The Sons of Martha

Monday, February 1 2010

Rudyard Kipling in 1926. Source Wikipedia.

(To see the original image and a discussion of its public domain status, click on picture.)

As a callow youth I dismissed Rudyard Kipling as an apologist for British imperialism, but having recently re-read Stalky and Co I found the book subtly nuanced and a worthy for inclusion on any recommended reading list. However, it was only yesterday, thanks to a post by the Fact Compiler at Railway Eye, that I discovered to my surprise that Kipling was interested in Engineering! I wonder how many people know that Kipling created “The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer” for the Engineering Institute of Canada.

The Sons Of Martha

by Rudyard Kipling

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The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,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. Stirring, and moving, poem. Brought to mind for me another by Kipling – most of words of which I’ve forgotten, also the title, drat it; but I’ll attempt to seek it out. This poem has a railway engineering and public administration background; but its basic theme is government and corruption (which here, Kipling seems to see as regrettable but inevitable; to be fairly gently satirised, rather than zealously campaigned against).

    Said (title forgotten) poem contains a brief reference which much appealed to me: concerning the fictitious Bhamo State Railway, “With a length of one mile and one furlong, and a guaranteed twenty-inch gauge”. Please, Mr. K., enquiring minds wish to know more…

  2. Er, that would be callow youth rather than ‘sallow’ I would imagine!

    • Indeed! Thank you. Post corrected.

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