An Auto-da-fé

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


Holograph [handwritten by Kipling] version in Notebook 3, dated 3 November 1881, and another in Sundry Phansies. a handwritten notebook presented by Kipling to ‘Flo’ Garrard, the beautiful art student with whom he had fallen in love after meeting her in the summer of 1880, aged fourteen. She does not seem to have returned his affection, but this did not deter him from sending her many love poems. In these school years he was reading widely among earlier poets, experimenting with themes and forms, seeking to find his own voice.

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

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 79), and Pinney p. 1593.

The Poem

The title (taken from the Portuguese) literally means an act of faith. It has come to mean an execution by burning, as practised for many centuries by the Catholic Church to destroy ‘heretics’ who challenged its teaching.

The poet has been re-reading old letters from a love that has ended. He remembers how he used to watch all night in the street outside the house where his beloved slept, waiting for her to come to him with the dawn. In the last line he puts the letters on the fire – hence the rather melodramatic title, suggesting that he is destroying false messages.

The version in Notebook 3 has “lip” for “cheek” in the sixth line of Verse 1.

See also “Waytinge”, “To You”, “Venus Meretrix”, “Caret”, and
“Solus cum Sola”.


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved