Monday, July 05, 2010

Falling Into a Kipling Poem

Recently I've been doing minor repairs on the irrigation system that provides water to my lawn, bushes, and (most important) fruit trees. We used to have a fairly dense hedge along the fence in front of the house, much of which died back; the obvious explanation was lack of water. And, of plants I put not long ago, one blueberry bush was looking very dry, while , oddly enough, the little pomegranate next to it was quite healthy.

The problem, I concluded, was that there was no irrigation along the fence. The nearest line—black rubber hose of the sort popular for do-it-yourself drip irrigation—provided water to plants nearer the house at both ends of the relevant line and presumably ran, slightly underground, across the lawn about fifteen feet housewards from where the hedge used to be and, with luck, would be again.

The nice thing about do-it-yourself irrigation is that you can do it yourself. If I just put in a T junction at one end, connected a length of 1/2" black rubber hose, ran it along just inside the fence, added some drip units and a few little sprayers, ... .

The soil at the end where I started is largely accumulated pine needles. Digging through that I discovered, to my surprise, a 1/4" tube leading to a drip unit near the healthy pomegranate. Tracing that back, I came to a 1/2" black rubber hose, buried a few inches below the surface. Tracing that, I discovered that some previous owner—we've had the house for about fifteen years—had done almost exactly what I was planning to do. The hose ran along just inside the fence and had presumably, at one time, done an adequate job of watering the hedge.

I added some new drip and spray units, experimented with turning on various parts of the irrigation system—the hose didn't connect to the part where I had planned to connect it—and remembered ...

When I was a king and a mason, a master proven and skilled,
I cleared me ground for a Palace, such as a King should build.
I decreed and dug down to my levels; presently, under the silt,
I came on the wreck of a Palace, such as a King had built.

There was no worth in the fashion; there was no wit in the plan;
Hither and thither, aimless, the ruined footings ran.
Masonry, brute, mishandled, but carven on every stone,
"After me cometh a Builder; tell him I, too, have known."

Swift to my use in my trenches, where my well-planned groundworks grew,
I tumbled his quoins and his ashlars, and cut and rest them anew.
Lime I milled of his marbles; burned it, slaked it, and spread;
Taking and leaving at pleasure the gifts of the humble dead.

Yet I despised not nor gloried, yet, as we wrenched them apart,
I read in the razed foundation the heart of that Builder's heart.
As he had risen and pleaded, so did I understand
The form of the dream he had followed in the face of the thing he had planned.

When I was a King and a Mason, in the open noon of my pride,
They sent me a Word from the Darkness; they whispered and called me aside.
They said, "The end is forbidden." They said, "Thy use is fulfilled.
Thy Palace shall stand as that other's, the spoil of a King who shall build."

I called my men from my trenches, my quarries, my wharves, and my sheers;
All I had wrought I abandoned to the faith of the faithless years.
Only I cut on the timber; only I carved on the stone:
"After me cometh a Builder; tell him I, too, have known."

(The Palace, Rudyard Kipling)


SheetWise said...

When we create art -- we need to be aware -- if we care -- of how future artisans will judge our skills ;)

Gary McGath said...

I saw that poem coming before scrolling down. :)

Anonymous said...

The great American architect Mary Colter bound a copy of this poem into a series of albums of photos she took of Native American ruins in the Southwest. She was apparently fond of Kipling, for she also used a phrase of his, "On the other side the world we're overdue" (from a poem called "The Feet of the Young Men") for a bookplate she designed and used all her life.

Arnold Berke