Azrael’s count

 (notes by Daniel Hadas)


First published in Limits and Renewals (1932) where it follows “Uncovenanted Mercies“: collected in the Sussex Edition Volume 11 page 383, and volume 34 page 430, and – with slight amendments – Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse, and The Works of Rudyard Kipling, (Wordsworth Poetry Library).

Notes on the text

[line 14] Pandar:

Azrael is the angel of death in some Abrahamic traditions, above all in Islam.  [D.H.]

[Line 1]  yeanling See OED: usually a kid or lamb, so somewhat abusively of a calf.

[Line 12] that carcass aheap   Elsewhere, as per OED, “aheap” is an adverb, meaning “into a heap”, usually in the expression “fall aheap”. The sense is therefore “that carcass that has fallen into a heap”.

[Line 14] pandar  The modern spelling is of course “pander”. “pandar” is found in earlier English, and is closer to the word’s origin as the name of the Trojan character Pandar(us), who features in Homer, but is re-imagined by Boccaccio, and then Chaucer and Shakespeare, as the go-between between Troilus and Cressida. The spelling somewhat distances the word from its pejorative sense of “pimp”.

[Line 23]  He waits I do not think this “He” is death himself. Azrael, the Angel of Death, is to be identified, at least roughly, with Death itself, and Azrael states “I am not whom she calls” (l.25). Likewise Azrael repeatedly (l. 14, l. 29) calls death the “pandar”, the go-between, the intermediary, between the cow/woman, and the object of her love. So we should take the cow and woman as seeking through death reunion with their lost calf / child, and perhaps, in the woman’s case, other lost loved ones.

The imagining, in ll. 20-26, of the woman’s encounter with death as sexual then establishes a parallel between the mother becoming pregnant with her child through sex, and the reunion of mother and child through death. [D.H.]