Simplicity and Complexity
A few years ago, when it was the custom to dismiss Kipling's work as 'simple', it might have appeared of the first importance to demonstrate that the simplicity was often in the eye of the beholder. Now it is, perhaps, as important to establish the fact that this intricate craftsman was on occasion capable of true simplicity. This is a word that is used both absolutely and relatively; I have, indeed, used it both ways in the preceding sentences. The absolute sense is often discriminated by the epithets true, pure or perfect. Simplicity of this kind marks the highest pitch to which a certain kind of writing can go. There must be a maturity of substance--very likely an instantaneous or intuitive maturity--so complete that any form of uneasiness or display--any sediment, in fact--is impossible, and this must be conveyed in a translucent medium and with natural grace of form. This simplicity cannot coexist with elaborate patterning or conscious complexity of attitude; it does not thrive, therefore, with irony. It seems to be diminished by a strict control and condensation, that are felt to be consciously such. At least, I know no other reason why King Lear's
her voice was ever soft,
Gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman
seems to me to have this pure simplicity, and Samson's
Eyeless in Gaza at the mill with slaves
not to have it, though it has many noble qualities, and in Samson's mouth is a plain statement of fact. Perhaps we hear the beat of the craftsman's hammer on the iron.
It will not be expected that we shall find many passages of this kind in so complex an artist as Kipling; but we can find some. They are easier to find in the verse than the prose. I will not