Brazilian Sketches I

The Journey Out

(notes edited by John Radcliffe, drawing on the edtion of Brazilian Sketches published by Paul Waters in 1989, and on the work of the ORG Editors)


This poem was published in the Morning Post (London), on November 29th 1927, and Liberty (New York) on December 3 1927.

Collected in Brazilian Sketches, Doubleday Doran, New York, 1940, in the Sussex Edition Vol. xxi, and in an edition by P E Waters and Associates in 1989.

The Journey

The Kiplings sailed on the Royal Mail Line SS Andes, 15,000 tons (above), launched in 1913. They arrived in Rio on 13 March 1927. (On her maiden voyage the Andes had sailed from Southampton on September 28th and arrived in Rio twelve days later, on 10th October, a voyage of 5150 naitical miles.)

Notes on the Text

a Firefly Lampyridae a family of winged beetles, called fireflies or lightning bugs for their conspicuous use of yellow, green, or pale red light to attract mates or prey. They can make a fine display on tropical evenings.

a Cocoa Palm The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) is a member of the palm family. It is the only species in the genus Cocos, and grows to 30 m tall,

the Southern Cross The constellation, opposite Cassiopeia in the North, that rises over the horizon as one moves south across the Equator.


Once in a child’s dream This echoes little Georgie Cottar’s dream in “The Brushwood Boy” in The Day’s Work (page 376 line 10):

… When his feet touched that still water, it changed, with the rustle of unrolling maps, to nothing less than a sixth quarter of the globe, beyond the most remote imaginings of man—a place where islands were coloured yellow and blue, their lettering strung across their faces. They gave on unknown seas, and Georgie’s urgent desire was to return swiftly across this floating atlas to known bearings…

the South American boats The liners plying between Europe and South America. The Kiplings sailed on the Royal Mail SS Andes, 15,000 tons, triple screw, launched in 1913. Royal Mail was the premier line on this route from 1839 through to its demise in the 1980s. (We are indebted to Martin Scott, Navigating Officer with that line from 1960 to 1970, for the picture of the SS Andes at the top of the page.)

In those days before transatlantic air services there were many other lines serving the run to South America, including Blue Star, Lamport and Holt,
Maggie Booth, Prince Line, South American Saint Line, Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes, Pacific Steam Navigation Company, and Houlder Brothers. (we are indebted to a number of ‘Red Duster men’, including Martin Scott, Michael Lloyd, Nick Messenger, Peter Hodges, and Eric Beetham, for this information).

Portuguese or Spanish The language of Brazil is Portuguese, while Spanish – and various indigenous Indian languages – is spoken throughout the remainder of South America.

Falkland Islands The Falkland Islnds lie in the South Atlantic, off the coast of Argentina. In December 1914, in the early months of the Great War, the British Admiral Sturdee destroyed a German squadron off the Falklands, with the strong approval of the local people.

Cordilleras Ranges of mountains along the eastern side of South America.

cattle men The wealthy ranchers on the pampas of Argentina.

coffee Princes The men who controlled the highly profitable Brazilian coffee trade.

Rue de la Paix One of the great shopping streets of Paris, particularly for fashionable womrn’s clothing. The ladies were elegant,

Embarrassment of Riches from the French embarras de richesses: more pleasures than one knows what to do with.

Inca cities The ancient cities of what is now Peru before the Spanish conquered the Inca empire in the 1530s.

high-grade Herefords One of the best English breeds of beef cattle.

Brazilian Empire After independence from Portugal in 1822, Brazil became a monarchy, the Empire of Brazil, until the establishment of a republican government in 1889.

flying fish Exocoetidae known as ‘flying fish’, with large pectoral fins which enable them to escape from predators by leaping out of the water and gliding thorugh the air above the surface.

Vigo and Lisbon Two important Atlantic ports where the ship picked up passengers, Vigo in north-western Spain, and Lisbon the capital of Portugal.

Basques People from three provinces in the mountainous north of Spain and a small part of France, with their own ancient language and their own strong sense of identity. They are great seafarers, and many Basques emigrated to the Americas in the 19th century.

the instant downdive of night Night falls more swiftly in the tropics than in higher latitudes,

Pernambuco Later known as Recife, a large city on the extreme eastern coast of Brazil, the first landfall for a ship from Europe.

an old Portuguese fort Dating back to the days before Brazil became an independent state in 1822.

a Dutch cut on the sterns The Dutch, another sea-going people, competed with the Portuguese for control of land in South America in colonial days.

Bahia Now known as Salvador, also on the east coast of Brazil some 450 miles south of Recife.

Rio de Janeiro At that time the capital of Brazil. Since 1960 the capital has been Brasilia in the centre of the country.

Buenos Aires The capital of Argentina.

Brazilian Lloyd A liner belonging to that Company.

A certain Cape Cabo Frio, about 100 miles east of Rio. A popular resort area for Cariocas (the people of Rio), with its fine beaches.

Santos A port about 250 miles west by south of Rio, which gives access to the sea for Sao Paulo.

©John Radcliffe 2009 All rights reserved