[Jan 29 2003]
First published Sunday Express, 19th September 1926.
Background to the poem
The parable of the vineyard can be found in Matt. 20, 1-16. It tells of a householder with a vineyard that needs labourers. He goes repeatedly to the marketplace to recruit people who are standing idle there; some only come at the eleventh hour, but win the same reward as those that were first.
On 7th November, 1918, Kipling wrote to Theodore Roosevelt that the war “would hardly have been begun or if begun would have ended in a few weeks, if the U.S. had entered with the rest after the Lusitania was sunk” (see note on “The Changelings”, line 1). The story “Sea Constables” has shown why this did not happen: the “neutral” captain in it is evidently a German American whose sympathies are on the other side.
On March 15, 1919, Kipling wrote to Henry Cabot Lodge that President Woodrow Wilson’s behaviour at the peace conference “gives one rather the impression of the Labourer who entered the Vineyard at the Eleventh Hour and spent the time in a lecture on the Principles of Viticulture and the Horrors of Intemperance, instead of helping to clean up the winepress of the wrath of God.” (See also “The Prophet and the Country” with “Gow’s Watch, Act IV, Scene 4.”)