"Caret"

1881

(notes by John McGivering
and John Radcliffe)


the poem


[April 23rd 2017]

Publication

Its first publication was in Schoolboy Lyrics in Lahore in 1881, in an edition of around fifty arranged by his mother shortly before Rudyard's arrival in the city at the age of sixteen, to work as a journalist. It is listed in ORG as No 15.

Collected in:
  • The de Luxe Edition (1900)
  • The Outward Bound Edition (1900) Vol. 27
  • Sussex Edition Vol. 35
  • Burwash Edition Vol. 28
  • Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Rutherford, p. 88
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 1168.
The poem

A 'caret' is a publisher's mark indicating that something is missing in a manuscript and where it should appear. This seems a deeply felt Schoolboy Lyric, in which the young poet is pondering on what is lacking in a relationship. It may well reflect his unrequited feeling for the beautiful but enigmatic Flo Garrard, whom he had met in the summer of 1880, and with whom he was in love for at least a year. See also "The Lesson".

Background

After his unhappy years at Southsea, Kipling was sent to United Services College at Westward Ho! in Devon at the age of twelve, in 1878. It had been recently established to provide education for the sons of army officers. Because of his poor eyesight he was no good at rugby or cricket, and the Head, Cormell Price, who was a friend of his father, gave him the freedom of his library:
He gave Beetle tlie run of his brown -bound, tobacco-scented library ; prohibiting nothing, recommending nothing. There Beetle found a fat armchair, a silver inkstand, and unlimited pens and paper. There were scores and scores of ancient dramatists ; there were Hakluyt, his voyages ; French translations of Muscovite authors called Pushkin and Lermontoff ; little tales of a heady and bewildering nature, interspersed with unusual songs—Peacock was that writer's name ; there was Borrow's Lavengro ; an odd theme, purporting to be a translation of something called a ' Rubaiyat,' which the Head said was a poem not yet come to its own ; there were hundreds of volumes of verse—Crashaw ; Dryden ; Alexander Smith ; L.E.L. ; Lydia Sigourney ; Fletcher and a purple island ; Donne ; Marlowe's Faust ; and—this made M'Turk (to whom Beetle conveyed it) sheer drunk for three days—Ossian ; The Earthly Paradise ; Atalanta in Calydon ; and Rossetti—to name only a few.
Stalky & Co. pp. 217-8)
And the young Kipling wrote himself, experimenting with styles and language and themes, borrowing from many other writers, expressing his feelings about the world around him, finding his own voice, determined that he would become a published poet.

And as Andrew Rutherford recounts (p. 3) he encountered other literary influences in the holidays:
... extensions of his literary and emotional experience came during his Christmas visits to the Burne-Jones household at The Grange, North End Road, Fulham, where he was welcomed by his beloved Aunt Georgiana ... Further appreciation of the Pre-Raphaelite milieu was to come later, but already Kipling responded to some of the drawings and paintings on which Burne-Jones was engaged, and he sensed the importance attached to art and literature by the whole circle.
Rudyard also edited the school magazine, the United Services College Chronicle, and took a keen interest in the technicalities of printing and publishing. See "The Last Term" in Stalky & Co. (pp. 228-230):
The school paper in its locked formes lay on a stone-topped table, a proof by the side ; but for worlds would Beetle have corrected from mere proof. With a mallet and a pair of tweezers, he knocked out mysterious wedges of wood that released the forme, picked a letter here and inserred a letter there, reading as he went along and stopping much to chuckle over his own contributions.


Notes on the Text


[Verse 2]

pits a word of several meanings, here holes in the ground that prevent progress.

balk another, here preventing progress, thwarting some action.

[Verse 4]

Fate's dull web in Roman mythology the Fates were Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, who ruled men's lives and deaths.

Web An archaic word for cloth.




©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved