This poem is an expression of the Freemason Kipling's dedication and love for his Mother Lodge, Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782 in Lahore.
The speaker names off the people there – Rundle, the Station Master; Beazeley of the Rail; Ackman the Commissariat; Donkin of the jail; Blake the Conductor-Sergeant, who was Master twice; and Old Framjee Eduljee, who had power in the "Europe-Shop".
There is a break in the poem, expressed in italics: outside the walls of the lodge, the labels "Sir!" "Sergeant!" Salute!" and "Salaam!" are used, but inside there is only "Brother". They met on the Level and parted on the Square, and the speaker was a Junior Deacon.
He continues with his list of people there – Bola Nath, the accountant; Saul the Jew; Din Mohammed the draughtsman of the Survey Office; Babu Chuckerbutty; Amir Singh the Sikh; Castro the Catholic from the "fittin'-sheds".
Their lodge was bare and they did not have fancy uniforms, but they all knew about their ancient landmarks and kept to them. When he looks back, he thinks fondly that if there were such things as "infidels", it would be them.
Each month after they labored they would sit down and have a smoke – there were no luxurious banquets – and each man would talk about their religion, comparing the "God 'e knew best". All night the men would talk and listen to each other, not stirring until morning broke with the sound of the parrots. The men would say it was "'ighly curious" and would go along their way, riding home to bed.
The speaker in his Government service has roved and borne greetings to fraternal lodges in the East and in the West, but he wishes he could go back to the Mother-Lodge he knew best. He wants to see his brethren "black 'an brown", pass around the cigar-lighter, hear the butler snoring on the pantry floor, and, most importantly, feel like he is back to being a Master in good standing at his Mother-Lodge once more.
He repeats in the poem, expressed in italics: outside, the labels "Sir!" "Sergeant!" Salute!" and "Salaam!" are used, but inside there is only "Brother". They met on the Level and parted on the Square, and the speaker was a Junior Deacon.
This poem is written in an informal vernacular and has a cheery, nostalgic tone. Like poems such as "Danny Deever" and "Tommy", Kipling ignores language that smacks of his classical British education, and truncates words, turning "and" into "an'" and "perhaps" into "per'aps". He does an excellent job at presenting a picture of the mother lodge members' joviality and the strong sense of fraternity felt by all. The men care little for the color of each others' skin or their religions; indeed, they spend all night talking about the God they knew best. Kipling is also proud of their humility – these men do not care for the trappings of wealth, being too poor to hold decadent banquets and preferring to indulge in cigars instead. Their importance does not come from their uniforms (which are threadbare) or the gilded appearance of their lodge (it is bare, too), but in their strength of character and their value of friendship and honor.
Kipling did not use his creative powers to fashion this poem; he was a devout Freemason and was drawing on his own experiences in the Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782 in Lahore, Punjab, India. He joined the fraternal organization around 1885, earlier than the required age of 21. His father was a dedicated Freemason and the young Kipling's name was well-known, as he was an assiduous young newspaper writer. The Lodge needed a new secretary and considered Kipling well-suited for the task. His involvement with the Freemasons would be profoundly impactful during his lifetime.
Kipling was well-regarded within the Freemasons and held many important positions. He wrote in the Times of his movement within the Freemasons: "I was Secretary for some years of the Lodge . . . , which included Brethren of at least four creeds. I was entered [as an Apprentice] by a member from Brahmo Somaj, a Hindu, passed [to the degree of Fellow Craft] by a Mohammedan, and raised [to the degree of Master Mason] by an Englishman. Our Tyler (a Tyler is the lodge's outer guard who makes sure no one who does not belong gets in, as well as makes sure those who are participating in ceremonies are prepared. Ed.) was an Indian Jew." He also received three degrees of Craft Masonry, and the side degrees of Mark Master Mason and Royal Ark Marine.
One Freemason scholar wrote of Kipling, "There seems to have been some quality deep within his nature to which Freemasonry appealed. The idea of a secret bond, of a sense of community, and of high principles among men sworn to a common purpose, fitted his concept of a social order." Several of Kipling's works took on Freemasonic themes; besides "The Mother-Lodge", these included the poem "Banquet Night" and the stories "Kim" and "The Man Who Would Be King".
British general and scholar Sir George MacMunn wrote, "Kipling uses Masonry in much the same way he uses the Holy Writ, for the beauty of the story, for the force of the reference, and for the dignity, beauty, and assertiveness of the phrase. There is one more effect that familiarity denies us which is present in the Masonic allusion and that is the almost uncanny hint of something unveiled." Again, although Kipling uses an informal poetic voice, his poem deals with larger themes of brotherhood, loyalty, unity between races and classes, and memory.