The Answer

(notes by Philip Holberton and John Radcliffe)


This poem was first published in Century Magazine in November 1892. It is listed in ORG as No 530. It is collected in:

  • Ballads and Barrack-Room Ballads (NY 1893)
  • he Seven Seas (1896)
  • InclusiveVerse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxiii (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxvi (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 366.

The poem

This brief poem is a meditation on the fickleness of fortune. A rose complains to God: why was she the only flower broken off the bush? God answers, reminding her that she had heard a boy ask the same question and his father telling him that it was by Allah’s will. God goes on to explain that from the beginning of Creation He had ordained that the rose should fall and the boy should ask. The boy’s soul is saved by his father’s answer, and the rose dies happy. Things happen.


During the three years before his marriage in January 1892, Kipling had been immensely successful. The Kiplings set off on their honeymoon the following month with a substantial balance in the bank, and ambitious plans to visit Carrie’s relations in Vermont, cross America and the Pacific, visit Japan, and then journey to Samoa to see Robert Louis Stevenson. However, after delighting in Japan, Rudyard learned that his bank had suspended payment, so they were nearly penniless. They hastened back across the Pacific and across America to Vermont, rented the Bliss Cottage for ten dollars a month, and Kipling settled down to write to restore their fortunes. He worked furiously and happily on stories that were to become the Jungle Books.

We do not know just when this poem was written, but probably during this time. It may well have been a recognition that some good had come from that bank failure, that his Daemon of inspiration had woken and vivid memorable stories were flowing from his pen. Perhaps there is an echo of St. Paul’s belief that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God.’ (Romans 8.28).

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

sun-dried dust and sun: God cares for everything, from mere dust to the heart of the solar system.

gossamers: spiders’ webs.

[Verse 2]

sward: grass.

We smote the Dark in twain: one of the first acts of the Biblical story of creation: ‘God divided the light from the darkness.’ (Genesis 1.4)

We bound unto the task: the doctrine of ‘predestination’, the doctrine that all events have been willed by God, at its most absolute.

©Philip Holberton and John Radcliffe 2018 All rights reserved