Verses 1, 2. and 5 of this poem were written as a heading to the tale "The Disturber of Traffic" when it was collected in Many Inventions in May 1893. Verses 3 and 4 were added when it was collected in Songs from Books in 1912, together with some slight changes in the original verses. It is listed No 595 in ORG as "Miriam Cohen" or "The Prayer of Miriam Cohen".
It is collected in
In his Notes on "The Disturber of Traffic" in this Guide, Peter Havholm points out the (rather distant) connection between poem and story.
The last verse is perhaps most apropos to this tale about a lighthouse keeper whose 'head began to feel streaky from looking at the tide so long'.."The Disturber of Traffic" is about a man whose mind gives way under the pressure of his obsessions. Andrew Lycett (p. 233) notes:
When two years later Rudyard collected this story in his book Many Inventions he prefaced it with his mysterious "The Prayer of Miriam Cohen", indicating that his [Kipling’s] problems came from a hyperactive mind occasionally overreaching itself and trying to delve too deeply into the secrets of the universe. For this poem, later expanded from three to five stanzas, states that man needs the shroud of revealed religion in his quest for meaning in life: staring into the void is too blinding. Rudyard’s plea:Later (p. 427) Lycett writes of 'Rudyard's religious premise that one should not look too closely into the mind of God, for that way madness lies.'A veil ‘twixt us and Thee, dread Lord,should be read as a milestone on his journey of spiritual enlightenment.
“Miriam Cohen” is a Jewish name. Kipling does not say why he chose it, and J M S Tompkins (p. 104) confesses her bafflement:
They (the verses) are printed over the name of Miriam Cohen, which I do not understand ... They are a prayer for a veil between the human soul and the Lord, a plea to be spared the sight of God’s toil in the universe, and the madness that follows the vision.However, in 2002 Eric Cohen, from Wisconsin U.S.A., wrote to the Kipling Society saying that as his wife's name was Miriam, he would like to know the background to this poem. Roger Ayers responded:
One may speculate upon what prompted Kipling to write "The Prayer of Miriam Cohen", since it provided him with the stanzas at the head of "The Disturber of Traffic" ... In that story, Dowse, the lighthouse keeper, with nothing between himself and God, goes mad with loneliness. The prayer asks God to veil Himself from the intercessor, Miriam Cohen. Why Miriam?
face ‘meet’ in the original version.
The faggot and the sword Methods of execution: a faggot is a bundle of sticks for fuel, specifically one used to burn a heretic alive at the stake.
[Verse 2 ]
Thy Works 'Thy toil' in the original. The verse is a plea to be spared the experience of God’s wars in heaven. There may be echoes of Revelation 12,7 'There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon'; and of Judges 5,20 'The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
conceal: here this word is a request: 'please hide'. The line is easier to understand with a different word order: 'Conceal Thy Path, Thy Purposes…'
Good Lord ‘dread Lord' in the original. This change does not seem to be an improvement. One asks a 'dread' God to veil His Face rather than a ‘Good’ one.
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