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Rudyard Kipling’s “The Secret of The Machines” reflects upon the technological advances that occurred over the last century, especially with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Dealing with topics such as power, dependence, prudence and the importance of dealing wisely with a given technology, The Secret of the Machines delivers some important lessons for humankind. The poem was first published in 1911.
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.
The poet informs about how the machines are produced and what kind of treatment they need. The machines tell us that they were taken from the ore-bed and mined in the furnace. They were cast in the pit. They were beaten out of shape by hammering. They were cut and filed. Then they were 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!
The machines go on to tell us about their ability to forever serve humans, carrying out all their tasks like hard-working employees. All they need to get started with their work is some water, oil, and coal as their fuel. Taking very little time to get started moving their parts for only about a “thousandth of an inch”, they are very keen to serve humanity non-stop without getting exhausted.
By rising over the biological needs of humans, it is almost as if they are competing against other workers to serve their masters. There is a use of hyperbole in the line “We will serve you four and twenty hours a day” to lay emphasis on the great lengths to which the machines can go while they serve humans. However, this hyperbole is also true to a great extent.
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!
In this stanza, the poet says that machines can do all sorts of work. They can pull, drag, push, lift and drive. They can also print, plough, weave, heat and light. Further, they can run, race, swim, fly and dive. They can also see, hear, count, read and write.
All these tasks used to be done by humans now these machines have made the work easier. The powers of the machines seem to have no limit as they are capable to do everything. And therein lies the danger as in the past, circus masters have often been torn apart by the lions they couldn’t tame.
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!
These machines warn and remind us of the fact that the only force controlling their actions is the law of physics upon which their entire existence is based. In spite of their ability to completely fulfill all the physical and logical tasks that humans can accomplish; they are found to be lacking when it comes to the humane aspects of man’s being.
They are completely devoid of all sentimentality and intuitiveness. They are not equipped to understand lies and are incapable of exercising all sorts of human emotions such as love, pity, and forgiveness. The machines then warn the humans to be careful while operating them as any slip-up on their side could prove to be deadly.
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!
This stanza highlights the other side of mechanization where the machines state that the smoke emitting out of them may temporarily cloud our visions, making us incapable of seeing the damage that is being done. However, one’s ignorance will not last for very long.
Sooner or later, humans will see the consequences of our overuse of technology and we shall realize that these seemingly perfect creations have their imperfections. Despite their exceptional abilities, machines cannot surpass the strength of the human mind because they too, after all, are a product of human intelligence and knowledge.
The chief message that Kipling tries to convey through this poem is that while machines definitely make our lives smoother and easier, we should be very cautious while dealing with them. If we don’t pay heed to the dangers posed by them, they can very easily lead us to a catastrophic end.
Regardless of how powerful they are, machines can never replace human skill and intelligence. Our brain is the most powerful machine that exists on this planet and these metallic machines can at the best aid it. In this regard, the poem also has a didactic tone to it.
The “secret”, the truth, that Kipling aims to reveal through the voice of these machines is that without humans to create and operate them, these technological advancements hold no value and are absolutely futile. Thus, instead of being dependent on them, we should use them to empower ourselves.