The Centaurs

(notes by Isabel Quigly ,Lisa Lewis, and Daniel Hadas)

Publication history

First published in Debits and Credits as a postscript to the school story “The United Idolaters”.
See also “To the Companions” which introduces the same story.


Kipling uses Chiron as an image of Bates, the headmaster in “The United Idolaters” and Stalky & Co. The character was based on his own headmaster Cormell Price.


Notes on the Text

[Stanza 1]  made  See OED, ‘make, v.1′, 65:  To train (a hawk, a dog, a horse). [D.H.]

[Stanza 2]  Chiron  a centaur, and teacher of young centaurs, famous for his knowledge of shooting, medicine, and music; also teacher of the great heroes of his age, Achilles, Jason, Aesculapius, etc. [I.Q.]

lungings  See OED, ‘lunge, v. 2’, To put (a horse) through its paces by the use of the lunge, and OED, ‘lunge, n.1’, 2: A long rope used in training horses, being fastened at one end to the horse’s head and held at the other by the trainer, who causes the horse to canter round in a circle.

[Stanza 3]  web  See OED, web, n.’, 17, The piece of bent iron which forms a horseshoe.

cavesson  OED:  A kind of nose-band of iron, leather, or wood, ‘fixed to the nostrils of a horse, to curb or render him manageable through the pain it occasions.

linked keys/ to jingle and turn on the tongue  Janet Montefiore suggests that the poet  means a snaffle bit, hinged in the middle, which is  more comfortable in a horse’s mouth than a single bar.

Julia Hett suggests it might refer to a ‘mouthing bit’, given to young horses to get used to a bit in the mouth so they can ‘play’ with the keys.

Alastair Wilson adds: I’m sure Jan is right, Kipling is using the word ‘key/s’ to describe the bar of the ‘snaffle’ bit.  Sometimes the single bar was made in two linked halves, which added, very slightly, to the jingle of the harness.  The ‘snaffle’ was the basic bit, easisest on the horse’s mouth.  I must say, I’ve never heard the word ‘key’ used in this way, but I think it is quite clear that Kipling thought it was.

The cavesson is a type of bridle, complete with bit, in my understanding.  [A.J.W/]

passaged See OED, ‘passage, v.1’, To move sideways in riding, the horse making controlled and exaggerated stepping movements .  [D.H.]




©Lisa Lewis, Isabel Quigly 2005 All rights reserved