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The Sons of Martha by Kipling

The Sons of Martha by Kipling

The Sons of Martha by Kipling

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem called "The Sons of Martha", which is dedicated to all those that work in the background with no glory, simply so that all things work (e.g. engineers, construction workers etc.).

Here is a story of the poem:


Here is the poem:


If you know of other poems dedicated to engineers please post them.


RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

that poem sounds (Kipling's) like a warning to stay out of engineering

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

Also worth a bit of a read.  Somewhat related to Rudyard Kipling.


FYI, my ring has not been off of my hand for more than a few hours since I received it over 10 years ago.  Almost 11 years now.

It means a lot to me.  May not mean much to others.

I have had a couple non-engineers notice the ring and talk to me about it.

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

After reading Kipling's poem it seems that one of my distant ancestors is to blame for the curse that is upon me...

If we learn from our mistakes I'm getting a great education!

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

And this one by someone named Kathy Kelly who borrowed the concept from Monty Python's (Lumberjack Song)

The Engineer Song
Ohhh! I'm an engineer and I'm well paid.
I code all night and I sleep all day.
I drink my Jolt, I write some code, give up and surf the Web.
I download dirty pictures, and bill for that instead.

Ohhh! I'm an engineer and I'm well paid.
I code all night and I sleep all day.

I like Dilbert, I read sci-fi, and speak in Python quotes.
I like to code in UNIX. Powerbuilder is for dolts!

Ohhh! I'm an engineer and I'm well paid.
I code all night and I sleep all day.

I eat fast food, I watch Star Trek, and fill myself with beer.
I wish I had a girlie, 'cause my papa thinks I'm queer.

Ohhh! I'm an engineer and I'm well paid.
I code all night and I sleep all day.

The perks are great, they treat me well, 'cause they think I work sooo hard!
They're sending me to the COMDEX on the corporate credit card!

Ohhh...I'm an engineer and I'm well paid.
I code all night and I sleep all day!

I have no grace or social sense. Don't own a suit or tie.
My idea of witty discourse is querying EMACS vs. VI.

Ohhh...I'm an engineer and I'm well paid.
I code all night and I sleep all day!

I surfed too long, downloaded too much, ended up with a virus, you see.
Not the social type that you might think, but one on my PC.

Ohhh! I'm an engineer and I'm well paid.
I code all night and I sleep all day.

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

Well if that's not a shot in the arm for Software Engineers being real Engineers I don't know what is!

KENAT, probably the least qualified checker you'll ever meet...

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

One of my favorite books is 'Sons of Martha' by an academic CE. It is available in the ASCE library. Recounted are the stories of notable CE's over the years. It's a good source of titles for further reading.

