[October 25th 2017]
The poem, without a title, forms the heading to chapter xx of The Naulahka, published in December 1892. It is listed in ORG as no 548. In the novel the poem is signed as From Libretto of Naulahka. (See Sharad Keskar's notes on the novel) There are some minor differences in the text between different editions.
There is only one change between the novel and collected editions: line 4 of Verse 2 in the novel reads 'And priestess of his shrine is she.' As collected this has become 'And – teacher unto such as we!'
The best explanation of this poem is Kipling’s own, which he puts into the mouth of the Queen in the chapter that follows this heading (pp. 300-302) She is talking to Kate Sheriff, who has come to Rhatore to run a hospital for women:
From all, except such as have born child, the world is hid...
Kate Sheriff's mission in the novel would have been close to Kipling's heart. During his time in India he had been much impressed by the work done by Lady Dufferin, the wife of the Viceroy. She had set up the National Association for supplying Female Medical Aid to the Women of India ('The Countess of Dufferin Fund') in 1885.
The association trained women doctors, midwives, and nurses, to improve the treatment of Indian women in illness and child-birth. Many 'Lady Dufferin' hospitals and clinics were established, and some still exist under her name.
See Kipling's poem "The Song of the Women" (1888).
Our little maid that hath no breasts. See The Song of Solomon 8,8: 'We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts.'
©Philip Holberton 2017 All rights reserved