The Attainment

(notes by  Philip Holberton, drawing on the researches of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


There is a version handwritten by Kipling in Notebook 1 with title “Escaped”, dated 28 May 1882. Kipling sent another handwritten copy with the same title to Mrs. Tavenor Perry in a letter of the same date. Mrs. Tavenor Perry was a family friend. Rutherford notes that when Kipling was at Westward Ho! and his mother in India, she was a kind of mother-substitute, whom he addressed as ‘Mater’ in his letters from school.

Another handwritten version is included in Notebook 3, with the same date but the title “The Attainment” and the cryptic subtitle “known to the initiated as ‘The Angry Baker”. This would seem to refer to a shared joke, based presumably on a misreading of l. 7 of the poem. A revised version was published as “Concerning a Jawab” in the Civil and Military Gazette on 6 August 1887.

See Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 148, and Pinney p. 1658.

The Poem

One of a number of sonnets written about this time on various aspects of lost love. In this one, the poet has escaped from Love and attained peace. He is like someone rescued from drowning, who can now look on the sea as powerless to hurt him. (The later version “Concerning a Jawab: After” has the necessary hyphen in “wave-rescued” in lines 3 and 12.) He can now look to the future with hope. May 1882 was evidently a low point in his relationship with Flo Garrard, the beautiful art student with whom the young Kipling had become infatuated in the summer of 1880, when he was fourteen, and she a year older.

A similar feeling is expressed in “Satiety”, written two months later.


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved