The Benefactors

By Rudyard Kipling 1865–1936 Rudyard Kipling
Ah! What avails the classic bent   
   And what the cultured word,   
Against the undoctored incident   
   That actually occurred?

And what is Art whereto we press   
   Through paint and prose and rhyme—
When Nature in her nakedness
   Defeats us every time?

It is not learning, grace nor gear,
   Nor easy meat and drink,
But bitter pinch of pain and fear
   That makes creation think.

When in this world’s unpleasing youth   
   Our godlike race began,
The longest arm, the sharpest tooth,   
   Gave man control of man;

Till, bruised and bitten to the bone
   And taught by pain and fear,
He learned to deal the far-off stone,
   And poke the long, safe spear.

So tooth and nail were obsolete   
   As means against a foe,
Till, bored by uniform defeat,   
   Some genius built the bow.

Then stone and javelin proved as vain   
   As old-time tooth and nail;
Till, spurred anew by fear and pain,   
   Man fashioned coats of mail.

Then was there safety for the rich   
   And danger for the poor,
Till someone mixed a powder which
   Redressed the scale once more.

Helmet and armour disappeared
   With sword and bow and pike,
And, when the smoke of battle cleared,
   All men were armed alike. . . .

And when ten million such were slain   
   To please one crazy king,
Man, schooled in bulk by fear and pain,   
   Grew weary of the thing;

And, at the very hour designed
   To enslave him past recall,
His tooth-stone-arrow-gun-shy mind   
   Turned and abolished all.

All Power, each Tyrant, every Mob
   Whose head has grown too large,   
Ends by destroying its own job
   And works its own discharge;

And Man, whose mere necessities
   Move all things from his path,   
Trembles meanwhile at their decrees,
   And deprecates their wrath!

Source: A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1943)

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Poet Rudyard Kipling 1865–1936

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects War & Conflict, History & Politics, Social Commentaries

Poetic Terms Common Measure, Rhymed Stanza

 Rudyard  Kipling

Biography

Rudyard Kipling is one of the best-known of the late Victorian poets and story-tellers. Although he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, his unpopular political views caused his work to be neglected shortly after his death. Critics, however, recognize the power of his work. "His unrelenting craftsmanship, his determination to be 'master of the bricks and mortar of his trade,' compels respect, and his genius as a . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, History & Politics, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Common Measure, Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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