The Sons of Martha by Rudyard Kipling

Hey, I said I was a big Kipling fan:

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest, 
Her Sons must wait upon Mary's Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest. 

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock. 
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock. 
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain, 
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main. 

They say to mountains ``Be ye removèd.'' They say to the lesser floods ``Be dry.'' 
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd---they are not afraid of that which is high. 
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit---then is the bed of the deep laid bare, 
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware. 

They finger Death at their gloves' end where they piece and repiece the living wires. 
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires. 
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall, 
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall. 

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar. 
They are concerned with matters hidden---under the earthline their altars are--- 
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth, 
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city's drouth. 

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose. 
They do not preach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they damn-well choose. 
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand, 
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren's ways may be long in the land. 

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat; 
Lo, it is black already with the blood some Son of Martha spilled for that! 
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed, 
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need. 

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd---they know the Angels are on their side. 
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied. 
They sit at the feet---they hear the Word---they see how truly the Promise runs. 
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and---the Lord He lays it on Martha's Sons!


  1. Another favorite poem of mine.

    but then Kipling doesn't stay on my bookshelf, it stays on my desk.

    I've said the following before:

    While the standard interpretation is that Martha was preoccupied with the wrong priorities, that never sat well with me. Custom at that time imposed obligations on the hosts to honor their guests, and somebody had to take care of that, or it would have been a dishonor. Martha was honoring her guest by making sure everything he needed was available. While I get what was said - the story is supposed to be a metaphor for the priority of the spiritual over the mundane - in the real world, someone has to make sure food ends up on the table.

    And those who worry about such realities tend to be engineers. People who do the nasty, scutty work of keeping things running while generally unappreciated and forgotten, making our lives easier. "They finger Death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires. He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires. "

    The poem also brings up that those of an engineering bent have to deal with the world as it is, and not as they wish it would be. "They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose." Even more so these days, many of these professions are among the few in a cocooned civilization where life and death choices, and attention to details are part of everyday living.

    And you can't quit just because it's no fun anymore.

    1. Yeah. I ran into this one thanks to (who else) John Ringo, who referenced the poem in The Last Centurion. Then I went and looked it up and thought, "wow... just WOW". Then again, Kipling tends to have that effect; I read "Recessional" recently as well, and that was a bit like getting gut-punched.

      Funny thing is, I didn't even know about the tale of Martha and Mary until I went and looked it up after reading the poem. And I'd say that Kipling agrees with us on the subject; it's all well and good to feed the soul first, but in reality, the hard work of life doesn't go away.

      I suspect that is why Kipling appeals so much to military and conservative types. He wrote of the world as it was, and as it is, not as Man wants it to be. And those of us with sense enough to see what he saw understand his genius in describing the way things work with such lyrical and evocative quality.


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