The Answer

The Answer

We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs.

Henry V to his brother prior to Agincourt, Henry V, Act III, Scene 6

The thirtieth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here, here , here, here , here , here, here, here, here and here.


Kipling, as I have often observed in this series, was not conventionally religious. Any man who could refer to himself as a good Christian atheist obviously would never qualify as being conventional in any sense in regard to faith.  However, many of Kipling’s poems do deal with religion, and few more powerfully than The Answer. At first glance a brief and simple poem, it deals with immensely complicated theological questions involving death, innocence, predestination and trust in God, a poetic rendition of the same issues raised in the Book of Job.

This poem, like Job, I suspect can only be understood completely by those afflicted with grief. The temptation when disaster overtakes us in this Vale of Tears, particularly disaster not brought on by any evil on our part, is to rail against our fate and against God.  This is natural, and it is always a mistake.  We are the children of a loving God and ultimately our response to what befalls us in this life can only be that of Job when he stands before God:

[1] Then Job answered the Lord, and said:

[2] I know that thou canst do all things, and no thought is hid from thee.

[3] Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have spoken unwisely, and things that above measure exceeded my knowledge.

[4] Hear, and I will speak: I will ask thee, and do thou tell me.

[5] With the hearing of the ear, I have heard thee, but now my eye seeth thee.

[6] Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes.  

A Rose, in tatters on the garden path,

Cried out to God and murmured ‘gainst His Wrath,

Because a sudden wind at twilight’s hush

Had snapped her stem alone of all the bush.

And God, Who hears both sun-dried dust and sun,

Had pity, whispering to that luckless one,

“Sister, in that thou sayest We did not well —

What voices heardst thou when thy petals fell?”

And the Rose answered, “In that evil hour

A voice said, `Father, wherefore falls the flower?

For lo, the very gossamers are still.’

And a voice answered, `Son, by Allah’s will!'”

  Then softly as a rain-mist on the sward,

Came to the Rose the Answer of the Lord:

“Sister, before We smote the Dark in twain,

Ere yet the stars saw one another plain,

Time, Tide, and Space, We bound unto the task

That thou shouldst fall, and such an one should ask.”

Whereat the withered flower, all content,

Died as they die whose days are innocent;

While he who questioned why the flower fell

Caught hold of God and saved his soul from Hell.


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  1. Off topic, Donald McClarey.

    The Brazilian presidente, Dilma Rousseff, after visiting Pope Francis recently, said openly in her flight back that if Benedict XVI were still pope she will never visited him.

    Rousseff has things against Benedict XVI because he condemned abortion during Brazilian Elections in 2010. Her party, the same as Lula’s (former presidente), defends abortion.

    Her words follow the method divide to conquer, I do not know how Brazilian Catholics will read that (despite I am Brazilian). Brazilians are very low information voters, and Brazilian Catholics do not know much about Catholic Doctrine and about the real difference between Benedict XVI and Francis.

    However, it could be great to see how the world will read this.

    The news is in Portuguese, but you can use google translate:

    Best regards,
    Pedro Erik

  2. Yeah, Donald. This lady. Well done in remembering this.

    The worst thing is that Brazil (the biggest Catholic country in the world) does not care. People in Brazil are very illiterate regarding religion.

    But, Catholics in the world could send a message to this president and her demonic words.

    Many thanks.

  3. Kipling uses his brush in ways that mimic the Masters. His oil are words. His canvass our hearts. The layers of oil bring to life what was one dimension, a canvass transformed.

    Thank you Mr. McClarey.
    I have enjoyed your ongoing tribute to Kipling.

  4. I second Philip’s comment.
    While Kipling is not taken seriously as a poet by today’s experts, I have more faith in my heart and ears than in theirs.

  5. Been thinking about The Gods of the Copybook Headings a lot during the past couple of weeks, with a lot of my usual favorite blogs praising “marriage equality”.

  6. Predestination? I’m tempted to change…
    “We bound unto the task
    That thou shouldst might fall,
    and such an one should could ask.”
    Because we must beware of conceiving the immutability of predestination either as fatalistic in the sense of the Mahommedan kismet or as a convenient pretext for idle resignation to inexorable fate. God’s infallible foreknowledge cannot force upon man unavoidable coercion, for the simple reason that it is at bottom nothing else than the eternal vision of the future historical actuality. God foresees the free activity of a man precisely as that individual is willing to shape it. (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)
    But my change is not quite right either. Guess I need to study up!

  7. Also from the Encyclopedia, [Adequate] predestination refers to both grace and glory as a whole, including not only the election to glory as the end, but also the election to grace as the means… This is the meaning of St. Augustine’s words: “Prædestinatio nihil est aliud quam præscientia et præparatio beneficiorum, quibus certissime liberantur [i.e. salvantur], quicunque liberantur” (Predestination is nothing else than the foreknowledge and foreordaining of those gracious gifts which make certain the salvation of all who are saved). So the fallen Rose is a gift of grace, a præparatio for “such an one” to ask about.
    The reference to Allah’s will still makes me nervous, though.

  8. “The reference to Allah’s will still makes me nervous, though.”

    Ah, but note how God refers to Himself as “We”, a clear reference to the trinity by Kipling. In regard to predestination, God knew before time began all His actions, and one of his actions in the poem is to will that a rose would fall to save a soul from Hell, just as God knew before time began that He would die on a Cross to save us.

  9. Pinky: “Been thinking about The Gods of the Copybook Headings a lot during the past couple of weeks, with a lot of my usual favorite blogs praising “marriage equality””.
    This is about the free will act of sodomy. Being a same sex attracted person has nothing to do with any legislation. If the sodomites are going to insist that their free will act be legalized as though it were to define them as sovereign persons, they will have crippled the constitution. And themselves.
    It is simply wrong for militant gay activists to slander all same sex orientated persons as active sodomites. If militant gay-activists wish to secure the Blessings of Liberty for all, they need to differentiate between the homosexual act and homosexual existence, for the act is an offense against God and the existence is beloved by God.
    There can be no “marriage equality” if the gay militants, trying to in-culturate sodomy, include chaste, same sex oriented persons, without their informed consent or promise, to not marry opposite gender persons in matrimony. Chaste, same sex oriented persons who might marry opposite gender persons would put the lie to the gay agenda and to “marriage equality”. “Marriage equality” cannot be “equality” if chaste same sex oriented persons marry the “other sex” persons.

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