Sunday, May 11, 2008

Rudyard Kipling

My grandfather thought Rudyard Kipling was the worst sort of bigot even while admiring him as a man of letters. He had quite a few of Kipling's books that we children were encouraged to read. I imagine my dad had to run the same gauntlet. In fact, one of dad's favorite expressions was, "An engine can't lie to you," which I later learned was probably taken from Kipling's "The Secret of the Machines."

...We are not built to comprehend a lie,
We can neither love nor pity nor forgive, ...

I'm guilty of using the same expression, especially when someone insists their VW engine converted for flight produces some prodigious amount of power. Pointing out that engines can't lie... but people selling them can... usually gets me an angry message or two from someone insisting their converted VW really does produce a hundred horsepower or more. And the surest proof of that is the fact they own it... because if it didn't produce that amount of power it would mean they had been cheated, which is impossible because they happen to be a physician. Or an airline pilot. Or some wealthy champion of industry. Or whatever.

But such messages also tell me there's a lot of folks out there who have never read Kipling :-)

The Secret of the Machines


Rudyard Kipling

WE WERE taken from the ore-bed and the mine,
We were melted in the furnace and the pit—
We were cast and wrought and hammered to design,
We were cut and filed and tooled and gauged to fit.
Some water, coal, and oil is all we ask,
And a thousandth of an inch to give us play:
And now if you will set us to our task,
We will serve you four and twenty hours a day!

We can pull and haul and push and lift and drive,
We can print and plough and weave and heat and light,
We can run and jump and swim and fly and dive,
We can see and hear and count and read and write!

Would you call a friend from half across the world?
If you’ll let us have his name and town and state,
You shall see and hear your crackling question hurled
Across the arch of heaven while you wait.
Has he answered? Does he need you at his side?
You can start this very evening if you choose,
And take the Western Ocean in the stride
Of seventy thousand horses and some screws!

The boat-express is waiting your command!
You will find the Mauretania at the quay,
Till her captain turns the lever ‘neath his hand,
And the monstrous nine-decked city goes to sea.

Do you wish to make the mountains bare their head
And lay their new-cut forests at your feet?
Do you want to turn a river in its bed,
Or plant a barren wilderness with wheat?
Shall we pipe aloft and bring you water down
From the never-failing cisterns of the snows,
To work the mills and tramways in your town,
And irrigate your orchards as it flows?

It is easy! Give us dynamite and drills!
Watch the iron-shouldered rocks lie down and quake
As the thirsty desert-level floods and fills,
And the valley we have dammed becomes a lake.

But remember, please, the Law by which we live,
We are not built to comprehend a lie,
We can neither love nor pity nor forgive,
If you make a slip in handling us you die!
We are greater than the Peoples or the Kings—
Be humble, as you crawl beneath our rods!—
Our touch can alter all created things,
We are everything on earth—except The Gods!

Though our smoke may hide the Heavens from your eyes,
It will vanish and the stars will shine again,
Because, for all our power and weight and size,
We are nothing more than children of your brain!


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Kipling helped me keep my head two years ago -- I was laid off from work after 18 years of service, two years short of a pension. "Thanks, and goodbye. Oh, but we'll write you a check for 6 month's salary if you'll train your replacement who is flying here from India next week." I was ready to let 'em have it, but thought back about a poem I learned in high school. (do they even require memorization these days?) The poem is "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 impostors 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 worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all 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!

It wasn't easy, but I turned that angry energy around and to make a long story short, I'm working at a new shop now, having more fun than ever before. The layoff was a blessing in disguise.

Anonymous said...

Would you believe that Kipling helped me through boot camp (many years ago)?

OK...well, would you believe that I never understood a particular Kipling poem UNTIL I went through boot camp?

Either way....It's called "The 'Eathen" and I won't quote it all, but one stanza and a refrain:

The young recruit is silly -- 'e thinks o' suicide.
'E's lost 'is gutter-devil; 'e 'asn't got 'is pride;
But day by day they kicks 'im, which 'elps 'im on a bit,
Till 'e finds 'isself one mornin' with a full an' proper kit.

Gettin' clear o' dirtiness, gettin' done with mess,
Gettin' shut o' doin' things rather-more-or-less;
Not so fond of abby-nay, kul, nor hazar-ho,
Learns to keep 'is ripe an "isself jus'so!

Anyway....the obvious bit about getting over the hump helped along the way, but the bit about one morning finding "a full an' proper kit." Never made sense to me until 7 not-so-wonderful weeks into a Navy boot camp "experience" I realized that somewhere along the way, I had learned what I needed to.

Anyway, Kipling has had a warm place in my heart since, and I've spent the rest of my life trying to keep from doing things "rather more-or-less."