Daily Email

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Poem: "The Prodigal Son" by Rudyard Kipling

Here come I to my own again,
Fed, forgiven and known again,
Claimed by bone of my bone again
And cheered by flesh of my flesh.
The fatted calf is dressed for me,
But the husks have greater zest for me,
I think my pigs will be best for me,
So I’m off to the Yards afresh.
I was never very refined, you see,
(And it weighs on my brother’s mind, you see)
But there’s no reproach among swine, d’you see,
For being a bit of a swine.
So I’m off with wallet and staff to eat
The bread that is three parts chaff to wheat,
But glory be! – there’s a laugh to it,
Which isn’t the case when we dine.

My father glooms and advises me,
My brother sulks and despises me,
And mother chastises me
Till I want to go out and swear.
And, in spite of the butler’s gravity,
I know that the servants have it I
Am the monster of moral depravity,
And I’m damned if I think it’s fair!

I wasted my substance, I know I did,
On riotous living, so I did,
But there’s nothing on record to show I did
Worse than my betters have done.
They talk of the money I spent out there –
They hint at the pace that I went out there –
But they all forget I was sent out there
Alone as a rich man’s son.

So I was a mark for plunder at once,
And lost my cash (can you wonder?) at once
But I didn’t give up and knock under at once,
I worked in the Yards, for a spell,
Where I spent my nights and my days with hogs,
And shared their milk and maize with hogs,
Till, I guess, I have learned what pays with hogs
And – I have that knowledge to sell!

So back I go to my job again,
Not so easy to rob again,
Or quite so ready to sob again
On any neck that’s around.
I’m leaving, Pater. Good-bye to you!
God bless you, Mater! I’ll write to you!
I wouldn’t be impolite to you,
But, brother, you are a hound!


  1. One often would like to hear "the end of the story" for some of these parables. A Russian short-story writer (can't recall which one--had to read it in high school almost 50 years ago) had a depressing tale of how the man cured of blindness became a peeping-Tom, the man cured of the withered arm became a pick-pocket, etc. Sadly it is often the case, and even Christ glumly reported that sometimes when the evil spirit has gone out of a person, after a while it comes back with seven of its friends and the person ends up worse off. It shows the need for follow-up. When people have these sudden, miraculous faith-healings via TV or some tent meeting, often there is no nurturing community surrounding and supporting the person and so after the glow wears off, things return to the status quo. We need to be alert for this and pick up the ball after the Spirit drops it through the hoop.
    The bit about the swine reminded me of an old bar-room ballad:

    One night in late October,
    When I was far from sober,
    I was walking down the street in manly pride.
    My feet began to stutter,
    So I lay down in the gutter,
    And a pig came up and lay down by my side.

    As I lay there in the gutter,
    Thinking thoughts I cannot utter
    A lady passing by was heard to say
    "You can tell someone who boozes
    By the company he chooses"
    And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

    Pigs may be more fastidious about their company than we suppose, and not willing to share their husks with just anyone!

    1. Great points that you make. Very rich. I like that bar-room ballad quite a bit.

      And yes, our imagination can be set free when we contemplate the rest of the story.