The Looking-Glass

(notes by Donald Mackezie and John Radcliffe)


Published with Rewards and Fairies in 1910 linked to the story “Gloriana” about Queen Elizabeth I.

The Poem

A ruling Queen in a male-dominated world, Elizabeth’s glamour as an attractive woman was an important political weapon for her.  She held out the possibility of marriage to a number of aristocratic suitors, including King Philip of Spain.

For Definitive Verse Kipling subtitled this poem  A Country Dance and elaborated with  “Queen Bess was Harry’s daughter!” at the beginning of each stanza as follows:

(Stanza 1)
Queen Bess was Harry’s daughter –
Stand forward partners all!
In ruff and stomacher and gown
She danced King Philip down-a down,
And left her shoe to show ’twas true
(The very tune I’m playing you)
In Norgem at Brickwall!

(Stanza 2) Queen Bess was Harry’s daughter – Now hand your partners all!

(Stanza 3) Queen Bess was Harry’s daughter – Now turn your partners all!

(Stanza 4) Queen Bess was Harry’s daughter – Now kiss your partners all!

Notes on the text

[line 9] Queen Mary’s Mary, Queen of Scots, who fled to England after her defeat at the battle of Langside (1568), was held prisoner by Elizabeth for the next eighteen years. Her claims to the English throne helped make her a focus for plots against Elizabeth, who finally consented to her execution in February 1587.

[line 15] Lord Leicester’s Robert Dudley (1532/3-88). Leading favourite of Elizabeth’s, who rejected his suit for her hand in marriage and suggested he marry Mary instead. Possibly to further this she created him Earl of Leicester in 1564.

[line 21] her sins were on her head cf. Leviticus 16, and particularly verses 20-2, whose ritual for the carrying away of sin is here negated:

And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat;

And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:

And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness/

[D. M.]

©Donald Mackenzie 2005 All rights reserved