"A Charm"

(1910)


(notes by Philip Holberton
and John Radcliffe)



the poem
[October 7th 2011]

Publication history

This poem (ORG no. 948) was first published as an introduction to Rewards and Fairies on October 4th 1910. It is collected in:
  • Songs from Books (1912)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition vols xv and xxxiv
  • Burwash Edition, vols. xiii and xxvii
  • A Choice of Kipling's Verse by T S Eliot (1941)
  • The Works of Rudyard Kipling Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994

In Songs from Books, Inclusive Verse, and Definitive Verse lines 5 and 6 of the last stanza are omitted.

The theme

In this poem Kipling invokes the magical healing powers of the land of England, which have sustained generation after generation over the centuries.

J M S Tompkins (p. 160) notes that this was the theme of a story Kipling had written five years before, "An Habitation Enforced", in which a young American couple, George and Sophie Chapin, refugees from the stresses of business life in the United States, settle in deepest Sussex, as Kipling himself had done:

"An Habitation Enforced" is soaked in summer air, and the heart-beat that steadies the Chapins is the pulse of nature, of rural society and, to quote Mr Eliot, of the past in the present.

Sophie, delighted and growing daily into closer comradeship with her husband, thrusts her roots at once into the good soil; George, more uncertain of himself and suspicious of his surroundings, takes longer to yield to acclimatization, but the birth of his son and the restoration of the derelict estate he buys in the Weald combine to fix him. These agencies are the magical elements of "A Charm", with which Kipling introduced Rewards and Fairies.

We are told to take a double handful of English earth, praying meanwhile for the `mere uncounted folk' that lie beneath it, and lay it upon the heart.

It shall sweeten and make whole
Fevered breath and festered soul;
It shall mightily restrain
Over-busy hand and brain,
(as it did with George Chapin) while the English flowers, sought through their seasons,
Shall restore a failing sight.
These shall cleanse and purify
Webbed and inward-turning eye;
These shall show thee treasures hid,
Thy familiar fields amid,
(as they were to do to Frankwell Midmore in "`My Son's Wife"'). The bodily terms of the verses are seen to be metaphors; the inward-turning eye is the eye of the self-absorbed, misdirected by melancholy or vanity; and in most of the tales of healing both body and mind are involved.

The two aspects are found apart in Rewards and Fairies. `Marklake Witches' is built round the invention of the stethoscope and "A Doctor of Medicine" round an outbreak of plague, while in "The Wrong Thing" a disease of the mind, an obsession of inferiority and hatred, is dissolved.
Background

In 1902 the Kiplings had settled at Bateman's in Burwash, in the once densely forested Sussex Weald, which became his home for the rest of his life. As Donald Mackenzie notes, in his Introduction to the 'Puck' stories, he swiftly became fascinated by the long and ancient history of his valley, and the evidence everywhere of the people who had lived and worked there over the years. In November 1902, soon after he moved to Batemans, Kipling wrote to Charles Eliot Norton: “England is a wonderful land. It is the most marvellous of all foreign countries that I have ever been in.” [Letters, Ed. Thomas Pinney, vol. 3 p. 113]

The 'Puck' stories, iu Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies, are an expression of what Donald Mackenzie has called Kipling's 'archaeological imagination', his sense of the past in the present, as it revealed itself to him in the Sussex countryside.

Many of his tales and poems in the years after 1902, as in the two 'Puck' collections, are full of warmth and affection, a sense of balance, and a thoughtful wisdom. See, for example, "Cities and Thrones and Powers" in Puck of Pook's Hill, or "The Land", or "Sir Richard's Song".

But for Kipling these were also years in which he was much troubled by public events, by what he saw as a sell-out by the Liberal Government to the Boer republics in South Africa, by thrir betrayal of the imperial vision of his friends like Rhodes and Milner and Joseph Chamberlain, by the threat to hand Ulster over to the Irish, by the growing dangers of war in Europe. In his public utterances on these issues he could be angry, strident, even hysterical. See "Ulster", or "The Declaration of London".

There seems little doubt that his public agitation was greatly eased, as this poem suggests, by the roots he had set down in the soil of the Sussex Weald in his sanctuary at Batemans', and that in this poem he is writing of his own personal experience.


Notes on the text


[Verse 2 line 2] festered infected

[Verse 3 line 8] Candlemas February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, when candles were blessed

[Verse 3 line 9] simples Herbalists used to apply this name to plants that they used medicinally. [Durand].

[Verse 4 line 2] Webbed with an opaque white film growing over the eye

[Verse 4 lines 3-4] treasure hid, Thy familiar fields amid. All the Puck stories, reveal treasures of English history hidden in the 'familiar fields' round Batemans. See "Weland's Sword" (p. 12 line 28), the first story in Pucl of Pook's Hill:

Puck laughed. “I know it’s your meadow, but there’s a great deal more in it than you or your father ever guessed.”



[P.H./J.R.]

©Philip Holberton and John Radcliffe 2011 All rights reserved