Rudyard Kipling

When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted by Rudyard Kipling

Published in 1922, Kipling’s ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted’ describes the “last” painting of mother earth and how it will be painted by the “good” people. No matter how this world ends, there will always be a new beginning, a new painting to admire.

Rudyard Kipling’s ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted’ is an optimistic poem about the last days on earth with a dystopian lining. In this poem, Kipling explores the idea of the afterlife where the good souls will be seated on golden chairs. The poem taps on the themes of religion, spirituality, doomsday, and a new beginning. It is all about the last painting of earth that will be drawn by good human beings portraying the importance of religion and spirituality. You can read the full poem below:

When Earth's Last Picture Is Painted
by Rudyard Kipling

When Earth's last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,
When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,
We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it - lie down for an aeon or two,
Till the Master of All Good Workmen Shall put us to work anew.

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;
They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comet's hair.
They shall find real saints to draw from - Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;
They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;
And no one will work for the money, and no one will work for the fame,
But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,
Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are!


Summary

In ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted,’ Rudyard Kipling compares the new world to a painting and describes how the “last picture” will be drawn in the last days on earth.

In this poem, Kipling paints a dystopian image of a world where the colors of the “old” have faded, and the “youngest critic” of art has died. The speaker says that after the end of the world, people would rest in their graves for an æon or more until there is a new beginning. Those who were good during their lifetime will be rewarded and given a seat in the “golden chair.” They will be the first painters to draw on a “ten-league canvas” provided by God. Their painting would take inspiration from saints. In the process of completing the picture, they will never grow tired. In the last stanza, Kipling refers back to how only God’s praise and approval matter to these people most, not “money” or “fame.”

Meaning

This piece is spiritual in nature and hopeful in tone. In this poem, Kipling describes how the last days of the Earth would be. It is compared to a painting with faded colors and devoid of life. He explains how the optimists shall rest in their graves for a long time. They will wait till God, “the Master of All Good Workmen,” shall put them to work. Those who were righteous and followed God’s path will be allowed to sit by Him. After that, God would appoint them to paint on lavish and big canvases with brushes made out of comet’s hair. The speaker doesn’t refer to this place as heaven but mentions that all the saints would be there. In the end, he explains that people will not work for fame or money but simply for “the joy of the working.”

Structure

The poem ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted’ consists of a total of 12 lines, divided into three quatrains. The rhyme scheme of each verse is AABB. It means each section contains two rhyming couplets. For instance, in the first stanza, the first two lines end with the rhyming words “dried” and “died.” This scheme is followed throughout the text. Besides, the poem is composed with a combination of the anapestic and iambic meter. The tone of the poem is optimistic and inspirational. Kipling wrote this poem from the perspective of a third-person speaker.

Literary Devices

Kipling makes use of the following literary devices in his poem ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted.’

  • Alliteration: It occurs in the following phrases, “picture is painted,” “tubes are twisted,” “separate star,” etc.
  • Metaphor: The poet compares the concept of recreation of the earth to the last painting drawn by an artist (here, God). He pictures the end of times to be a painting with faded colors and less visible.
  • Anaphora: Kipling repeats the word “When” at the beginning of the first two lines. Similarly, the phrase “They shall” occurs at the beginning of the last three lines of the second verse and “And” in the first two lines of the last verse.
  • Allusion: In the third line of the second quatrain, Kipling alludes to Mary Magdalene, Saint Peter, and Saint Paul from the Bible.


Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

When Earth’s last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,

When the oldest colors have faded, and the youngest critic has died,

We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it—lie down for an aeon or two,

Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.

The first quatrain of ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted’ begins with a picture of the end of the world. There is a sense of sadness in the speaker’s tone as he compares the end to an old painting. He describes how the old colors are fading, the tubes (symbol of hope) have dried up, and the youngest critic of art has died.

The speaker refers to humanity with the collective pronoun “we,” showing a sense of unity. According to him, those who are still faithful to God and optimistic about a new beginning will wait for the new picture to be drawn. They might have to wait for ages. Yet, they are happy with the long waiting as they know God is always there to start anew.

In the last line, the speaker refers to the rebirth of virtuous souls. According to him, the “Master of All Good Workmen,” a metaphorical reference to God, shall put the faithful souls in work again. With His direction, they shall draw the painting of a new world.

Stanza Two

And those that were good shall be happy: they shall sit in a golden chair;         

They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair.

They shall find real saints to draw from—Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;

They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

In the second quatrain, Kipling explains how those who were “good” will be rewarded handsomely. They shall be sitting right next to God in golden chairs. Here, the “golden chair” represents success, recognition, and importance.

The speaker says that the virtuous people will be the painters of a new world. They will be given a “ten-league canvas” to splash the colors of humanity again. The celestial comets will be the tip of their paintbrush. They will be guided by saintly figures such as Magdalene, St. Peter, and St. Paul. They would be a real inspiration for the new painting.

In the last line, the poet exclaims that the people will not be tired ever. They have been waiting for this opportunity for ages. Therefore, when the moment comes, they will savor each moment and invest their full potential in work vested on them by God himself.

Stanza Three

And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame;

And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,         

But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,

Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are!

In the last stanza of ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted,’ Kipling says that the good people will not work for money or fame. They will devote themselves to spiritual pleasure. Only God shall praise or blame their work. To paint the just picture of the future, the painters have to be working for art’s sake, not for any material pleasures.

In the last lines, the speaker describes how the artists of the future would draw inspiration from separate stars. Each individual’s stroke would be unique. Hence, each voice would be in the painting. Besides, they will paint as they seem fit. According to the poet, each thing is important in God’s creation. So, whatever they paint, the essence of God would always be there.

Historical Context

Rudyard Kipling was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist. His best-known works include The Jungle Book, Just So Stories, and Kim. Kipling’s poem ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted’ appears in the collection entitled, Verse: 1885-1918. It was published in 1922. In this poem, Kipling tries to escape the reality around him. He imagines a time when the world would come to an end. Then, the pious and devoted souls will be artists of a new beginning. They would paint the future world in their own colors for the sake of life, humankind, and creation. In this way, Kipling shows how we can make this world a better place by distancing ourselves from material pleasures and resorting to spirituality. Explore more Rudyard Kipling poems.

FAQs

What is the poem ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted’ about?

Rudyard Kipling’s ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted’ is about the end of the world. The speaker of the poem describes how God would put the good people to draw the painting of a new world. They would be the makers of the future and a better world.

When was the world’s last picture painted?

According to Kipling, earth’s last picture is painted when the tubes of hope have dried out, the old colors have faded, and the critics of art have died. Then, the virtuous soul will draw the last painting of the old world and the first painting of a new, better world.

What is the tone of ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted’?

The tone of the poem is hopeful, devotional, and inspired. In this poem, Kipling hopefully talks about the future of humankind. He thinks when the world comes to an end, there will always be a new beginning.

What type of poem is ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted’?

It is a beautiful lyric on a speaker’s hope for a better future. The text contains a total of four quatrains, each having two rhyming couplets. The overall rhyme scheme of the poem is AABB. Besides, it is written from the perspective of an omniscient narrator.

What is the theme of ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted’?

This poem taps on a number of themes that include optimism, future, art, and spirituality. The main idea of the poem revolves around how the last painting of the old world would be drawn.


Similar Poems

The following list contains a few poems that tap on similar themes present in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted.’ You can also explore Kipling’s best-known poems.

You can also explore these inspirational poems about hope.

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A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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