The Supports

(notes by Lisa Lewis and Daniel Hadas)


First published in Hutchinson’s Story Magazine, July 1919, where it is sub-headed:
“This poem has been written by Mr. Rudyard Kipling specially for the first number of ‘Hutchinson’s Story Magazine’. Collected (with many alterations – see below) in Debits and Credits (1926), following the story “On the Gate”.


Although the story “On the Gate” would not be published until 1926, there is evidence (see its headnote) that Kipling was already working on it when he wrote “The Supports.” The poem is quoted in the published story.

The Seraphs

Daniel Hadas notes: The 9 groups of seraphs who speak in the poem are a play on the 9 orders of angels in the Christian tradition, although only one (“powers”) has the same name.

It is very much in line with Kipling’s own quasi-Christianity to replace these puzzling angelic orders with virtues of everyday use to mankind. Indeed this poem’s theme is the manifestation of God’s power and glory in the ordinary toil of each day, rather than in signs and wonders. [D.H.]

Critical Opinions

Philip Mason [1975] calls this:

a set of verses which I find one of his most complete achievements in that particular vein. It uses the language of the Psalms in the Authorised Version and expresses Kipling’s Blougramism [see Robert Browning’s poem, “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”] more completely than “The Sons of Martha” because it adds a sense of wonder and awe. The pause in the long line is stamped home by an internal rhyme, which I think should be emphasized [p. 269].

For Sandra Kemp [1988], the story “On the Gate” “seeks to locate religion firmly in the world of ordinary reality, which, though painful, has its own supports, as the accompanying poem indicates” [p. 94].

Notes on the Text

[Stanza 1] (Song of the Waiting Seraphs): This and other sub-headings in the poem were not in Hutchinson’s. For the singers, see headnote to “On the Gate.”

To Him … devotion: In Hutchinson’s, this line reads “made the Heavens bide and gave the stars their motion”. In the last line of this verse “Names” reads “Name”.

[Stanza 2] Not for … our places: In Hutchinson’s, it is “Prophecies and Powers”, while the second line is “But the weighed and counted hours that drive us to our places.”

Stanza 3] Loaves and Fishes: The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, Matt. 14, 15-20; Mark 8, 1-8; John, 6, 5-13.

But for doing,’gainst our will, work: In Hutchinson’s, “But for standing ’gainst our will at work”.

[Stanza 5] Ship of Fools: The Narrenschiff of Sebastian Brant (1494) was adapted in an English version by A. Barclay in 1509 as A Ship of Fools. It gives a satirical picture of contemporary English life.

one collision: For this in Hutchinson’s, read “or one groundswell.”

[Stanza 6]  business: For this in Hutchinson’s, read “toilette.”

[Stanza 7]  ] bearing: In Hutchinson’s an extra verse after this reads:

“They that sip from every glass lose their heads the faster.
They that skip from thought to thought suffer like disaster,
And in all adversity,
Having nothing orderly,
Let the accepted time go by till Panic is their master!”

[Stanza 10] ] He who used … o’ertake us: This verse is not in Hutchinson’s.

[Stanza 11] fuming crater … He shall not – He shall not – : In Hutchinson’s, for “fuming” read “blazing”; line 3 is missing.



 ©Lisa Lewis 2010  All rights reserved.