Saturday, March 21, 2009

one stone the more swings to her place

MY new-cut ashlar takes the light
  Where crimson-blank the windows flare;
By my own work, before the night,
  Great Overseer, I make my prayer.

If there be good in that I wrought,
  Thy hand compell'd it, Master, Thine;
Where I have fail'd to meet Thy thought
  I know, through Thee, the blame if mine.

One instant's toil to Thee denied
  Stands all Eternity's offence;
Of that I did with Thee to guide
  To Thee, through Thee, be excellence.

Who, lest all thought of Eden fade,
  Bring'st Eden to the craftsman's brain,
Godlike to muse o'er his own trade
  And manlike stand with God again.

The depth and dream of my desire,
  The bitter paths wherein I stray,
Thou knowest Who hast made the Fire,
  Thou knowest Who hast made the Clay.

One stone the more swings to her place
  In that dread Temple of Thy worth--
It is enough that through Thy grace
  I saw naught common on Thy earth.

Take not that vision from my ken;
  O, whatsoe'er may spoil or speed,
Help me to need no aid from men,
  That I may help such men as need!
This is 'A Dedication' by Rudyard Kipling, from T.E. Lawrence's copy of the Oxford Book of English Verse. It is the 19th poem he wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

I'm fond of much that Kipling wrote, including many of the jingly poems, but this one, not. I wonder why Lawrence wanted to keep it with him. In some cases, the poems he copied out of OBEV were ones he loved when young, and though he did not say that about this one (or anything at all about it), it may be that he scrawled it in his book out of juvenile remembrance. The copy of OBEV that Lawrence carried with him in Arabia has dates inscribed by some poems. This one has the date July 17, 1917, on which day he was on a British naval vessel. He had just successfully negotiated support for his plans to extend the Arab revolt northward toward Damascus.

The poem draws its images from Freemasonry. An ashlar is a dressed stone, usually rectangular looking a bit like a large brick. Freemasons use the stones as metaphors for advancement through degrees of hierarchy, from the rough-stone of the new initiate to the carefully cut and smoothed finished stone of the advanced practitioner.

The editor of Minorities writes that Kipling showed an interest in Lawrence before he read Seven Pillars. Afterwards, Lawrence wrote, Kipling 'dropped me like a stale egg.' (20.iii.28 to C. F. Shaw.)

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

A Dedication, The Oxford Book of English Verse, HTML edition

An Index to Poetry and Recitations, by Edith Granger (A. C. McClurg & company, 1918)

Rudyard Kipling and Freemasonry

The Masonic Poetry of Rudyard Kipling (pdf) by Bro John Davies, Given before the Master, Brethren and Visitors of the Lodge of St. Michael no 2933 E.C. on Thursday 2nd February 2006.

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