At His Execution

 

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The twelfth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling.   The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , herehere , here, here, here, here , here and here.  Kipling was not conventionally religious.  He once described himself jokingly as a pious Christian atheist.  However, many of his poems dealt with religious themes.  One of his most moving religious poems he wrote in 1932, four years before his death.

At His Execution

 

I am made all things to all men–

 Hebrew, Roman, and Greek–

 In each one’s tongue I speak,

Suiting to each my word,

That some may be drawn to the Lord!

I am made all things to all men–

 In City or Wilderness

 Praising the crafts they profess

That some may be drawn to the Lord–

By any means to my Lord!

Since I was overcome

 By that great Light and Word,

 I have forgot or forgone

The self men call their own

(Being made all things to all men)

 So that I might save some

 At such small price to the Lord,

As being all things to all men.

I was made all things to all men,

But now my course is done–

And now is my reward…

Ah, Christ, when I stand at Thy Throne

With those I have drawn to the Lord,

 Restore me my self again!

The poem is of course a tribute to Saint Paul as he awaited his execution at the command of Nero in Rome.  The first stanza celebrates the universal nature of Saint Paul’s mission to the Jews, Greeks and Romans, to anyone and everyone who would hear the Good News.

Hebrew, Roman, and Greek–

In each one’s tongue I speak,

Suiting to each my word,

That some may be drawn to the Lord!

Next Kipling celebrates the energy of Paul that took him through endless cities and wilderness preaching the Gospel to save as many as he could with the light of Christ.

I am made all things to all men–

In City or Wilderness

Praising the crafts they profess

That some may be drawn to the Lord–

By any means to my Lord!

Kipling notes that when Christ gave Paul his Great Commission, it meant the death of Paul to himself, since he was now all things to all men to draw them one by one to Christ.

Since I was overcome

By that great Light and Word,

I have forgot or forgone

The self men call their own

(Being made all things to all men)

So that I might save some

At such small price to the Lord,

As being all things to all men.

Kipling ends the poem with a prayer by Saint Paul that when he stands before Christ with those he has brought to Him that Paul may be restored to himself now that his mission is accomplished.

I was made all things to all men,

But now my course is done–

And now is my reward…

Ah, Christ, when I stand at Thy Throne

With those I have drawn to the Lord,

Restore me my self again!

I hope that after Kipling’s death he found himself standing before the throne, the latest of souls drawn to Christ through the mission of Saint Paul.

6 Responses to At His Execution

  • PM says:

    “Judge of the Nations, spare us yet.
    Lest we forget—lest we forget!”

    “If” for his son lost in battle on being a man.

    So much wisdom, humor and sense in words that could be about today for all of us.

    Young people would benefit for life, individually and as a people, if they could use some time with him all laid out in your posts mentioned above. The three R’s plus Rudyard for four R’s.

    Those beyond young can see life unfolding in his work.

    In 2012, he’d have some ‘tweaking’ maybe – but his words ring true.

  • Pinky says:

    I hate to be a downer, but isn’t there a certain sense of fatigue or non-Christian selfishness expressed in that last line?

    A Christian would say he gave up himself to find his true self. Or he abandoned his old self to be made into a new self. Or he loses himself completely in God. Kipling’s Paul seems to be saying that he’s done his job – forgetting himself to be all things to all people – and now he just wants to go back to being his old self. “Restore”.

    I could be wrong on this. But I think that some of the other Kipling poems you’ve presented had a theme of the weary soldier just wanting to go back home, trudging through the impossible. That sounds Kipling-y to me. Kipling’s Paul sounds more like that than someone like the historical Paul who became a new creature through Jesus. There’s also the fact that by your reading the tone of the poem is unvarying, and usually that doesn’t happen. Most poems have a mood change in them or a twist in the final verse.

  • Perhaps Pinky, or perhaps it is Kipling’s way of underlining the sense of “mission accomplished” that Saint Paul had when he wrote about completing the race and a merited crown. What Christ had made Saint Paul on Earth through divine intervention, the missionary to the Gentiles, all things to all men, would no longer be necessary in Heaven. Note how Kipling uses the term reward. One of the joys of Heaven is the banishment of the strife and constant battle we find ourselves engaged in for Christ here on Earth. The distinction between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant.

  • T. Shaw says:

    2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith;”

    Acts 20:24 “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” St. Paul’s Farewell to the Elders of Ephesus.

  • T. Shaw says:

    Kipling on point:

    “So we loosed a bloomin’ volley,
    An’ we made the beggars cut,
    An’ when our pouch was emptied out.
    We used the bloomin’ butt,
    Ho! My!
    Don’t yer come anigh,
    When Tommy is a playin’ with the baynit an’ the butt.”
    “The Taking of Lungtingpen” –Barrack Room Ballads.

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