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The message of this poem is that the wolves of the forest have both rights and responsibilities. It is saying that wolves should have a great deal of freedom, but that their freedom should not extend to allowing them to do things that will hurt their community. This can be read as a commentary on Kipling's part about how human society should run.
As an example, we are told that a wolf's lair is his "refuge" and that not even the head wolf may enter without permission. That shows that wolves have rights. At the same time, however, if the wolf has "digged it too plain," the Council can tell him to "change it again." This means that the wolf cannot use his rights to do something (like having his den where humans can find it) that will endanger the pack.
These parts of the law show that wolves have rights, but they also have responsibilities to their communities.
We can learn a lot from wolves. Pohnpei did a good job explaining the benefits of wolf responsibility and how humans can learn a lot from their wolf society in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book as a whole and "The Law of the Jungle" specifically. Let's take a look at some specifics of the poem that show the rights and responsibilities of wolves (and people).
Interestingly enough, Kipling begins with the responsibilities and ENDS with the rights! Both are almost always contained in the first line of a stanza. Let's begin with what Kipling does: responsibilities. There are many, but here are a few important ones
Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, / ...
But kill not for pleasure
The Kill of the Pack is the meat of the Pack
The Kill of the Wolf is the meat of the Wolf.
If humans need to learn one thing it is not to kill "for pleasure." Wolves, according to Kipling, have the same responsibility. You will see quickly that rights and responsibilities begin to blend together. While the pack has a responsibility to help kill, they all have the right to eat it. However, if one wolf makes a kill, he can eat it on his own.
Now, Kipling believes, it is finally time to discuss the rights of the wolf.
Pack-Right is the right of the meanest
Cub-Right is the right of the Yearling
Lair-Right is the right of the Mother.
Cave-Right is the right of the Father --
Here we learn that the meanest wolves are left the best meat. Further, the young are able to eat as much as they want when they want in "full-gorge." No wolf can deny a young cub this right. We also learn that mother wolves have major rights, too, called the "lair-right." This, again, is about food for the young, actually. A mother is allowed to take any "haunch" for her young so that they can eat before they can claim it for themselves as cubs. Finally, the wolf fathers have rights, too. Fathers are welcome to actually ignore the call of the pack and hunt for their own family.
Thus, you can see that the message of the poem is that wolves have responsibilities before rights. Humans should have the same.
In my opinion, this poem defines a primal form of law - i.e. a set of rules and guidelines. I've found more than a few of them appropriate in my day to day life. Let's go through the poem. Be advised that following is my interpretation only.
"NOW this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die."
[This is about the importance of these rules. Also, points out that following them is not a guarantee of success. ]
"As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack."
[Law binds both the pack and a wolf or society and a man. Second part emphasizes the interdependence between two.]
Wash daily from nose tip to tail tip; drink deeply, but never too deep;
And remember the night is for hunting and forget not the day is for sleep.
[Advise on following daily routine and work-life balance. Could not be overemphasized.]
"The jackal may follow the tiger, but, cub, when thy whiskers are grown,
Remember the wolf is a hunter—go forth and get food of thy own."
[`thy whiskers are grown`: when you have grown up.
Rest should be self evident]
"Keep peace with the lords of the jungle, the tiger, the panther, the bear;
And trouble not Hathi the Silent, and mock not the boar in his lair."
[Keep good manner. Don't quarrel with people you don't have to. ]
"When pack meets with pack in the jungle, and neither will go from the trail,
Lie down till the leaders have spoken; it may be fair words shall prevail."
[When conflict is eminent - i.e. two groups meet and neither is willing to give ground - don't jump in and start the fight. Sometime talking works.]
"When ye fight with a wolf of the pack ye must fight him alone and afar,
Lest others take part in the quarrel and the pack is diminished by war."
[One of the more useful lines. If you have issues with someone, talk and try to resolve them privately, or others would may take side and conflict can escalate. ]
"The lair of the wolf is his refuge, and where he has made him his home,
Not even the head wolf may enter, not even the council may come."
[Unalienable rights of individuals.]
"The lair of the wolf is his refuge, but where he has digged it too plain,
The council shall send him a message, and so he shall change it again."
[Rights of individuals can be superseded if they endanger the security of the pack. ]
"If ye kill before midnight be silent and wake not the woods with your bay,
Lest ye frighten the deer from the crop and thy brothers go empty away."
"Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, and your cubs as they need and ye can;
But kill not for pleasure of killing, and seven times never kill man."
[Literal meaning of above two should be obvious. They are about keeping other people's interests in mind, not wasting resources and never doing something the endangers the entire group, when you make your living. ]
"If ye plunder his kill from a weaker, devour not all in thy pride,
Pack-right is the right of the meanest; so leave him the head and the hide."
[My understanding of this contrasts severely with Ms. Thompson's:
`Pack-right`: Universal rights. Rights that belongs to all members of the pack.
`head and the hide`: Least desirable part of the kill. Rest should be self evident. ]
"Lair right is the right of the mother. From all of her years she may claim
One haunch of each kill for her litter, and none may deny her the same."
[`all of her years`: I think years refer to children older than one year - i.e. adults in wolf terms.
Essentially this defines mothers claim on a portion of all her adult children's earnings.]
"Cub right is the right of the yearling. From all of his pack he may claim
Full gorge when the killer has eaten; and none may refuse him the same."
[`yearling`: Cubs younger than 1 year. Children in wolf term.]
"Cave right is the right of the father, to hunt by himself for his own;
He is freed from all calls to the pack. He is judged by the council alone."
Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw,
In all that the law leaveth open the word of the head wolf is law.
Now these are the laws of the jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the law and the haunch and the hump is—Obey!"
[Not clear of the last line - other than "Obey". Rest have more or less literal meaning.]
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