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Modern Machinery, the Secret of the Machines – Rudyard Kipling

The poem deals with the problem of modern technology and machines. In the beginning, the reader gets informed about how machines are produced and what kind of treatment they need. Afterwards the machines explain how they can serve humanity. But machines are not only useful, they can also lead to big disasters if they aren’’t used in a right way. The poem ends with the statement that machines, although capable of great deeds, are still nothing more than creations of the human brain.

Stanza 1

We were taken from the ore-bed and the mine,
We were melted in the furnace and the pit—
We were cast and wrought and hammered to design,
We were cut and filed and tooled and gauged to fit.

Meaning

  • Ore-bed – Mines from where ores of metals are dug out.
  • Mine – An area of excavation for metallic ores, etc.
  • Melt – The process of heating ores or metal into a liquid form.
  • Furnace – A highly heated oven to melt ores in large quantity.
  • Wrought – Wrought was, surprisingly the V3 form (third form) of the verb ‘work.’
  • Hammer – To strike molten metal with a hammer to shape it
  • File – A tool of steel with a series of points or ridges to polish metal or wood.
  • Gauge – Take measurement

Questions & Answers

  1. How did machines come to life?
    Machines had taken a long way before they came to life. First their basic building materials were dug out as ores from mines. After processing ores in the hot furnaces, metals were formed and each machine was given a specific shape by casting and hammering. This then followed a more precise process that includes cutting and gauging and tooling.
  2. Can we really rely upon machines?
    No, we cannot always rely on machines as with people. Suddenly some simple apparatus fails – the ball-point pen won’’t function; the computer will not be ready to execute your orders. It can be exasperating. If the machine is faulty, the simple job of mowing the lawn turns into a battle of you and the mower, which assumes a life of its own, thwarts your efforts and refuses to cooperate. The once efficient machine, your friend and servant, has become your enemy.
  3. Should we depend on machines?
    To an extend, we should depend on machines in transport and communication, education, etc. which are getting more complicated all the time. This is inevitable as we move further into a technological age of computers and increasing automation. We must accept the fact that our lives depend on machines more and more.

Stanza 2

Some water, coal, and oil is all we ask,
And a thousandth of an inch to give us play:
And now, if you will set us to our task,
We will serve you four and twenty hours a day!

Meaning
  • A thousandth of of an inch – one piece of an inch segmented into a thousand OR 1/1000 of an inch. A very small portion. Little.
  • Set to task – Set to action
  • Four and twenty hours – 24 hours
Questions & Answers
  1. What does a machine ask of us in return for their unfailing performance?
    Machines demand fuels such as water, coal and oil for their performance.
  2. In spite of its accuracy at work, machines do not need what humans always need at the end of work. What’s that?
    Machines do not need break. Unlike humans who take break from tiring work, machines do not require any break, any holiday or any enjoyment on weekends.

Stanza 3

We can pull and haul and push and lift and drive,
We can print and plough and weave and heat and light,
We can run and race and swim and fly and dive,
We can see and hear and count and read and write!

Meaning

  • Haul – Through
  • Plough – Till the ground.
  • Weave – Weave clothes with thread

Questions & Answers

  1. This stanza presents a number of varied machinery in terms of the task they do. Name at least 10 of them. (It is out of syllabus yet it is recommended)

Stanza 4

But remember, please, the Law by which we live,
We are not built to comprehend a lie,
We can neither love nor pity nor forgive.
If you make a slip in handling us you die!

Meaning

  • Comprehend – Understand
  • Pity – Sympathy
  • Forgive – Pardon
  • Slip – Mistake

Questions & Answers

  1. The Laws that rule machines set them different from humans. What are these differences?
    It is true that machines can do more work than humans beings but a machine is essentially different from a human being. While man is able to tell lies, machine cannot detect one. Nor can it perform dishonestly. Besides, a machine is not fitted to love or hate its owner or anyone. A motor bus cannot feel pity when it runs over a bunch of children nor can it forgive the driver who failed to fill its fuel tanks in time. Machine is not able to compromise in the face of lie and dishonesty.
  2. The poem appears to be imparting a deadly warning to humanity. Explain.
    Man made machines to serve him but our dependency on machinery seems to be bypassing the limits. A time is soon imminent when people will depend on a machine to wake them from sleep and then to put them back to sleep, breathe and pump blood. If this really happens, life will be different – without feelings, sympathy, pity, forgiveness and love. Under such a circumstance, wars and clashes will be common, relations will go numb and family will be worse than an office.

Stanza 5

Though our smoke may hide the Heavens from your eyes,
It will vanish and the stars will shine again,
Because, for all our power and weight and size,
We are nothing more than children of your brain!

Notes

The dream of the “perfect machinery” suddenly seems to fade away. Machines aren’’t perfect after all and nature always wins over. And after all, machines aren’t miraculous creations, but nothing more than creations of the human brain.

Questions & Answers

  1. What does smoke of the machines refer to?
    The smoke of the machines refers to the impact of science and technology upon our simple lives at present.
  2. What does Heaven refer to and how did the smoke hide the Heaven?
    Heaven refers to the once serene atmosphere of the earth. Due to high emission from factories and automobiles, the Heaven has now become a place hard to imagine. It is no more a place for birds in the sky and trees that long to reach for the sky.
  3. Machines express optimism. What do they hope to turn out good?
    Machines hope that the ruinous damage caused by them will one day be repaired and the sky will once again be serene and full of life.
  4. Why do machines say that stars will shine again?
    Machines are optimistic. Although they say they have no pity and love, most lovingly and pitifully they hope that the mechanical age will not destroy the earth and its people. They are hopeful of the days when the bright stars will twinkle in the bright sky by removing the dark clouds that machines have blown upward.

What do you think?

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