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

Another one from Kipling - McAndrew's Hymn

Lord, Thou hast made this world below the shadow of a dream,
An', taught by time, I tak' it so - exceptin' always Steam.
From coupler-flange to spindle-guide I see Thy Hand, O God -
Predestination in the stride o' yon connectin'-rod.
John Calvin might ha' forged the same - enorrmous, certain, slow -
Ay, wrought it in the furnace-flame - my "Institutio."
I cannot get my sleep to-night; old bones are hard to please;
I'll stand the middle watch up here - alone wi' God an' these
My engines, after ninety days o' race an' rack an' strain
Through all the seas of all Thy world, slam-bangin' home again.
Slam-bang too much - they knock a wee - the crosshead-gibs are loose;
But thirty thousand mile o' sea has gied them fair excuse....
Fine, clear an' dark - a full-draught breeze, wi' Ushant out o' sight,
An' Ferguson relievin' Hay. Old girl, ye'll walk to-night!
His wife's at Plymouth.... Seventy-One-Two-Three since he began -
Three turns for Mistress Ferguson.... an' who's to blame the man?
There's none at any port for me, by drivin' fast or slow,
Since Elsie Campbell went to Thee, Lord, thirty years ago.
(The year the 'Sarah Sands' was burned. Oh roads we used to tread,
Fra' Maryhill to Pollokshaws - fra' Govan to Parkhead!)
Not but they're ceevil on the Board. Ye'll hear Sir Kenneth say:
"Good morrn, McAndrew! Back again? An' how's your bilge to-day?"
Miscallin' technicalities but handin' me my chair
To drink Madeira wi' three Earls - the auld Fleet Engineer,
That started as a boiler-whelp - when steam and he were low.
I mind the time we used to serve a broken pipe wi' tow.
Ten pound was all the pressure then - Eh! Eh! - a man wad drive;
An' here, our workin' gauges give one hunder' fifty-five!
We're creepin' on wi' each new rig - less weight an' larger power:
There'll be the loco-boiler next an' thirty mile an hour!
Thirty an' more. What I ha' seen since ocean-steam began
Leaves me no doot for the machine: but what about the man?
The man that counts, wi' all his runs, one million mile o' sea:
Four time the span from earth to moon.... How far, O Lord, from Thee?
That wast beside him night an' day. Ye mind my first typhoon?
It scoughed the skipper on his way to jock wi' the saloon.
Three feet were on the stokehold floor - just slappin' to an' fro -
An' cast me on a furnace-door. I have the marks to show.
Marks! I ha' marks o' more than burns - deep in my soul an' black,
An' times like this, when things go smooth, my wickudness comes back.
The sins o' four and forty years, all up an' down the seas,
Clack an' repeat like valves half-fed.... Forgie's our trespasses.
Nights when I'd come on deck to mark, wi' envy in my gaze,
The couples kittlin' in the dark between the funnel stays;
Years when I raked the ports wi' pride to fill my cup o' wrong-
Judge not, O Lord, my steps aside at Gay Street in Hong-Kong!
Blot out the wastrel hours of mine in sin when I abode -
Jane Harrigan's an' Number Nine, The Reddick an' Grant Road!
An' waur than all - my crownin' sin - rank blasphemy an' wild.
I was not four and twenty then - Ye wadna judge a child?
I'd seen the Tropics first that run - new fruit, new smells, new air -
How could I tell-blind-fou wi' sun-the Deil was lurkin' there?
By day like playhouse-scenes the shore slid past our sleepy eyes;
By night those soft, lasceevious stars leered from those velvet skies,
In port (we used no cargo-steam) I'd daunder down the streets -
An ijjit grinnin' in a dream - for shells an' parrakeets,
An' walkin'-sticks o' carved Bamboo an' blowfish stuffed an' dried -
Fillin' my bunk wi' rubbishry the Chief put overside.
Till, off Sumbawa Head, Ye mind, I heard a landbreeze ca'
Milk-warm wi' breath o' spice an' bloom: "McAndrews, come awa'!"
Firm, clear an' low - no haste, no hate - the ghostly whisper went,
Just statin' eevidential facts beyon' all argument:
"Your mither's God's a graspin' deil, the shadow o' yoursel',
"Got out o' books by meenisters clean daft on Heaven an' Hell.
"They mak' him in the Broomielaw, o' Glasgie cold an' dirt,
"A jealous, pridefu' fetich, lad, that's only strong to hurt,
"Ye'll not go back to Him again an' kiss His red-hot rod,
"But come wi' Us" (Now, who were 'They'?) "an' know the Leevin' God,
"That does not kipper souls for sport or break a life in jest,
"But swells the ripenin' cocoanuts an' ripes the woman's breast."
An' there it stopped: cut off: no more; that quiet, certain voice -
For me, six months o' twenty-four, to leave or take at choice.
'Twas on me like a thunderclap - it racked me through an' through-
Temptation past the show o' speech, unnamable an' new -
The Sin against the Holy Ghost? . . . An - under all, our screw.
That storm blew by but left behind her anchor-shiftin' swell,
Thou knowest all my heart an' mind, Thou knowest, Lord, I fell -
Third on the 'Mary Gloster' then, and first that night in Hell!
Yet was Thy hand beneath my head: about my feet Thy care-
Fra' Deli clear to Torres Strait, the trial o' despair,
But when we touched the Barrier Reef Thy answer to my prayer...
We dared na run that sea by night but lay an' held our fire,
An' I was drowzin' on the hatch - sick-sick wi' doubt an' tire:
"Better the sight of eyes that see than wanderin' o' desire!
Ye mind that word? Clear as our gongs-again, an' once again,
When rippin' down through coral-trash ran out our moorin'chain;
An' by Thy Grace I had the Light to see my duty plain.
Light on the engine-room - no more - bright as our carbons burn.
I've lost it since a thousand times, but never past return.

