This poem, listed in ORG as No. 474. was sent in a letter to the American poet James Whitcomb Riley on November 20th 1890, on receiving a copy of Riley's Rhymes of Childhood. It was published in The Cornhill Booklet in August 1900.
It is collected in:
James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916) was an American author who made his name as a writer of poems in the “Hoosier” dialect of Indiana. Though he never married or had children, he also wrote many children’s poems and became known as “The Children’s Poet.” Probably his best-known poem is "Little Orphant Annie", a children’s poem in dialect. The first verse runs:
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
Riley’s book Rhymes for Children was published in 1890, and as the subheading explains, Kipling liked it so much that he wrote this poem to say thank you. He had not met Riley and did not expect to - as Verse 1 explains: 'There is water between our lodges' (the whole Atlantic Ocean!). But in fact they did meet later, in 1893. By then Kipling had married Caroline Balestier, an American, and was living in Vermont. According to Pinney’s note (Letters vol 2 p.110):
RK and Riley had met in New York sometime during RK’s stay there in March and April of this year (1893).Kipling's poem
Verses 3 and 4 present a very perceptive picture of ideal happy childhood. This is perhaps surprising. Children figure as the heroes of some of Kipling’s early Indian stories, for instance “His Majesty the King” and "Wee Willie Winkie" in the book of that name, and "Tods’ Amendment" in Plain Tales from the Hills. But J I M Stewart sums up a good deal of later critical opinion when he dismisses them as 'thickly sentimental presentations of childhood in a manner not at all to our taste today.' (p.48). Kipling’s own eldest child Josephine was not born till December 29th 1893.
Even if Kipling was 'thickly sentimental' in his presentations of childhood', in the last verse of this poem he confesses that some of Riley’s verses made him cry. Two of his letters to Riley have survived, and in both he admits the emotional effect that Riley’s poems have on him.:
Also I choke over “Mahala Ashcroft” and because I don’t know why I choke I am moderately sure that there is a poet at the keyboard.
Over some of the others, I won’t say which, I choked and ‘tis your blamed verses that are the only ones I know that can make me gulp.
TO RUDYARD KIPLING
©Philip Holberton 2018 All rights reserved