Kipling was born in Bombay, India. His father was John Lockwood Kipling, a teacher at the local Jeejeebhoy School of Art, and his mother was Alice Macdonald. They are said to have met at Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, England, hence Kipling's name. His mother's sister was married to the artist Edward Burne-Jones, and young Kipling and his sister spent much time with the Joneses in England from the ages of six to twelve, while his parents remained in India.
After a spell at boarding school, Kipling returned to India himself, to Lahore (in modern-day Pakistan) where his parents now were, in 1881. He began working as a newspaper editor for a local edition and continued tentative steps into the world of poetry; his first professional sales were in 1883.
By the mid-1880s he was travelling around the subcontinent as a correspondent for the Allahabad Pioneer. His fiction sales also began to bloom, and he published six short books of short stories in 1888. One short story dating from this time is "The Man Who Would Be a King", later made famous as a slightly differently named movie featuring Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
The next year Kipling began a long journey back to England, going through Burma, China, Japan, and California before crossing the United States and the Atlantic Ocean and settling in London. From then on his fame grew rapidly, and he positioned himself as the literary voice most closely associated with the imperialist tempo of the time in the United Kingdom (and, indeed, the rest of the Western world and Japan). His first novel, The Light that Failed, was published in 1890. The most famous of his poems of this time is probably "The Ballad of East and West" (which begins "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet")
In 1892 he married Caroline Balastier; her brother, an American writer, had been Kipling's friend but had died of typhoid fever the previous year. While on honeymoon Kipling's bank failed and cashing in their travel tickets only let the couple return as far as Vermont (where most of the Balastier family lived). Rudyard and his new bride would live in the United States for the next four years. During this time he turned his hand to writing for children, and he published the work for which he is most remembered today -- The Jungle Book -- and its sequel The Second Jungle Book -- in 1894 and 1895.
After a quarrel with his in-laws, he and his wife returned to England, and in 1897 he published Captains Courageous. The next year he would begin travelling to southern Africa for winter vacations almost every year. There he would meet and befriend another icon of British imperialism, Cecil Rhodes, and begin collecting material for another of his children's classics, Just So Stories for Little Children\. That work was published in 1902, and another of his enduring works, the Indian spy novel Kim, first saw the light of day the previous year. In 2001, the novel would be listed as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by the editorial board of the American Modern Library.
Kipling's poetry of the time included "The White Man's Burden". In the non-fiction realm he also became involved in the debate over the British response to the rise in German naval power, publishing a series of articles collectively entitled A Fleet in Being.
During the first decade of the 20th century, Kipling was at the height of his popularity. In 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; bookending this achievement was the publication of two connected poetry and story collections, 1906's Puck of Pook Hill and 1910's Rewards and Fairies. The latter contained the poem If -. In a 1995 BBC opinion poll, it was voted Britain's favourite poem. This exhortation to seize the day is arguably Kipling's single most famous poem.
Kipling was so closely associated with the expansive, confident attitude of late 19th-century European civilization that it was inevitable that his reputation would suffer in the years of and after World War I; Kipling also knew personal tragedy at the time as his eldest son, John, died in 1915 at the Battle of Loos. Partly in response, he joined Sir Fabian Ware's Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission), the group responsible for the garden-like British war graves that can be found to this day dotted along the former Western Front. His most significant contribution to the project was his selection of the biblical phrase "Their Name Liveth For Evermore" found on the Stones of Remembrance in larger war graves.
In 1922, Kipling, who had made reference to the work of engineers in some of his poems and writings, was asked by a University of Toronto civil engineering professor for his assistance in developing a dignified obligation and ceremony for graduating engineering students. Kipling was very enthusiastic in his response and shortly produced both an obligation and a ceremony formally entitled "The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer." Today, engineering graduates all across Canada, and even some in the United States, are presented with an iron ring at the ceremony as a reminder of their obligation to society.
Kipling kept writing until the early 1930s, but at a slower pace and to much less success than before. He died of a brain haemorrhage in early 1936, and continued falling into critical eclipse afterwards. Today it is difficult to decide if Kipling has a rightful place in the pantheon of great writers. As the European colonial empires collapsed in the mid-20th century and the ideas of communism gained influence, Kipling's works were far out of step with the times; many who condemn him are really criticizing the imperialist ideal and not Kipling. His main literary legacy in the period immediately following his death was on American science fiction, as John W. Campbell considered him an ideal to be followed; many science fiction writers still consciously follow his example. Today, Kipling is most highly regarded for his children's books, while in his own lifetime he was primarily considered a poet (and was even offered the post of British Poet Laureate -- he turned it down). There are signs of rehabilitation in Kipling's reputation both as a writer of mature prose and of poetry, as public tastes change once again. Where the pendulum of regard will come to rest remains to be seen.