[November 17th 2017]
This poem first appeared in The Engineer in March 1935, and later that year in many American and British newspapers. It is listed in ORG as No 1223
It is collected in:
This is a parable about structures—and man—under strain. Man-made constructions have to bear stresses, sometimes more than they can stand. The textbooks lay down what loads can be born, so if there is failure, the man responsible is blamed, though it may be chance or fate that does for him. There are no text books to lay down what men themselves can endure. When we fail, and know we have failed, we need the resolution to rise up and try again.
Forty years before, in "The Bridge-Builders" (1893), he had written of an engineer whose new bridge over the Ganges is threatened by a great flood:
His bridge would stand what was upon her now, but not very much more, and if by any of a thousand chances there happened to be a weakness in the embankments Mother Gunga would carry his honour to the sea ... he listened, numb and hungry, to the straining of the stone-boats, the hollow thunder under the piers, and the hundred noises that make the full note of a flood ...Background
Kipling was fascinated both by the conquest of of land and water through the work of engineers, and by the effect of stress on men and women, and how it could be overcome. He was under stress himself when the poem was written, from weary days and nights of abdominal pain.
For the engineers see also:
For human stress see:
[Title] breaking strain the amount of force - compression or torsion - which will cause the fracture or collapse of some component in a structure, engine etc.The idea is also applied in much of Kipling's work to people under stress, Here he observes that while the textbooks may explain the breaking-point of metal or concrete, man is left to get himself out of his own tight corners.
gauge the distance apart of railway-lines. or an appliance for ensuring a manufactured article is the correct size.
course in this context brick or stone laid in regular layers.
rivet metal devices to secure the plating of a ship or girders in other constructions, see "The Ship that Found Herself" and "The Bridge-Builders" (both collected in The Day's Work (1898).
tie-bar a part adding stability to a construction by holding its components together.
©John Radcliffe and John McGivering 2017 All rights reserved