Cold Iron

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The thirteenth 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, here and here.     I have noted several times in this series that Kipling was not conventionally religious, yet many of his poems dealt with religious themes.  One of his lesser known poems, Cold Iron, written in 1910, I have always found personally very moving.

Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid –

 Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.”

 ”Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,

 ”But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all.”

 

So he made rebellion ‘gainst the King his liege,

 Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.

 ”Nay!” said the cannoneer on the castle wall,

 ”But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!”

 

Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,

 When the cruel cannon-balls laid ‘em all along;

 He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,

 And Iron — Cold Iron — was master of it all!

 

Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)

 ”What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?”

 ”Nay!” said the Baron, “mock not at my fall,

 For Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all.”

 

“Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown –

 Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.”

 ”As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,

 For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”

 

Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)

 ”Here is Bread and here is Wine — sit and sup with me.

 Eat and drink in Mary’s Name, the whiles I do recall

 How Iron — Cold Iron — can be master of men all!”

 

He took the Wine and blessed it. He blessed and brake the Bread.

 With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:

 ”See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,

 Show Iron — Cold Iron — to be master of men all.”

 

“Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.

 Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.

 I forgive thy treason — I redeem thy fall –

 For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”

 

“Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!

 Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold!”

 ”Nay!” said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,

 ”But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all!

 Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!”

 

The poem begins with a worldly late medieval Baron cynically observing that it is cold iron, war, that is the master of men.

Gold is for the mistress — silver for the maid –

 Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.”

 ”Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall,

 ”But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of them all.”

One of many problems with this philosophy of life is that it tends to cause one to assume that force is always the path to what one wants.

So he made rebellion ‘gainst the King his liege,

 Camped before his citadel and summoned it to siege.

 ”Nay!” said the cannoneer on the castle wall,

 ”But Iron — Cold Iron — shall be master of you all!”

Another problem with the Baron’s philosophy is that there are always people out in the world who are tougher and better armed than you are.

Woe for the Baron and his knights so strong,

 When the cruel cannon-balls laid ‘em all along;

 He was taken prisoner, he was cast in thrall,

 And Iron — Cold Iron — was master of it all!

So far so conventional.  A typical tale of pride and a fall.  Kipling however now twists his poem into a higher dimension.

Yet his King spake kindly (ah, how kind a Lord!)

 ”What if I release thee now and give thee back thy sword?”

 ”Nay!” said the Baron, “mock not at my fall,

 For Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all.”

The Baron spurns the mercy of the King, not willing to use tears or prayers to soften his defeat.  He has striven against the King and been beaten by cold iron, and there can be no mercy for himself in the Baron’s philosophy.

“Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown –

 Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.”

 ”As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small,

 For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”

The King offers the Baron Bread and Wine as He explains how cold iron really does rule us all.

Yet his King made answer (few such Kings there be!)

 ”Here is Bread and here is Wine — sit and sup with me.

 Eat and drink in Mary’s Name, the whiles I do recall

 How Iron — Cold Iron — can be master of men all!”

Now Kipling reveals that the King is no mere mortal King, but the Lord of All.

He took the Wine and blessed it. He blessed and brake the Bread.

 With His own Hands He served Them, and presently He said:

 ”See! These Hands they pierced with nails, outside My city wall,

 Show Iron — Cold Iron — to be master of men all.”

The King forgives the Baron and redeems his fall.

“Wounds are for the desperate, blows are for the strong.

 Balm and oil for weary hearts all cut and bruised with wrong.

 I forgive thy treason — I redeem thy fall —  

For Iron — Cold Iron — must be master of men all!”

The Baron now understands what iron is the master of us all.

“Crowns are for the valiant — sceptres for the bold!

 Thrones and powers for mighty men who dare to take and hold!”

 ”Nay!” said the Baron, kneeling in his hall,

 ”But Iron — Cold Iron — is master of men all!

 Iron out of Calvary is master of men all!”

6 Responses to Cold Iron

  • philip says:

    Thanks Don. The beauty in truth.
    The 12th Chpt. of Revelation, near the end of the chapter comes to my mind as I read his poem.
    Yes the iron rod, but also the final battle scene; the off spring of the woman who do battle with the dragon are “those who live by the commandments and give testimony of Jesus the Christ.”
    Please excuse me for the quote might not be perfect but its very close….going from memory.
    The child taken to the Father to rule all Nations with the iron rod. The woman, our Lady to lead us in the final battle. It’s a very interesting time.

  • John Nolan says:

    Don, your commentaries on Kipling (and I have gone back and read them all) are truly enlightening. Concerning the ‘Barrack Room Ballads’, Evelyn Waugh (whom I admire) once scoffed: “When ‘Omer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre – what barrack-room balladeer ever heard of Homer or lyres?”. Yet I knew them by heart and my party piece thirty years ago in the Officers’ Mess of the South Notts. Hussars was to stand on the table (in my cups) and by popular request declaim them. The favourites were Gunga Din, Snarleyow and Fuzzy-Wuzzy; and as we were an artillery unit Ubique, The Captain’s Jacket and The Screw-Guns were also in demand. “Smokin’ me pipe on the mountings, sniffin’ the morning cool …” Happy days!

  • Thank you John. Kipling had an immense impact in his day. English officers noted at the time that their men began to sound like the privates in Kipling’s poems after exposure to his poetry. An odd case of life imitating art! I have loved Kipling since the first time I encountered him as a schoolboy in The Ballad of East and West. His understanding of the human condition I think ranks with Shakespeare. Kipling, the most underestimated writer in the English language. My favorite passage in Kipling:

    The tumult and the shouting dies;
    The Captains and the Kings Depart;
    Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
    An humble and a contrite heart.

    I often think of it in tandem with this:

    ”Cities and Thrones and Powers
    Stand in Time’s eye,
    Almost as long as flowers,
    Which daily die:”

  • John Nolan says:

    GK Chesterton parodied Kipling’s ‘Recessional’:

    Cut back, our navies melt away,
    From ode and war-song fades the fire;
    We are a jolly sight today
    Too close to Sidon and to Tyre
    To make it sound so very nice
    To talk of ancient sacrifice.

  • T. Shaw says:

    Mother o’ Mine

    DEDICATION TO “THE LIGHT THAT FAILED”

    If I were hanged on the highest hill,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
    I know whose love would follow me still,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

    If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
    I know whose tears would come down to me,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

    If I were damned of body and soul,
    I know whose prayers would make me whole,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

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