Gow's Watch

Act V, Scene 3

(notes by Lisa Lewis)

[November 27 2003]


First published following the story "A Madonna of the Trenches" in Debits and Credits (1927). Collected with two other scenes as “Gow’s Watch” in The Inclusive Edition of Kipling’s Verse (1927) and later in The Definitive Edition.


This is a further fragment of the pseudo-Jacobean play that Kipling began but never finished: "Act II, Scene 2" had been published in Songs from Books (1913), and “Act IV, Scene 4” with "The Prophet and the Country" in Debits and Credits.

In "Act II, Scene 2" both the King and his only son died, leaving the Princess as legitimate heir to the mythical kingdom. In the unwritten Act III, her stepmother evidently seized power and civil war ensued, in which Gow and Ferdinand led the Princess’s forces. The present scene begins after their final victory.

There are close parallels between this scene and "A Madonna of the Trenches", in which a young ex-soldier tells how he was shattered by the suicide of an elderly sergeant after the death of a beloved woman. Bella is not Sergeant Godsoe’s wife, as Lady Frances does not appear to be Gow’s.

Notes on the Text

[Page 263, line 4] Ravelin A type of fortification, in which two embankments are raised inside the defensive ditch or scarp.

[Page 264, line 1] Pass at Bargi See "Act IV, Scene 4."

[Page 265, line 26] Spirit of the Lady Frances In "A Madonna of the Trenches", the ghost of Bella Armine appears to the sergeant who loved her and to her nephew Clem, who tells the story.

[Page 267, lines 22-3] I have seen love at last … after? In “A Madonna of the Trenches,” young Clem has the same reaction.

Critical Opinions

Nora Crook wrote of this scene that it:
seems at first less equivocal than "Gipsy Vans". It contains a story which parallels “The Madonna of the Trenches” in situation … and theme … But there is an important difference. Gow dies with his mission completed, the decisive battle won and the rightful queen on the throne. There is no conflict between love and duty. Godsoe deserts the fighting to join his “immortal” love with the outcome still hanging in the balance. The disparity opens up the possibility that “Gow’s Watch” is a counter-statement to a prose story about “How a Man may go to see Life and meet Death there” [quoted from the heading to chapter 8 of “From Sea to Sea”]. [1989, page 161 and 200n.]
The final quotation can be found in From Sea to Sea vol. I, p. 278.