This poem was first published in Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, as the heading to the last story in that volume, "To be Filed for Reference", with the note: 'From the Unpublished Papers of McIntosh Jellaludin.' In ORG it is listed as Verse no 349 (p. 5241 in vol. V.I.). It is collected in:
A stone lies in the sun above a cliff. She does not know that soon the hoof of a goat will tip her over the cliff, to fall deep into the mire at the bottom of a lake. It is fore-ordained, but why ? What sin has doomed the stone to fall from the sunlight into the dark depths.
The poem is a metaphor for the fate of "McIntosh Jellaludin", whose story is told in "To be Filed for Reference". He was once a Fellow of an Oxford College, and a Classical scholar. Now, aged only thirty-five, he has turned Muslim, and is living among horses and camels with a native woman in the Sultan Serai in Lahore, and dying of drink.
"McIntosh Jellaludin" was the putative author of Kipling's lost novel of low life in India, Mother Maturin. He may well have met such 'loafers' in his night wanderings in the native quarters of Lahore, and wondered what mysterious chances had led to their fall.
Within the social hierarchy of British middle class society, reproduced in British India, it would have been impossible for a respectable man, let alone a respectable woman, to associate with such a figure, whatever his earlier status. This is why the narrator of "To be Filed for Reference" had to make his visits to his fascinating 'loafer' by night. As far as Society was concerned he had dropped like a stone into darkness, as the poem suggests. But 'why had it happened ?', asks the poet.
See John McGivering's notes on "To be Filed for Reference". For the young Kipling's night wanderings see "The City of Dreadful Night" in Life's Handicap.
"By the Hoof of the Wild Goat" We have not traced any legend from which the poem might have taken its imagery, so one assumes it comes from the poet's imagination. He would have seen such goats grazing on the edge of such cliffs and depths in the high mountains above Simla, as would his readers.
the Tarn 'Tarn' is a word for a small lake in the hills of northern England, little used elsewhere.
ŠJohn Radcliffe 2011 All rights reserved