[June 29th 2018]
This poem was first published in December 1893, as a 'Prelude' to Many Inventions. It is listed in ORG as No. 594. Pinney (Cambridge Edition p. 638) notes that Kipling had intended to put the poem at the head of A Kipling Pageant (1935) though he lost interest in the book, and the plan was changed by his publisher. However, some forty years after it was written, he clearly saw the message of the poem as enduringly true.
It is collected in
The poem is a celebration of Romance, the mysterious, elusive, often unattainable quality which can make life into art. It enables poets and story-tellers to kindle people's imagination and reveal beauty and meaning in ordinary experience, touching the heart.
Here his Romance is like a goddess, to be worshipped and sought after, a crucial inspiration to artistic endeavour, found only sometimes, and with difficulty. He writes of her in high-flown quasi-religious terms, as from a disciple.
Many Inventions (1893) includes stories based on his seven years in India, but also a number of new themes, including his first tale about the Royal Navy. and the first stories involving Mowgli the boy among wolves, and McPhee the ship's engineer; also, in the first tale in the collection, "The Disturber of Traffic" a man's descent into madness as a result of overwhelming psychological pressure.
Pamela Frankau writes in KJ 33 for March 1935:
... the essence of his outlook is contained in the poem "To The True Romance." He saw Romance not merely as a halo cast around love struggling against adversity or courage sustaining desperate odds, but as the goddess to whom all heroic will is dedicated and at whose feet all self-sacrificing endeavour, win or lose, is laid. Above and behind every striving, thus inspired, be it great or small, acclaimed or unknown, successful or unsuccessful, he beheld this same figure standing in glory.Jan Montefiore writes:
Formally, the influence here seems to be 19th Century hymns, perhaps Hymns Ancient and Modern, which Kipling would have been familiar with since his unhappy childhood, although the thought seems distinctly pagan.(See also "Kipling and the Brontes" by A. E. Bagwell Purefoy in KJ 142 for June 1962. )
Kipling had written about mind at the end of its tether from his experiences in India, and he continued to do so back in England before and after the horrors of the Great War. It is interesting that he chose to begin Many Inventions with "The Disturber of Traffic".
His posture in the poem is subservient towards his inspiration, but in public assertion of the poet's power, he was anything but subservient, as witness "The Last Rhyme of True Thomas " (1894):
"Sleep ye or wake," True Thomas said,He was echoing what another Victorian poet, Arthur O'Shaughnessy had written twenty years before:
We are the music makers,See also "The Song of the Banjo", in which Kipling celebrates the power of song to inspire pioneers and adventurers down the ages, and "McAndrew's Hymn", which proclaims the romance of steam:
From coupler-flange to spindle-guide I see Thy hand, O God:Also "The King", in which he insists that Romance is alive and well in the modern world, despite the tendency of every generation to see it in the past but not the present.
©John Radcliffe 2018 All rights reserved