Brought to mind by Sunday's poem (Poem #938)...
(Poem #940) The Palace
When I was a King and a Mason -- a Master proven and skilled -- I cleared me ground for a Palace such as a King should build. I decreed and dug down to my levels. Presently, under the silt, I came on the wreck of a Palace such as a King had built. There was no worth in the fashion -- there was no wit in the plan -- Hither and thither, aimless, the ruined footings ran -- Masonry, brute, mishandled, but carven on every stone: "After me cometh a Builder. Tell him, I too have known." Swift to my use in my trenches, where my well-planned ground-works grew, I tumbled his quoins and his ashlars, and cut and reset them anew. Lime I milled of his marbles; burned it, slacked it, and spread; Taking and leaving at pleasure the gifts of the humble dead. Yet I despised not nor gloried; yet, as we wrenched them apart, I read in the razed foundations the heart of that builder's heart. As he had risen and pleaded, so did I understand The form of the dream he had followed in the face of the thing he had planned. * * * * * When I was a King and a Mason -- in the open noon of my pride, They sent me a Word from the Darkness. They whispered and called me aside. They said -- "The end is forbidden." They said -- "Thy use is fulfilled. "Thy Palace shall stand as that other's -- the spoil of a King who shall build." I called my men from my trenches, my quarries, my wharves, and my sheers. All I had wrought I abandoned to the faith of the faithless years. Only I cut on the timber -- only I carved on the stone: "After me cometh a Builder. Tell him, I too have known!"
(1902) Notes: quoin: An external angle of a wall or building; also, one of the stones or bricks serving to form the angle; a corner-stone ashlar: A square hewn stone for building purposes or for pavement sheer: The fore-and-aft upward curvature or rise of the deck or bulwarks of a vessel [Anything more appropriate? That's all I could get out of the OED - m.] Man's relationship with Time has ever been an uneasy one, and all the more so for its essentially one-sided nature - time sweeps on heedless of man or his works, of whether he "goes gentle into that good night" or "rage[s] against the dying of the light". And with Time come its attendant evils - entropy, decay, and, of course, Death, making the vain bid for immortality one of the most poignant of human impulses. (On the other hand, it is the same impulse that gave us the pyramids and Shakespeare's sonnets, so perhaps 'vain' is not quite accurate). Today's poem is an interesting look at that relationship. The king's tone is a curious mixture of pride, cool efficiency, and a genuine sympathy for the dream of the deceased builder, and his reaction to the "Word From the Darkness" is wonderfully philosophical, particularly for a king in the "open noon of his pride". Gratifyingly if not unexpectedly, Kipling's verse proves equal to the (somewhat weighty) subject. The language is consistent and nicely balanced, and there are several lines that made me shiver (still, despite all I have learnt of criticism, one of my primary criteria in deeming a poem 'good'). One phrase seems slightly out of place ("I cleared me ground for a palace"), but that's most likely due to a minor difference in dialect. Links: Kipling Biography: See Poem #17 Other Kipling poems on Minstrels: [broken link] http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/index_poet_4.html -martin