Saturday, 27 June 2009

On Kipling, 2

A rather obvious point, really: 'The Betrothed' (in Departmental Ditties, 1886) contains the much-quoted, Freud-before-Freud line: 'And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke.' The whole poem hinges on the notion that the pleasure one derives from a cigar is exactly equivalent to the pleasure one derives from a woman, with this exception--that cigars, once enjoyed, can be endlessly replaced; but a man may not simply replace his wife when she is grey and dour and old 'for fear o' the talk o' the town!' The erotic myopia of this is what makes it comic. So for instance, that much-quoted line is haunted by the near rhyme 'smoke'/'fuck' ('a cigar is only a cigar, but a desirable woman is a fuck') that soldily pinpoints a reductive masculinist perspective on human relationships. It's nicely done, especially for the mid-1880s, and without needing to reach for any Clintonian or phallic symbolism ...

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