The Sign of the Flower

The Sign of the Withered Violet


(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on
the work of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)

the poem

[September 22nd 2019]


There are versions handwritten by Kipling in Notebook 1, dated 16 August 1882, with the title "The Sign of the Withered Violet", and in Notebook 3 with the title "The Sign of the Flower", undated. See Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 170, and Pinney p. 1678.

The Poem

In Verse 1 two lovers part. She tells him that if she ever needs him she will send him the withered violet as a sign. In the remaining three verses the sea and the cloud and the night tell him to go swiftly to her. But she did not send the violet And without the sign [he] dared not go.

Rutherford notes (p. 170) that years afterwards Kipling’s sister Trix commented on the possible significance for this poem of the fact that Florence Garrard’s middle name was Violet. Kipling had become infatuated with “Flo” Garrard in the summer of 1880, when he was fourteen, and she a year older, and many of the poems that he wrote thereafter are addressed to her.


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved