The Poetry of Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling not only wrote our Ritual and the Obligation, he authored the poetry that we recite toward the end of the Ceremony. The Hymn of Breaking Strain is traditionally used by Camp 18 to end our Ritual.

Some Camps use The Sons of Martha, which is also appropriate with clear references to the work of the Engineers of his day.

Other Camps recite the poem If-, which is perhaps one of his best known works, apart from the Jungle Book of course.

Rudyard Kipling

Hymn of Breaking Strain


THE careful text-books measure
(Let all who build beware!) 
The load, the shock, the pressure
Material can bear. 
So, when the buckled girder
Lets down the grinding span, 
'The blame of loss, or murder, 
Is laid upon the man. 
Not on  the Stuff - the Man!

But in our daily dealing 
With stone and steel, we find
The Gods have no such feeling
Of justice toward mankind. 
To no set gauge they make us- 
For no laid course prepare-
And presently o'ertake us
With loads we cannot bear: 
Too merciless to bear.  

The prudent text-books give it 
In tables at the end
'The stress that shears a rivet 
Or makes a tie-bar bend-
'What traffic wrecks macadam-
What concrete should endure-
but we, poor Sons of Adam
Have no such literature,
To warn us or make sure! 

We hold all Earth to plunder -
All Time and Space as well-
Too wonder-stale to wonder
At each new miracle;
Till, in the mid-illusion
Of Godhead 'neath our hand,
Falls multiple confusion
On all we did or planned-
 The mighty works we planned.  

We only of Creation
(0h, luckier bridge and rail) 
Abide the twin damnation-    
To fail and know we fail.
Yet we - by which sole token
We know we once were Gods-
Take shame in being broken
However great the odds-
The burden of the Odds. 

Oh, veiled and secret Power
Whose paths we seek in vain,
Be with us in our hour
Of overthrow and pain;
That we - by which sure token
We know Thy ways are true -
In spite of being broken,
Because of being broken
May rise and build anew
Stand up and build anew

Rudyard Kipling

The Sons of Martha

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 removed.” They say to the lesser floods, “Be dry.”

Under their rods are the rocks reproved — 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 teach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they dam’-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 days 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 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 blessed — they know the Angels are on their side.

They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.

They sit at the Feet — they hear the World — 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!

If-                     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 on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe 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!