The Disciple

(notes edited by George Engle)


This is the closing poem to the story “The Church that was at Antioch”, added when that story was collected in Limits and Renewals in 1932. Included in Rudyard Kipling’s Verse Definitive Edition 1940 (reprinted many times) and in Rudyard Kipling Selected Poems, Penguin Books 1993.

Background to the poem

See the notes in this Guide on the story “The Church that was at Antioch”.

Some comments on the poem

The language of this poem is crystal clear, which is perhaps one reason why it has attracted virtually no critical comment. By placing it at the end of “The Church that was at Antioch”, which is mainly concerned with the development of aspects of Jesus’ teaching by his “Disciples” St. Peter and above all St. Paul, Kipling was emphasising the applicability of the poem’s deeply pessimistic message to Christianity, which many have thought owes more to the teachings of St Paul than to those of Jesus himself.

However, as Angus Wilson points out in The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling(page 339), the last stanza specifically rejects any doctrinal claim to the supremacy of Christianity by extending the thrust of the poem to the role of disciples in the three great religions founded by individuals:

He that hath a Gospel
Whereby Heaven is won
(Carpenter, or cameleer,
Or Maya’s dreaming son),
Many swords shall pierce Him,
Mingling blood with gall;
But His Own Disciple
Shall wound Him worst of all!

Notes on the Text

[Line 5] Calvary: the hill outside Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. To “go to Calvary” is thus to suffer for one’s beliefs.

[Lines 35 and 36] The Carpenter is Christ, the cameleer Mohammed, and Maya’s dreaming son the Buddha.

[Line 10]   own  acknowledge.   [D,H,]

[Line 38] gall: The bitter contents of the gall-bladder — here used metaphorically to mean asperity or rancour.  John Walker points out that the Bibilical sense for ‘gall’ is the extract of wormwood or myrrh.

[Line 30] what he said before   I can’t comment on Buddhism, but this matches the Islamic Hadith and the much less prominent Christian agrapha (although a complication is that the Christian Gospels are themselves a record – direct or indirect – by Christ’s disciples of what He said).  [D.H.]

[Line 38] mingling blood with gall   Given the reference in l.5 to “Calvary”, one thinks of Matthew 27.34 (just after the naming of Calvary in Matthew 27.33):  [D.H.]

and they gave him vinegar to drink, mingled with gal.