The Benefactors


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!


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Return to the Rudyard Kipling library , or . . . Read the next poem; The Betrothed

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