(notes edited by John McGivering)


Published with “Wireless” in Traffics and Discoveries (1904). The second line of this poem in Traffics and Discoveries runs ‘The Children follow where Psyche flies’. This was changed to ‘The Children follow the butterflies’ in Songs from Books (1912), I.V. (1919), D.V. (1940), the Sussex Edition, and the Burwash Edition, where the poem is entitled “Butterflies”.

Daniel Hadas notes:  The change also affected l.16, where the original text had “Radiant Psyches” for “Glorious butterflies”. So in its original version, the poem had no mention of butterflies, either in the title (see below) or in the text, and was therefore a riddle poem.[D.H.]

The poem

The author attributes the poem to ‘the Swedish of Stagnelius’ (Erik Johan Stagnelius, Swedish poet, 1793-1823, who has been called ‘the Swedish Shelley’). However, Professor C A Bodelsen [in the Journal of English Studies, Zandvoort Number, January 1965], demonstrates that Stagnelius, while he: ‘often made use of Psyche and the butterfly as an emblem of the soul liberated from the trammels of bodily existence’, wrote no poem remotely resembling Kipling’s ‘translation ‘ — and quotes the nearest he can find as an example. He also points out that there is no work called ‘Varda’, but that it may have been a mistake from Valda Skrifter which means “Selected Writings” — ‘ a common Swedish book title.’ [see KJ 154 for June 1965]

Ralph Durand (A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling, Hodder and Stoughton 1914) points out that:

Psyche in Greek mythology represented the human soul. In Greek and Graeco-Roman art she was represented sometimes as a beautiful girl with a bird’s or a butterfly’s wings, sometimes simply as a butterfly.

See also William Dillingham pp. 47-52, for a detailed note on the poem and its relationship to “Wireless”.

in Traffics and Discoveries, the title Kipling gave to the poem was ‘Kaspar’s Song in Varda’.  In Something of Myself (p. 7) Kipling mentions that during his time at Southsea, soon after he learned to read, his parents sent him a bound copy of issues of Aunt Judy’s Magazine from the early 1870s, which he read closely, and still possessed over sixty years later. At that time the magazine published a series of translations of poems by foreign writers, including Stagnelius. In the view of Lisa Lewis ‘Kaspar’s Song’, which was clearly written by Kipling, parodies the stilted language of these, rather than any particular poem. Another influence, mentioned by John Lee, may have been Edmund Gosse—a critic and translator of north European literature, and, of course, a friend of Kipling.

Daniel Hadas notes:  “three-dimensioned” in Stanza 5 is quite puzzling to me, but I’ve nothing useful to suggest. Maybe there’s a clue in Stagnelius. It is clearly meant pejoratively.  [D.H.]



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