Cavaliere Servente

(notes by Simon Machin)


First published in August 1884 in Lahore, in Echoes by Two Writers, with the sub-heading ‘A Lady laments the loss of her Lover under the similitude of a Lapdog’. Listed in ORG as No. 104.

Collected in:

  • The Outward Bound Edition vol xvii (1900)
  • Edition de Luxe vol xviii (1900)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Andrew Rutherford, p. 247
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 1265.

The poem

The subtitle of this poem, A Lady laments the loss of her Lover under the similitude of a Lapdog drolly echoes the translation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti of an anonymous 13th century Italian sonnet ‘Alas for me, who loved a falcon well’, which bears the title A Lady laments for her lost lover, by similitude of a Falcon. The Rossetti sonnet uses the figure and technical vocabulary of falconry to mourn, from the woman’s point of view, the loss of a medieval courtly lover, who has taken flight from the lures of her affection.

Although Rossetti’s translation is clearly the starting point for Kipling’s poem, a later, 18th century Italian social phenomenon, the Cavalier Servente, a male gallant attendant upon a married woman, is also used by Kipling to give it a mordant, contemporary twist.

In British India, the term was employed to describe an unattached bachelor whose relations with an older and perhaps predatory colonial wife might, or might not, extend beyond the decorous formalities of being a partner at a public dance. Indeed, Kipling uses the expression to describe such a relationship in his story “On the Strength of a Likeness”, published in the Civil and Military Gazette in January 1887, and collected in Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888. In “Cavaliere Servente”, a memsahib is heard bemoaning the loss of her “lapdog” to the unmarried women of an inaccessible hill station.


Several of the poems in Echoes derive from the word games and other literary diversions, including parodies, that Rudyard engaged in during his spare time with his younger sister ‘Trix’, while Assistant Editor of the CMG in Lahore. Charles Carrington notes that the ‘humorous mock-heroic trifles’ published in Echoes allowed Kipling ‘some serious exercises in the style of contemporary writers’ (p. 93).

Rossetti’s The Early Italian Poets of 1861 had intensified Victorian awareness of the possibilities of the sonnet form, and Kipling retains the verse structure of Rossetti’s translation. Although achieving its comic effect chiefly through bathos, such as the substitution of a “bow-wow” for a falcon, “Cavaliere Servente” is actually more successful than Rossetti’s translation in genuinely conveying a rejected lover’s wounded amour-propre.

Many of the poems in Echoes had been written two or three years before, and reflect the personal preoccupations of Kipling’s schooldays. This is a genuine ‘Echo’, written in India, for Anglo-Indian readers, about Anglo-Indian relationships, which he was later to observe and explore with wit and irony in Departmental Ditties and Plain Tales from the Hills

Notes on the Text

[line 2] bow-wow Long-established English slang for a dog, but here Anglo-Indian slang for a man who insinuates himself into a woman’s favour as a clinging “lapdog” for financial or social advantage.

[line 3] Mussoorie a Himalayan hill-station.

[line 4] Tara Devi a mountain near Simla named after a Hindu goddess.

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