[October 29th 2017]
Verses 1. 3, and 5 of this poem were first published in June 1892 as a heading to chapter xvii of The Naulahka, a Story of West and East, by Rudyard Kipling and Wolcott Balestier. The poem is listed in ORG as No 546.
It is collected in:
It could be assumed that as a chapter heading for The Naulahka the poem concerns the hero and heroine of the novel. However, it seems more plausible to see it as celebrating, in lofty cosmic terms, Kipling's partnership with his friend Wolcott Balestier, with whom he had written the work, and who had died unexpectedly a few months before, in December 1891.
Together, it passionately asserts, the two young comrades had fought to conquer the heights, an endeavour which seems long ago now that Wolcott is dead.
On this assumption, the 'she' in the second line, and in the last stanza must refer to Carrie, Wolcott's sister, whom Kipling had married soon after his death.
Jan Montefiore writes:
Its diction and metre are strikingly close to those of the "Dedication" to Barrack Room Ballads in memory of Wolcott, published a few weeks earlier in May 1892, except that the Dedication is in triplets rhymed aaa, whereas "The Sack of the Gods" is in quatrains rhyming aabb. Both the poems go in for high-flown cosmic imagery. Compare the Dedication's first stanza:BackgroundBeyond the path of the outmost sun through utter darkness hurledand this from "The Sack of the Gods", which even uses the same imagery of star-dust:
When in October 1889 Kipling arrived in London from India, aged twenty-three, he had already attracted much attention with Departmental Ditties, Plain Tales from the Hills. and the six paperbacks of the Indian Railway Library. Editors took a strong interest in this new literary phenomenon, he was elected to the Savile Club, he acquired a literary agent, in America rogue publishers started to pirate his work, and he continued to write furiously. He recalled later that:
That period was all ... a dream, in which I could push down walls, walk through ramparts,and stride across rivers.His emotional life was less stable. By mid-1890 he was stressed, restless, and overworked. He had had a chance encounter with Flo Garrard, his old love, who clearly did not care for him. His experience of this unsatisfactory relationship was echoed in his first novel The Light that Failed, first published in November 1890.
The American edition of that work had been overseen by Wolcott Balestier, a young entrepreneur, on behalf of Lovells in the United States. He had come over to London in 1889 to make literary contacts and drum up business. He had met and made a close friendship with Kipling, to a point where the two agreed to collaborate on a second novel, The Naulahka, and there is a vivid account from a Vermont newspaper of how closely they worked together, with Wolcott writing the American scenes and Rudyard the Indian. (see the article by Charles Carrington in KJ 179 for September 1971)
Kipling was keen for Wolcott to join him on a journey round the world, but also became increasingly close to his sister Carrie, with whom he seems to have reached an understanding by the summer of 1891. In August he embarked alone on his travels, to South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and back to India.
There in December he had a cable from Carrie with the news of Wolcott's death from typhoid, asking him to come back to her. He took ship to England, and married her on January 18th 1892. They set out for their honeymoon at the beginning of February, and while crossing the Atlantic, Rudyard completed the chapter headings for The Naulahka, including this poem. The novel had been serialised since the previous November, and was published in book form on June 23rd.
©Janet Montefiore and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved