I Keep Six Honest Serving Men – A Poem by Rudyard Kipling

I Keep Six Honest Serving Men - A Poem by Rudyard Kipling
This entry is part 2 of 15 in the series Poetry and Management

I Keep Six Honest Serving Men is a short poem by Rudyard Kipling, that deals with curiosity and the sense of wonder that children have. Asking Questions is all about the focus of this poetry, inserted as a ballad in the children’s storybook Just So Stories of 1902.

This is the second contribution to my Poetry & Management collection. Poetry has always been one of my favourite forms of expressions, probably one of the eclectic sides of my multipotentialite trait. And I will be sharing more of these over time.

I Keep Six Honest Serving Men

I KEEP six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When 
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

I let them rest from nine till five,
For I am busy then,
As well as breakfast, lunch, and tea,
For they are hungry men.
But different folk have different views; 
I know a person small—
She keeps ten million serving-men,
Who get no rest at all!

She sends’em abroad on her own affairs,
 From the second she opens her eyes—
One million Hows, two million Wheres,
And seven million Whys!

Rudyard Kipling

Source: Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories (1902)

A Short Comment

I Keep Six Honest Serving Me talks about curiosity, and the willingness to continuously learn. The Six Honest Serving Men are the questions What, Why, When, How, Where and Who that are constantly asked to ensure understanding. These questions are sent in all directions, touching every topic. But then they are put to rest, and apparently not used at work: I Let them rest from nine till five / For I am busy then. Work, apparently, does not demand curiosity, rather busyness.

However, there is someone who has many more of these serving-men, a small child that asks “millions” of questions, never being allowed any rest. The sense of wonder of a child, and her curiosity, can be seen here from the second she opens her eyes.

The message on the importance of curiosity is clear, but also the realisation that with adulthood we are forced to limit this to only a few parts of our lives. At the same time, the sense of wonder that kids have gets replaced while growing, limiting our capacity to imagine.

What do you think of this poem? Write a Comment below.

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Cover Photo Source: Poetry Foundation

Series Navigation<< No Leaders Please – A Poem by Charles BukowskiThe Thought Fox – A Poem by Ted Hughes >>
  1. Avatar of Dr JEan Perera
    Dr JEan Perera

    Thanks Sergio – going to share this with my 5 year old grandchild

  2. Avatar of Rodney Turner
    Rodney Turner

    I think that with so many people who would have been employed in places of work now working from home the opportunity for curiosity, that is the opportunity to find things out when they occur to you has never been greater. For the most part nobody can see what you are looking at on your screen which they can do in the office. Unfortunately the go to place for information is the internet and it is sad that it doesn’t always provide facts. As I was once told. If you ask the internet the same question enough times you will eventually get the answer you want.

  3. Avatar of Victor Kapas
    Victor Kapas

    I heard this principle of inquisitiveness in connection with the study of the Bible, in a video about the study methods of students in the school of Gilead, of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was about more than curiosity. It was about “keeping a tight grip on the Word of life.” Those six men can help us prove to ourselves that the Bible is inspired and help us discern and apply God’s eternal principles in our everyday lives, keeping us happy and hopeful about the future, no matter what craziness is happening around us.

  4. Avatar of Nirmala Mano Prabhakaran
    Nirmala Mano Prabhakaran

    Thankyou for your summery. Cleared some doubts and helped me teach better

  5. Avatar of Imre Bokor
    Imre Bokor

    Our English teacher dictated the first four lines for us to write on the first page of our homework/exercise book in the first year of high school. It has stayed with me, as one of life’s guiding principles ever since. That was in 1962, when education was NOT getting ready for employment – that was vocational training – but becoming mature, thinking, critical and knowledgeable people striving to understand the world including themselves.

    Another quote we were presented to write on the first page of an exercise/homework book was from William Blake

    “I was angry with my friend;
    I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
    I was angry with my foe:
    I told it not, my wrath did grow. ”

    Schooling has changed dramatically since then!!

    • Avatar of Sergio Caredda

      Thanks for sharing:-) indeed schooling has changed. But did it change enough?

      • Avatar of Imre Bokor

        It has changed far too much – in the wrong directions. Children/young adults spend much long in school to lear much less, both in breadth and in depth – tragically!

  6. Avatar of Glen Teskey
    Glen Teskey

    The latter part of this verse selection provoked the thought of an emperor with thousands of soldiers the bulk of whom asked, “why.”

    Five W’s and one H, “mustn’t forget How

  7. Avatar of Andrew

    Have loved 6 Ws for 75 years. Getting people to ask “why” is increasingly difficult and so understanding is a shrinking resource.

    I do not understand why RK discourages the 6 Ws from 9 to 5 and how for instance that fits with “fast thinking, slow thonking”? Many of the greatest thinkers were most productive when they enjoyed solitude. One could debate for years with no agreed conclusion, I would just be interested in any insight to RK’s thinking/ reasoning? More attention should be given to paradigm that as knowledge grows wisdom and understanding shrinks,

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