Alnaschar and the Oxen

(notes by Lisa Lewis)


First published in Debits and Credits (1926), following the story “The Bull that Thought.”


Written 21st November 1924 (Carrington’s notes from Mrs Kipling’s diaries).

Critical Opinions

Desmond McCarthy, writing as “Affable Hawk” in New Statesman (16 Oct. 1926, p. 15), cited the poem as an example of Kipling’s treatment of “contemporary things, everyday emotions, common not rare, exalted thoughts,” as, he said, the current climate of opinion felt that poets should do. “The satisfaction of a farmer watching on a Sunday his cattle troop into a field, for instance, finds in this new book its appropriate exultation.”

C.A. Bodelsen (1964) thought that the poem “contains a quite unmistakable clue” by which to interpret the story it accompanies. He quoted the fourth verse, commenting that:
“Here is colour, form and substance” is much more appropriate to a work of art than to a herd of cattle; and that “an hungry world shall extol” the breeder of the bull as “the builder of a lofty strain” makes it certain that this is what the lines are meant to convey. In other words, Kipling is here speaking of his desire to achieve a great work of art. (See also the notes to “The Bull that Thought”).

Notes on the Text

[Stanza 1] Alnaschar: a character in The Arabian Nights who, dreaming of wealth, knocks over and breaks the glassware he had hoped to sell in order to make his fortune. So spelt by Addison in The Spectator, No. 535. In E.W. Lane’s translation (of which Kipling owned a set), this is the first part of “The Barber’s Story of his Fifth Brother”. There the name is “El Feshshar”, with “El Neshshar” being given in a note as a possible alternative.

[Stanza 2]  Lobengula: last king of the Ndebele, in what is now Zimbabwe. After his death the British began to move into the area; Kipling visited Bulawayo in 1898, a few years later.

[Stanza 3] make above put on weight above.m  [D.H.]

Juno: Roman name of the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus (Jupiter).

Kipling is referring to to Juno / Hera’s Homeric epithet, βοῶπις (boōpis), “ox-eyed”. What exactly Homer meant by that is not clear, although it is certainly complimentary. {D.H.]

[Stanza 4]   block-square   well grown, massive, with the ‘square’ look of a healthy beast. [J.R.]

 ivory, dusk-tipped horn  The horns of (some?) Sussex cattle are white with dark tips. Good images here. [D.H.]