is always awesome 🙂

    yupe 🙂


  14. #14 by Elegant Chic on January 27, 2011 - 4:33 am

    That’s a gr8 idea!!!
    Hope you had a wonderful time!! 🙂

    sure did 🙂


  15. #15 by binpin on January 27, 2011 - 5:42 pm

    I used to love poetry and cant remember when I stopped reading it:(. I wish every human being in this world read that poem “if” , the world would be a better place. ..

    🙂 start reading again now 😀


  16. #16 by Reema on April 22, 2011 - 12:35 pm

    Such a wonderful thing to do!! “IF” is one of my favorite poems!



  17. #17 by Matt on August 21, 2012 - 1:35 pm

    “Brilliant use of language is enough to evoke strong emotions in anyone who reads it.” Now you know how we feel when we read your work 😀 😀

    you are too kind and sweet, Matt 🙂 but there’s no way I write so beautifully 🙂


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