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

[Page 231, line 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.

[Page 231, line 18] 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.

[Page 232, line 19] Juno Roman name of the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus (Jupiter).

[Page 232, line 23] Bull of Mithras Bulls were important in the cult of Mithras, a Persian deity worshipped by many Roman soldiers (see “A Song to Mithras” in Puck of Pook’s Hill).