The Compliments of the Season

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the researches of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


Published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 1 January 1886, signed K. Authenticated by inclusion in Scrapbook 2 of Kipling’s own press cuttings, in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.

It is not otherwise collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 306) and Pinney (p. 1790).

The Poem

A cynical look at what the New Year is likely to bring. The revellers have ‘murdered’ the Old Year. They welcome the New Year with the traditional greeting to the Roman Emperor of gladiators entering the arena : “Te morituri salutant!”—”We who are about to die salute you!” In British India death in the ordinary course of duty was only too common. See “By Word of Mouth” (Plain Tales from the Hills), “At the End of the Passage” (Life’s Handicap), or “The Story of Uriah” (Departmental Ditties). The New Year’s first promise is that ‘Some chairs will empty.’

The poet goes on with dark predictions: passions will vanish, hopes will chill, vows will be broken, people will lie, ‘envy hatred and malice’ (a quotation from the Litany in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer) will thrive, Loves Eternal will perish and good resolutions melt. They ask for largesse—free gifts from a new King—and he offers them senility and the memory of unfulfilled hopes, lost chances, past sins and unfulfilled love. Accepting all this, they wish their neighbours “A Happy New Year!”

Lord Dufferin, who had taken over as Viceroy just before Christmas from the unpopular and unsuccessful Lord Ripon must have read this poem—and contemplated the Anglo-Indians through whom he was to govern—with a thoughtful eye.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved