Modern Machinery, The Secret of the Machines by Rudyard Kipling: Summary, Analysis and Exercises

Updated: Sep 15

'The Secret of Machines' is one of Rudyard Kipling's best poems. The poem was written and published in 1911, during the Technological Revolution. Machines in this poem speak to human beings about themselves. They tell us how the metals that are taken from the ore-bed are created. The metal ores are extracted from the mineral beds and mines. They are melted in the furnace and hammered to make equipment for construction. The machines must run on water, coal, and oil. They are happy to help us twenty-four hours a day. They can do all kind of work similar to human beings. However, they also warn us that they work according to the laws of Physics. They reveal a blunt reality that they don't love or forgive, and can not recognize a lie. Unlike humans, they do not have any emotions. If treated carelessly, the consequences can be catastrophic. They conclude, stating the fact that they are nothing but the creations of the human brain.


The poem, consisting of eight stanzas in all follows a simple rhyming scheme of "ABAB". The poet has used various literary devices such as imagery, similes, metaphors and personification throughout (described in detail afterwards) which bring the poem to life.


About the Author- Rudyard Kipling



One of the greatest authors of English, Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born on 30 December 1865. He wrote numerous poems, short stories and novels, most of which were inspired by the culture and geography of India. Some of his notable works include The Jungle Book, Just So Stories, Kim, Captains Courageous and If. He did his high schooling from the United Services College at Westward Ho!, Bideford. He had served as a Newspaper Reporter with various Anglo-Indian newspapers in 1882. In 1886, he published his first volume of poetry titled Departmental Ditties. In 1907, he went on to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature for his outstanding work. He passed away on 18 January 1936, at the age of 70.


Explanation and Analysis


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.

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!


In the first paragraph, the machines inform us how they were made. They describe their journey, from the ore-beds to becoming a tool. They also discuss their credibility to last and work for twenty-four hours a day. Unlike humans, they do not need any break. If provided with water, coal and oil, they can work constantly without stopping.


Word Meanings

  • ore-bed- place in the earth where minerals are found

  • furnace- hot fireplace

  • wrought- beaten and shaped

  • gauged- measured exactly

  • give us play- give space to move

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!


This stanza describes a number of tasks that the machines can perform for us. Earlier, all these tasks were done by humans but with the advancement of technology machines have gradually taken them over.


Word Meanings

  • plough- tilling the ground

  • haul- tow


Would you call a friend from half across the world?

If you’ll let us have his name and town and state,

You shall see and hear your crackling question hurled

Across the arch of heaven while you wait.

Has he answered? Does he need you at his side?

You can start this very evening if you choose,

And take the Western Ocean in the stride

Of seventy thousand horses and some screws!


The machines describe how essential they are for communication. They help in transmitting information across the world. In 1866, the world's first telegraph cable was invented and in 1878, Alexander Graham Bell had come up with the telephone. Both of them were a revolution in the field of communication. It became much quicker and reliable. The machines tell their power to be equivalent to that of seventy-thousand horses.


The boat-express is waiting your command!

You will find the Mauretania at the quay,

Till her captain turns the lever ’neath his hand,

And the monstrous nine-decked city goes to sea.


The fourth stanza talks about the enormousness of machines. Like for example, it talks about big ships which have nine decks which is metaphorically called a “monstrous nine- decked city” in the text. It shows the ability of machines to work on the water surface. Machines work under human command.


Do you wish to make the mountains bare their head

And lay their new-cut forests at your feet?

Do you want to turn a river in its bed,

Or plant a barren wilderness with wheat?

Shall we pipe aloft and bring you water down

From the never-failing cisterns of the snows,

To work the mills and tramways in your town,

And irrigate your orchards as it flows?


It is easy! Give us dynamite and drills!

Watch the iron-shouldered rocks lie down and quake

As the thirsty desert-level floods and fills,

And the valley we have dammed becomes a lake.


The fifth and sixth stanza is talking about the relation of the machines to the environment. Machines can change landscapes, as written in “and the valley we have dammed becomes a lake”. Machines help humans to deformate the landscape the way they want it to be. For example, they dry up lakes or they flood valleys according to their specific needs.


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!

We are greater than the Peoples or the Kings—

Be humble, as you crawl beneath our rods!-

Our touch can alter all created things,

We are everything on earth—except The Gods!


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!


In the last two stanzas the typography changes, because 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.


Literary Devices


Imagery


Eg: We can see and hear and count and read and write! (s 2 l 4)

—It explains to us the multi-task that could be completed by the machine.


—It is to give us the idea of how feasible is the machine


Personification (equalise to living beings)


-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 jump and swim and fly and dive

-

-We can see and hear and count and write


Hyperbole (a figure of speech using exaggeration)


-We will serve you four and twenty hours a day!

-

-We are greater than the Peoples and the Kings.


Assonance (Repetition of two or more vowel sounds)


-Run and jump


-Across the world


-Slip in handling


Simile (Compare things alike)


- Greater than the people of the Kings


Connotation (suggests beyond what it expresses)


- Heaven - sky


Alliteration Repetition of two or more consonant sounds


-Wilderness with wheat


-Flood and fills


Theme of the Poem

Significance of machines in life.

Machines make many things easier and aid the work of humans.

Greatness of modern technology.

Ability to change the nature of all things-except -The Gods(humans).

Machines cannot replace human beings.

Machines cannot feel anything.


Conclusion

We can rely on machines for transport and communication, which are getting more complicated and advanced all the time. This is inevitable as we move further into the technological age of computers and increasing automation. One must accept the fact that our lives depend on machines more and more. But then suddenly some simple machine 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. It is very important not to over cross the limits and thinks rational about machinery. We shouldn’t give machines so big responsibilities, for instance, automatic control of space shuttles with humans inside.


Scaffolding Questions


  1. How were the machines created?

  2. Mention any four tasks that the machines can perform for humans.

  3. What does a machine ask of us in return for their unfailing performance?

  4. In spite of its accuracy at work, machines do not need what humans always need at the end of work. What’s that?

  5. The poem appears to be imparting a deadly warning to humanity. Explain.

  6. How does the poem describe the superior power of humans?

  7. Why do machines say that stars will shine again?

  8. What difference do you notice in the attitude of the machines towards humans in the last two stanzas?

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