Cupid’s Department

(notes edited by Philip Holberton and John Radcliffe,
drawing on the research of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


This poem was published in the Pioneer on 20 July 1886, signed R.K. It is not collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 330) and Pinney (p. 1812).

The poem

From above, Cupid watches Simla’s civil servants, the Government of India, on their way to the office; senior and junior, grey-haired and young, decorated after years of service, and new or lowly, members of a rigid and confident hierarchy. Whatever they may think about their own importance, they are all really subordinate to him, the God of Love, who conquers all.

Notes on the Text

liver indigestion. cf. “The Descent of the Punkah”:

Who dares hint at ‘liver’ now
The summer days are done?

C.S.I. Companion of the Order of the Star of India.

C.I.E. Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire, a lesser honour. cf. “A Legend of the Foreign Office” (Departmental Ditties) where the ruler of a Native State begins to modernise, but gives up when he is only rewarded with the C.I.E., not the C.S.I. for which he lusted.

from four to ten Out of office hours. They didn’t work very long days in Simla.

Kings are Pawns Kings are the highest and Pawns the lowest-value pieces in chess. But in affairs of love, says the poet, the juniors are more powerful than their elders.

Rule of Two Here he seems to be inventing Kipling’s Rule of Two, and saying that in Cupid’s world, affairs must be settled between the two people directly involved, though in his story “Three and an Extra” published a few months later, it is clear that life is more complicated than that. The ancient Rule of Three suggests that artistically there is something satisfying about threes, but for the world of governance Kipling rejects this in the verse heading to “Her Majesty’s Servants”:

You can work it out by Fractions or by simple Rule of Three,
But the way of Tweedle-dum is not the way of Tweedle-dee.
You can twist it, you can turn it, you can plait it till you drop,
But the way of Pilly-Winky’s not the way of Winkie-Pop!

In that story, published in 1894, he was saying that however you might argue about rights and wrongs, the effectiveness of the imperial hierarchy required obedience. But in this light-hearted poem, written before he became the Bard of Empire, and not later collected, perhaps His Rule of Two as Cupid hovers above should not be taken too seriously.

jobs Appointments made by intrigue or influence.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved