The Meaning of The Comforters by Rudyard Kipling

This is a copy from my personal edition of Kipling’s verse

Last night, on my “Fans of Rudyard Kipling” fan page on Facebook, I had a message from  a fan of Kipling’s poetry who lives in India.

Can you please explain the poem ‘The Comforters’ of our dear Rudyard Kipling?I pondered too much over it but failed to understand completely..
but I, kind of, need to understand it, for its impressing initial lines…
Kindly, please please help me!

Waiting for favourable reply!

Local time 7:01 AM
Studied at University of Allahabad
Lives in Allahabad, India
From Mau, India


Until thy feet have trod the Road
Advise not wayside folk,
Nor till thy back has borne the Load
Break in upon the Broke.

Chase not with undesired largesse
Of sympathy the heart
Which, knowing her own bitterness,
Presumes to dwell apart.

Employ not that glad hand to raise
The God-forgotten head
To Heaven, and all the neighbours’ gaze—
Cover thy mouth instead.

The quivering chin, the bitten lip,
The cold and sweating brow,
Later may yearn for fellowship—
Not now, you ass, not now!

Time, not thy ne’er so timely speech,
Life, not thy views thereon,
Shall furnish or deny to each
His consolation.

Or, if impelled to interfere,
Exhort, uplift, advise,
Lend not a base, betraying ear
To all the victim’s cries.

Only the Lord can understand
When those first pangs begin,
How much is reflex action and
How much is really sin.

E’en from good words thyself refrain,
And tremblingly admit
There is no anodyne for pain
Except the shock of it.

So, when thine own dark hour shall fall,
Unchallenged canst thou say :
‘I never worried you at all,
For God’s sake go away!’

I find that many of Kipling’s most ardent fans live in India. This person really seemed to need an answer right away, so I answered at once:

“Fans of Rudyard Kipling:
The poem means that when people are suffering, in pain or grieving, and they do not want your help or sympathy, you should leave them alone. They might be ready for your friendship at a later date, but not now. Show respect for their wishes and don’t try to cheer them up. You will be thankful when your time to suffer comes, if they do not bother you.”

This is something Kipling understood, but so many well meaning people do not. Good intentions do not mitigate the harm that is caused by unsolicited “comforting” words and deeds.


If you enjoy Kipling’s poetry, you will like OUR LADY OF KAIFENG.



About Aya Katz

Aya Katz is the administrator of Pubwages. When she is not busy administering, she sometimes also writes posts like a regular user.
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3 Responses to The Meaning of The Comforters by Rudyard Kipling

  1. Sweetbearies says:

    People do not want to be smothered when they ask to be left alone. I am fascinated by this discussion with the Kipling poem.

  2. Aya Katz says:

    This morning I discovered another message on the “Fans of Rudyard Kipling” Facebook page. Here is what it said: “Sorry for after so much time.. but..
    Many many thanks!.. for this sweet & simple summary..
    I understood the poem now! And feel grateful to you..

    Now I feel: I need to be more particular about some lines of the poem. If you don’t mind, May I please-please ask individual explaination of these lines-

    1-Lend not a base, betraying ear
    To all the victim’s cries.

    2-Time, not thy ne’er so timely speech,
    Life, not thy views thereon,
    Shall furnish or deny to each
    His consolation.

    Waiting for favourable reply!
    Thanks a lot!

    (By the way are you Indian or abroad?)”

    I responded immediately: “No problem. I am happy to help.

    1.Lend not a base, betraying ear
    To all the victim’s cries.

    This means: “Do not listen maliciously to what they cry out in their pain, which may be completely inappropriate for anyone to say, and then report it to other people.”

    I will give you some examples of what these cries may consist of. Let’s say a man’s son is killed in the war (as Kipling’s son was). Then a friend comes to console him and says that he will soon get over the loss of his son. The bereaved father may blurt out: “I wish your son had been killed instead of mine!” This is not a nice thing to say. But the man is suffering, and he has less control of himself than usual. It was a reflex that he probably regrets. The poem says not to put a suffering person in this situation of offering false comfort and then judging him on his automatic response during a time when he has little self control because he is suffering.

    Or if you tell a suffering person that God has a plan and that whatever it is that has happened is all for the best, then do not judge him if he responds: “If that is so, then I hate God!” That is not necessarily his final opinion, but just what he is feeling at that moment. If you can’t deal with his real pain, just don’t bother him. And do not betray him to others in his weakened state.

    2-Time, not thy ne’er so timely speech,
    Life, not thy views thereon,
    Shall furnish or deny to each
    His consolation.

    This mean: “Time often heals. Platitudes do not.” Over time, in the course of life, many people do find consolation for their losses and their suffering. But another person cannot give them this consolation. They have to find it themselves. And whether they do or not is up to no one else.

    As to your other question, I live in the United States, but I was born in Israel. I have lived in other places as well. My two part novel, OUR LADY OF KAIFENG, is set in China during WWII and has may quotes from Kipling’s poetry.”

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