There is a holograph [handwritten by Kipling] version in Sundry Phansies, the 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. There is a subheading (After Browning). The poem has not been firmly dated. Pinney suggests that it was written in 1881 or 1882.
(See Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks, including Sundry Phansies)
There is no apparent reason for the choice of title: no beach (or any other setting) is mentioned. It may have meant something to Flo Garrard, to whom the poem is evidently addressed. The speaker and a woman meet and think for a minute that they are in love. Both realise that in fact the other is nothing special, that their emotions are false, only memories of past loves.
Kipling uses the theme of light and fleeting love in other poems, particularly in the context of shipboard romances, see “Les Amours Faciles” (February 1882); “Amour de Voyage”, and “Les Amours de Voyage” (both probably from October-November 1882 when he was on his way out to India) and “The Lovers’ Litany” from Departmental Ditties (1886).
Kipling and Flo Garrard
The young Kipling had become infatuated with Flo Garrard in the summer of 1880, when he was fourteen, and she a year older. She was staying at Lorne Lodge in Southsea, and had made friends with his sister ‘Trix’. Andrew Lycett (p. 73) writes:
Trix was almost as entranced as her brother, recalling Flo’s ‘beautiful ivory face, the straight slenderness of her figure, and the wonder of her long hair when she brushed it at night’
We know little of what really passed between Flo and Rudyard, but it is clear that he saw himself as passionately in love with her, though she does not seem to have returned his affections. This did not deter him from writing many love poems about their relationship and sending them to her in Sundry Phansies in 1882. When he left for India in October of that year he saw himself as engaged to her, though she evidently made it clear to him by letter in July 1884 that she was not interested in him.
Kipling and Browning
The style of the poem is inspired by Robert Browning (left). In Something of Myself (p. 34) Kipling records how C——- (Crofts, the original of King in Stalky & Co.) ‘in form once literally threw Men and Women at my head.’ The same incident is related in “Slaves of the Lamp, Part I” (Stalky & Co. p. 46) which spells out the effect that Browning’s works had on “Beetle”:
The book was a fat brown-backed volume of the later Sixties, which King had once thrown at Beetle’s head that Beetle might see whence the name Gigadibs came. Beetle had quietly annexed the book, and had seen – several things. The quarter-comprehended verses lived and ate with him, as the be-dropped pages showed. He removed himself.
Browning was one of the Victorian poets whom the young Kipling read with particular enthusiasm in his time at USC. He felt a special affinity for Fra Lippo Lippi, the 15th Century painter-friar and central figure of Browning’s poem of that name, who struggled to lead a free life and express his ideas despite the cramping authority of Holy Church.
Notes on the Text
rechauffés French for warmed-up left-over foods. (Rutherford)
by gone from the past (usually one word).
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