Failure



1881


(notes by John Radcliffe
and John McGivering)


the poem


[September 17th 2017]

Publication

This poem is included in Kipling's collection Sundry Phansies (1881) which he put together in a notebook for 'Flo' Garrard, whom he loved. It was first published in Echoes by Two Writers in Lahore in August 1884. Andrew Rutherford notes that there is a transcribed version in Notebook 2, dated 'winter term 1881'. The poem is listed in ORG as No 52.

It is collected in:
  • The Outward Bound Edition vol xvii (1900)
  • Edition de Luxe vol xviii (1900)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Andrew Rutherford, p. 98
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 1251

The poem

The poem tells of a man who brings fire to his Lady, his best offering. She does not understand it, but at first accepts it gratefully as a kindly gift. But then, alarmed by its strangeness and the fear of trouble it might bring, she rejects it, crushing the embers beneath her foot and bidding the despairing offerer to depart.

The ancient myth of the bringing of fire comes from the legend of Prometheus, the Titan in Greek mythology who created Man and stole fire from Mount Olympus to give it to Earth. At least four ancient legends tell of his conflict with Zeus, the King of the gods, and the terrible punishment he suffered; chained to a rock, his liver devoured daily by a giant eagle, only to be regenerated by night, through his immortality.

Kipling and Flo Garrard

As a schoolboy of fourteen Rudyard fell in love with the beautiful 'Flo' Garrard, an art student, a year older than he, who had already befriended his sister 'Trix' at Lorne Lodge in Southsea. Though they corresponded, his feelings do not seem to have been reciprocated.

Even at this early stage in his life, the main emotional force driving him was the desire to be a published poet. He had read earlier poets voraciously, and wrote himself copiously, determined to find his own voice, and succeed. He was very aware of the harsh unkindly competitive world he would be entering, and of the danger of failure. See "Envy Hatred and Malice", also written in 1881.

In that year and 1882 he sent Flo Garrard many poems, including this one, which clearly failed to impress her or win her heart. Despite rebuffs, when he sailed to India in October 1882 to work as a journalist he apparently felt he was still engaged to her. However, in the summer of 1884, before the publication of Echoes, she evidently made it clear in a letter that their relationship was over. (Angus Wilson p. 153)

See "Roses". "Solus cum Sola". and "The Lesson", all from 1881; "Our Lady of Many Dreams" (1882); and "The City of the Heart" (1884).

Echoes

Rudyard's routine work at the Civil and Military Gazette was demanding and unremitting. He was sustained by his home life with his parents, and - from December 1883 - by a happy partnership with his young sister 'Trix' with whom he played word games and other literary inventions, and wrote parodies. Several of these were published in Echoes by Two Writers. This poem was clearly Kipling's own work, dating from three years before. He does not claim it as an 'echo' of any other poet.

Louis Cornell (p. 69) notes that:
A number of extant presentation copies of Echoes, published in November I884, illustrate Kipling's uncertainty about the audience for whom he was writing. One of the little books went to Florence, but now that she had rejected its author she could not expect to be the only recipient of dedicatory verses. Into her copy went the following lines:
I wrote you verses two years syne
When I was yours and you were mine
Will you accept these rhymes I send
If I but call myself your friend
And should my foolish songs discover
Some traces of your girlhood's lover
Forgive me - two long years apart
Still leaves me
[sic] mistress of my heart.


[JR/JMcG.]

ŠJohn Radcliffe and John McGivering2017 All rights reserved