Obsairve! Per annum we'll have here two thousand souls aboard -
Think not I dare to justify myself before the Lord,
But-average fifteen hunder' souls safe-borne fra port to port-
I am o' service to my kind. Ye wadna' blame the thought?
Maybe they steam from grace to wrath - to sin by folly led -
It isna mine to judge their path - their lives are on my head.
Mine at the last - when all is done it all comes back to me,
The fault that leaves six thousand ton a log upon the sea.
We'll tak' one stretch - three weeks an' odd by any road ye steer -
Fra' Cape Town east to Wellington - ye need an engineer.
Fail there - ye've time to weld your shaft - ay, eat it, ere ye're spoke,
Or make Kerguelen under sail - three jiggers burned wi' smoke!
An' home again, the Rio run: it's no child's play to go
Steamin' to bell for fourteen days o' snow an' floe an' blow -
The bergs like kelpies overside that girn an' turn an' shift
Whaur, grindin' like the Mills o' God, goes by the big South drift.
(Hail, snow an' ice that praise the Lord: I've met them at their work,
An' wished we had anither route or they anither kirk.)
Yon's strain, hard strain, o' head an' hand, for though Thy Power brings
All skill to naught, Ye'll understand a man must think o' things.
Then, at the last, we'll get to port an' hoist their baggage clear -
The passengers, wi' gloves an' canes - an' this is what I'll hear:
"Well, thank ye for a pleasant voyage. The tender's comin' now."
While I go testin' follower-bolts an' watch the skipper bow.
They've words for everyone but me - shake hands wi' half the crew,
Except the dour Scots engineer, the man they never knew.
An' yet I like the wark for all we've dam' few pickin's here -
No pension, an' the most we earn's four hunder' pound a year.
Better myself abroad? Maybe. I'd sooner starve than sail
Wi' such as call a snifter-rod ross .... French for nightingale.
Commeesion on my stores? Some do; but I can not afford
To lie like stewards wi' patty-pans. I'm older than the Board.
A bonus on the coal I save? Ou ay, the Scots are close,
But when I grudge the strength Ye gave I'll grudge their food to those.
(There's bricks that I might recommend - an' clink the fire-bars cruel.
No! Welsh-Wangarti at the worst - an' damn all patent fuel!)
Inventions? Ye must stay in port to mak' a patent pay.
My Deeferential Valve-Gear taught me how that business lay,
I blame no chaps wi' clearer head for aught they make or sell.
I found that I could not invent an' look to these - as well.
So, wrestled wi' Apollyon - Nah! - fretted like a bairn -
But burned the workin'-plans last run wi' all I hoped to earn.
Ye know how hard an Idol dies, an' what that meant to me -
E'en tak' it for a sacrifice acceptable to Thee....
Below there! Oiler! What's your wark? Ye find her runnin' hard?
Ye needn't swill the cap wi' oil - this isn't the Cunard.
Ye thought? Ye are not paid to think. Go, sweat that off again!
Tck! Tck! It's deeficult to sweer nor tak' The Name in vain!
Men, ay an' women, call me stern. Wi' these to oversee
Ye'll note I've little time to burn on social repartee.
