[May 10th 2017]
The first publication of this poem was in Schoolboy Lyrics in Lahore in 1881, in an edition of around fifty arranged by his mother. This was a year 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.
An inscrutable little fragment, reflecting ironically on the vagaries of human behaviour, in the manner of Robert Browning.
Jan Montefiore writes:
I take the poem to be musing on the way that an unattractive or boring-looking appearance can belie extraordinary feelings and actions – as with this couple who don't look like much, yet seem to have committed some kind of a crime passionel . That discrepancy between banal exterior and passionate inner life is a theme which the mature Kipling would dramatize brilliantly in his short stories – think of "The Dog Hervey"; the passion between the gawky plain ‘witch' Moira Sichliffe and the drunkard Shend, both of them middle-aged. Or "Mary Postgate", the spinster who looks like a camel, manifesting her terrifying depths of hatred and passion. Or "The Craftsman" about Shakespeare getting the inspiration for Lady Macbeth in the sight of a girl drowning kittens, ‘sombrely scornful’ of the brother who shrank from it.Background
After his unhappy years with a self-righteous and unsympathetic foster-mother at Southsea, Kipling was sent to United Services College at Westward Ho! in Devon at the age of twelve, in 1878. Because of his poor eyesight he was no good at rugby or cricket. The Head, Cormell Price, who was a friend of his father, gave him the run of his library, where he read voraciously, including a great deal of poetry (see Something of Myself p. 33. He goes on to describe his violent introduction to Robert Browning:
Tennyson and Aurora Leigh came in the way of nature to me in the holidays, and C—— in form once literally threw Men and Women at my head. Here I found ‘The Bishop orders his Tomb,’ ‘Love among the Ruins’ and ‘Fra Lippo Lippi,’ a not too remote—I dare to think—ancestor of mine.
©Jan Montefiore and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved