A Legend of Truth by Rudyard Kipling


Rudyard Kipling was an English short-story writer, poet, and journalist, born in British India in the late 19th century. Cheifly remembered for his fictional works, including The Jungle Book, Kipling was both popular and critically acclaimed. The thought-provoking poem, “A Legend of Truth,” explores the concept of truth. In the poem, Truth, personified, is horrified by the lies of the world and retreats to her well. However, during a war, Truth is forced to emerge and confront the world again. The poem is a reflection on the nature of truth and its relationship with the world, particularly in times of conflict. 

Once on a time, the ancient legends tell,
Truth, rising from the bottom of her well,
Looked on the world, but, hearing how it lied,
Returned to her seclusion horrified.
There she abode, so conscious of her worth,
Not even Pilate's Question called her forth,
Nor Galileo, kneeling to deny
The Laws that hold our Planet 'neath the sky.
Meantime, her kindlier sister, whom men call
Fiction, did all her work and more than all,
With so much zeal, devotion, tact, and care,
That no one noticed Truth was otherwhere.

Then came a War when, bombed and gassed and mined,
Truth rose once more, perforce, to meet mankind,
And through the dust and glare and wreck of things,
Beheld a phantom on unbalanced wings,
Reeling and groping, dazed, dishevelled, dumb,
But semaphoring direr deeds to come.

Truth hailed and bade her stand; the quavering shade
Clung to her knees and babbled, "Sister, aid!
I am—I was—thy Deputy, and men
Besought me for my useful tongue or pen
To gloss their gentle deeds, and I complied,
And they, and thy demands, were satisfied.
But this—" she pointed o'er the blistered plain,
Where men as Gods and devils wrought amain—
"This is beyond me! Take thy work again."

Tablets and pen transferred, she fled afar,
And Truth assumed the record of the War…
She saw, she heard, she read, she tried to tell
Facts beyond precedent and parallel—
Unfit to hint or breathe, much less to write,
But happening every minute, day and night.
She called for proof. It came. The dossiers grew.
She marked them, first, "Return. This can't be true."
Then, underneath the cold official word:
"This is not really half of what occurred."

She faced herself at last, the story runs,
And telegraphed her sister: "Come at once.
Facts out of hand. Unable overtake
Without your aid. Come back for Truth's own sake!
Co-equal rank and powers if you agree.
They need us both, but you far more than me!"

Reflection Questions

  1. How does Kipling’s personification of Truth in the poem influence your interpretation of its themes?
  2. What does the poem suggest about the relationship between truth and society, particularly in times of conflict?
  3. How does Kipling’s use of imagery and symbolism contribute to the overall message of the poem?
  4. What emotions or thoughts does the poem evoke in you as a reader, and how do these relate to the concept of truth?

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