The bairns see what their elders miss; they'll hunt me to an' fro,
Till for the sake of - well, a kiss - I tak' 'em down below.
That minds me of our Viscount loon - Sir Kenneth's kin - the chap
Wi' russia leather tennis-shoon an' spar-decked yachtin'-cap.
I showed him round last week, o'er all - an' at the last says he:
"Mister McAndrew, don't you think steam spoils romance at sea?"
Damned ijjit! I'd been doon that morn to see what ailed the throws,
Manholin', on my back - the cranks three inches off my nose.
Romance! Those first-class passengers they like it very well,
Printed an' bound in little books; but why don't poets tell?
I'm sick of all their quirks an' turns - the loves an' doves they dream -
Lord, send a man like Robbie Burns to sing the Song o' Steam!
To match wi' Scotia's noblest speech yon orchestra sublime
Whaurto - uplifted like the Just - the tail-rods mark the time.
The Crank-throws give the double-bass; the feed-pump sobs an' heaves:
An' now the main eccentrics start their quarrel on the sheaves.
Her time, her own appointed time, the rocking link-head bides,
Till - hear that note?-the rod's return whings glimmerin' through the guides.
They're all awa! True beat, full power, the clangin' chorus goes
Clear to the tunnel where they sit, my purrin' dynamoes.
Interdependence absolute, foreseen, ordained, decreed,
To work, Ye'll note, at any tilt an' every rate o' speed.
Fra skylight-lift to furnace-bars, backed, bolted, braced an' stayed,
An' singin' like the Mornin' Stars for joy that they are made;
While, out o' touch o' vanity, the sweatin' thrust-block says:
"Not unto us the praise, or man - not unto us the praise!"
Now, a' together, hear them lift their lesson - theirs an' mine:
"Law, Order, Duty an' Restraint, Obedience, Discipline!"
Mill, forge an' try-pit taught them that when roarin' they arose,
An' whiles I wonder if a soul was gied them wi' the blows.
Oh for a man to weld it then, in one trip-hammer strain,
Till even first-class passengers could tell the meanin' plain!
But no one cares except mysel' that serve an' understand
My seven thousand horse-power here. Eh, Lord! They're grand - they're grand!
Uplift am I? When first in store the new-made beasties stood,
Were Ye cast down that breathed the Word declarin' all things good?
Not so! O' that warld-liftin' joy no after-fall could vex,
Ye've left a glimmer still to cheer the Man - the Arrtifex!
That holds, in spite o' knock and scale, o' friction, waste an' slip,
An' by that light - now, mark my word - we'll build the Perfect Ship.
I'll never last to judge her lines or take her curve - not I.
But I ha' lived an' I ha' worked. All thanks to Thee, Most High!
An' I ha' done what I ha' done - judge Thou if ill or well -
Always Thy Grace preventin' me.... Losh! Yon's the "Stand by" bell.
Pilot so soon? His flare it is. The mornin'-watch is set.
Well, God be thanked, as I was sayin', I'm no Pelagian yet.
Now I'll tak' on.... 'Morrn, Ferguson. Man, have ye ever thought
What your good leddy costs in coal? ...I'll burn em down to port.

