Carmen Circulare

(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)



One of the second group of six, first published in 1919. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 121.(ORG Verse No. 851).


“Q. H. Flaccus”: Quintus Horatius Flaccus, (65 B.C. to 8 B.C.) known in the English-speaking world as ‘Horace’, the leading Roman lyric poet during the reign of Augustus. Kipling was a great admirer of his work, wrote a “Fifth Ode” in his manner, and translated Ode ix. in his Bk. III, “Donec gratus eram” (“While I was dear”) into broad Devonshire dialect.

See “The Survival”; “To the Companions”; and “A Translation”. See also Land and Sea Tales, p. 268 (“An English School”); Charles Carrington (p. 39); and Charles Carrington (Ed.) Kipling’s Horace.



The theme

The Poet advises the driver to avoid the temptation to speed, and to proceed carefully, despite being overtaken by others and egged on by his passenger.

Alastair Wilson writes:

What I like about this piece of verse is that it describes something which has been happening for centuries—in my young days, it was to show off your MG TC to your girl-friend. Kipling, in effect, has the poet (Horace), in Samuel Johnson’s words “driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman”—for post-chaise read chariot—and Dorothy L. Sayers, in Murder must Advertise, has Lord Peter Wimsey driving furiously in his Bentley, egged on by a bad girl named Diana de Momerie. [A.W.]


Notes on the text

[Title] Carmen Circulare: This is a reference to Horace’s “Carmen Saeculare” which was written in honour of the emperor Augustus. Although difficult to translate precisely, it means a hymn or song in celebration of the age. It is sometimes translated as ‘Centennial Ode’, while Charles Carrington plumps for ‘Jubilee Ode’ in order to link it (and perhaps not too ingeniously) with Kipling’s ‘Recessional.’ See, Carrington, Kipling’s Horace, p. xvi. For “The Muse Among the Motors”, Kipling plays with the idea of an updated version of Horace, celebrating the circles or hoops (i.e. wheels) which he probably intends here at least, to be regarded as representative of the early twentieth century.

[Verse 1]

Dellius: Dellius is the addressee of Horace, Odes 2.3, where he is exhorted to meet calmly with both good and bad fortune, and to enjoy the good things of life, mindful of his mortality. {D.H.]

that care … arm and scourge:  Echoes here of Salmoneus, whom Aeneas meets among the sinners tormented in the underworld: see Virgil Aeneid, 6.585-94. Dryden’s translation: [D.H.]

Appian Way: (Via Appia in Latin and Italian) an early and important Roman road that connected Rome to Brindisi, Apulia, in southeast Italy.

[Verse 2]

Lydia: A woman with the name of Lydia appears in several of Horace’s odes, notably I.8; I.13; and, most famously, III.9 (‘Donec gratus eram tibi’) which, as noted above, the sixteen-year-old Kipling translated brilliantly into Devonshire dialect and printed in the school magazine.

This is undoubtedly the same Lydia that Kipling refers to in “Carmen Circulare”. Partly because Horace seems to draw extensively on his own personal life in the odes, and partly because the Lydia of the odes is sexually provocative (as she is also in Kipling’s “Carmen Circulare”), it is sometimes assumed that she must have been drawn from life.

Carrington appears to subscribe to this belief when he says: ‘We know little of the real Lydia except that her friendship with Horace was far from smooth’ (Kipling’s Horace, p. 3). Well, perhaps, but that knowledge about their ‘friendship’ comes presumably from the odes. Whether the woman herself was real or invented, the name Lydia, together with those of a number of other women in Horace’s poetry (notably Lalage, Chloe, Lyce, and Lyde) were taken up enthusiastically by Kipling.

Telephus: Telephus is a beautiful young man from Horace’s Odes. In 1.13, he is praised by Lydia for his beauty, making Horace jealous. In 3.19, Rhode, another young woman, is in love with him. In 4.11, the female addressee, Phyllis, is in love with Telephus, but a rich girl has got him in her clutches. [D.H.]

[Verse 4]

Hades’ King: Pluto, King of the Underworld

[Verse 5]

Furies:  Allecto, Magaera and Tisiphone, avenging female deities personifying the anger of the dead.

Bolts: in this context lightning, or large arrows from a catapult or crossbow.



©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2020 All rights reserved