"Evarra and his Gods"

(1890)




(notes by
John McGivering)



the poem
notes on the text
[August 21st 2010]

Publication history

This poem was first published in the Scots Observer on 4 October 1890.
It was collected in:
  • Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses
  • Inclusive Verse
  • Definitive Verse
  • Sussex Edition Volume 32, page 296
  • Burwash Edition, Volume 25
  • The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library)
See Richards, pp. 54 & 74 for other details of publication, and ORG Volume 8, page 5306. (Verse No. 472.)

This poem reflects the young Kipling’s musings and speculations at this time—1890— when he had recently come to London from India to make his mark as a writer. See our notes on "The Conundrum of the Workshops”> with ts refrain: 'It’s pretty, but is it art ?.

The theme and some critical opinions

Bonamy Dobree (p.152) analyses the poem, and refers to it as:

A more puzzling one ... the best of his rare exercises in unrhymed verse ... Evarra was a man —Maker of Gods in lands beyond the sea'. First he was held in high esteem by a rich monarch, and he made:

An image of his God in gold and pearl,
With turquoise diadem and and human eyes.
In his next existence , a despised member of a poor community :

He hewed the living rock, with sweat and tears,
And reared a God against the morning-gold,
A terror in the sunshine.
In his succeeding incarnation, as a villager, .“He cut an idol from a fallen pine”, duly making a very primitive image. Lastly, a half-wit, living among cattle, he made a monstrous God out of dung and horns. In each case his patrons were immensely pleased, praised him loudly, brought him rewards; and if the cattle could no more than low at twilight-time, “He dreamed it was the clamour of lost crowds.' On each occasion, too, he was smitten with pride, and wrote or carved or scratched or howled:

. ...thus Gods are made
And whoso makes them otherwise shall die.
Finally he came to Paradise, where he found his own four Gods, and was ashamed, marvelling 'What oaf on earth had made his toil God’s law'. But God mocked him kindly, telling Evarra that but for him he would be:

….the poorer by four wondrous Gods And thy more wondrous law, Evarra, Thine, Servant of shouting crowds and lowing kine ! ” Thereat, with laughing mouth, but tear-wet eyes. Evarra cast his Gods from Paradise.
J M S Tompkins (p.20) also gives serious attention to the piece, though she regards it as “a wrong turning, like "The Lamentable Comedy of Willow Wood"... stodgy blank verse'. She later (p. 215) continues with her usual thoughtful observations:

Kipling had imagined man, the craftsman of gods, shaping his divinity in accordance with his circumstances. In four incarnations he shapes four different gods, to cast them our of Paradise with laughter when at last he comes there.
Tompkins then refers to “The Bridge Builders” (The Day’s Work) noting acutely that Krishna reminds his brother-gods that it is man who gave them shape and nature. [One might allow oneself the blasphemous thought that Man created God in Man’s image: Ed.]


Notes on the text


[Title] Where Kipling took this name from is not known. Evarra tlahuacensis is an extinct species of ray-finned fish in the Cyprinidae family. found only in Mexico, an unlikely provenance. See 'Evarra Eighenmanni', by John Walker, with the conclusions of his researches into the source of this elusive name, in KJ 317/59 .

[Line 3]

lands betond the sea an echo of Wordsworth’s “I travelled among Unknown Men”:

I travelled among unknown men...

In lands beyond the sea;
Nor England did I know till then
What love I bore to thee
A thought reflected in Kipling.s "The English Flag":

...what should they know of England who only England know ?
See also Something of Myself Chapter 7, 'The Very-Own House', Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies, Michael Smith's Kipling’s Sussex, and Themes in Kipling’s Works in this Guide.

[Line 6]

caravans in this context parties of horses, camels etc. carrying goods for sale; see “The Man who would be King” Wee Willie Winkie p. 216, for one forming up.

turquoises blue-green semi-precious stones, used as jewellery.

[Line 11]

diadem a crown, usually of precious metal, worn on the head as a badge of authority.

[Line 21]

caravans see line 5 above.

spoiled in thic context 'despoiled', 'looted'.

[Line 29]

plinth the base on which stands a pillar, statue or other monument.

[Line 42]

curds A cheese-like food made from milk.

[Line 49]

one clot of blood Dr. Gillian Eheehan writes: 'Evarra appears to have had a type of stroke where a blood clot in his cerebral circulation cut off the blood supply to a part of his brain,thus causing brain damage and, in this case, making him go mad rather than causing paralysis. Hence people may have been afraid of him and stayed away from him. The madness is suggested by the facts that he is:

Counting his fingers, jesting with the trees
And mocking at the mist ...
[Line 57]

Plantain a plant of the family Plantago or perhaps the banana-like Musa paradisiaca with large leaves cultivated for its fruit.


[J McG.]

©John McGivering 2010 All rights reserved