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

Man, that is just too many words.

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

"But no one cares except mysel' that serve an' understand
My seven thousand horse-power here. Eh, Lord! They're grand - they're grand! "

And that's why, sometimes, people walk in on me in the substation and I'm smiling...

I am blessed to find satisfaction my work...

It wasn't working when I got there, but it was working when I left.

An acre or two of dirt before, a living, breathing cog in the machine of modern civilization after I'm done.

Yeah, sometimes I do get a bit sentimental about it.

old field guy

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

There once was a girl from Nantucket...


RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

Who engineered a jolly nice bucket.

KENAT, probably the least qualified checker you'll ever meet...

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

I know Rudyard Kipling and The Sons of Martha very well...

Any Canadian Engineer should...

If that's not cryptic and confusing enough for you, I'll simply say that Iron Ringers wouldn't be confused.



B.Eng (Carleton)
Working in New Zealand, thinking of my snow covered home...

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

Have you never laid your hand on a hot piece of machinery; a sports car, or an aircraft, & felt a little transcendent? Satisfied that this inanimate object, this construct, has been bent to man's will?

It's not all numbers, & formulas, & lines on paper.

Montgomery Scott, Chief Engineer
The USS Enterprise, (NCC-1701)  

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

"Satisfied that this inanimate object, this construct, has been bent to man's will?"

No. That's what I'd expect to happen. No satisfaction required.

Now, if I come up with some loopy off the wall mechanism that works, yes, that gives satisfaction. But a brick on top of another brick that supports a plank that makes a crap-looking bookshelf? No, no pats on the back for that.



Greg Locock

SIG:Please see FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies for tips on how to make the best use of Eng-Tips.

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling


Have you never laid your hand on a hot piece of machinery; a sports car, or an aircraft, & felt a little transcendent?

For me, it's always been standing near a 500 HP forced draft power boiler fan, a 10,000 HP condenser water pump, a gas turbine-generator, or similar truly BIG piece of equipment, just at the moment when someone hits the Start button, and the cacophony builds from a deep electromagnetic hum to an ever-increasing howl as it builds up speed....  Gives me chills!  (VFD's take away all the fun, an across-the-line start is SO much more satisfying!)  thumbsup

Am I sick??

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

The Successful Designer

The designer bent across his board
With wonderful plans in his noggin stored,
And said as he rubbed his throbbing bean:
"How can I make this tough to machine?
If this part here were only straight
I'm sure the thing would work first rate,
But 'twould be so easy to turn and bore...
It never would make the machinists sore

"I'd better put in a right angle there
(Then watch those babies tear their hair!)
And I'll put the holes that hold the cap
Way down in here where they're hard to tap.

"Now this piece won't work, I'll bet a buck,
For it can't be held in a shoe or chuck;
It can't be drilled and it can't be ground-
Infact, the design is exceedingly sound."

He looked again and cried, "At last!
Success is mine!  It can't even be cast!"

A. L. Johnson Co.

Found this in a pack of casting design info a colleague lent me from A.L. Johnson Co. of Camarillo.  It's verbatim, dubious punctuation and all.

KENAT, probably the least qualified checker you'll ever meet...

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

"Have you never laid your hand on a hot piece of machinery; a sports car, or an aircraft, & felt a little transcendent?"

Yes, felt that way walking around/poking nose into an F16 on the production line.  But I was only peripherally involved in that machine's production.

Looking back, I never felt that about the machines I worked closely with...I think I knew too much about the warts and hair, the iffy bits that cause you sleepless nights on launch day eve.  Usually, I feel a sense of relief when the darn thing works.

Sometimes, though, when you've really fought hard to keep the design clean, and ran the analysis fifteen different ways to check and re-check, stood for hours looking over the machinist's shoulder to coach him on what the design intent of the parts is and how to break the edge "just so", then bolted, welded, clamped, screwed, banged and bodged the prototype together...and the numbers come out of the meters just like you said they would...well, a little pride, and a little bit of awe that the universe really does work the way it's supposed to.

The other times, when you've done all those things, and the bolts keep rattling loose, short circuits plague the controls, leaks, drips...that funny sound from the coupling when you wind the motor up to full speed, followed by the clank/clunk/whizz as parts of the coupler fly out past your and the boss' ears...

Well, those days just convince you that the Creator has a sense of humor.

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

Not sure how many canadians are here, but in canada we have what is more or less a society for engineers called the Iron Ring society.  If you ever notice someone with a very discrete steel (its not actually iron - anymore) ring on the pinky fingure of their working hand, than chances are that person has attended an Iron Ring ceremony in Canada.

Kipling was approached to write a poem for this society when it was created, specifically for engineers.  

Personally I like the poem.  I know some people that don't (fellow engineers) and those are the people that worry me, and the same people who i don't think should be engineers.

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

The Iron Ring Society is not that big here in the USA.  I have gone thru it and it was nice, but later in my years I don't see the rings anymore.

"If you avoid failure, you also avoid success."  

RE: The Sons of Martha by Kipling

Eh sorry, if you just search "engineer" in adobe when you open the file it will direct you to the poems about engineers.

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