The Curé

(notes by Max Rives)


First published with “The Miracle of Saint Jubanus” in Story-Teller Magazine in December 1930, and subsequently in Limits and Renewals (1932), where it precedes the story. This light-hearted poem follows the theme of the story, and pays generous tribute to the Curé and what he stands for.

Notes on the Text

Verse 1

Any modern-day readers who are puzzled by the gaps in the text in the first four lines, indicated by dashes, may be interested in the following version with the gaps filled in. We hope that Kipling will forgive us for taking this liberty:

Long years ago, ere Rolls or Royce
Trebled the mileage man could cover;
When Shanks’s Mare was Hobson’s Choice,
And Blériot had not flown to Dover…

To construe, the reference to Rolls and Royce reflects Kipling’s ownership of the splendid car in which he motored through France in the 1920s.

To travel by ‘Shanks’s Mare’ or by ‘Shanks’s Pony’ is to walk—on one’s own legs.
‘Hobson’s Choice’ is no choice at all. The expression comes from the policy of Thomas Hobson (1544–1630), a livery stable owner at Cambridge, who offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in the stall nearest the door or taking none at all.

As for Blériot, he was the first man to fly a heavier-than-air aircraft across the Channel from France to England, in 1909.

Vans   See OED, ‘van, n.3’, 1a:  [D,H.]

Verse 3

[line 17] our dole: the – very small – amount of money paid to unemployed people in England during the 1920s.

[line 22] La Grippe: a cold, or perhaps influenza

Verse 4

[line 28] any Légionnaire: The Curé had served in the French Foreign Legion, in which the language of the soldiers would have been liberally spiced with expletives. The headquarters of the Legion was in Algeria, at that time a French colony.
Philip Holberton points out that the inspiration for this poem is clearly “The Vicar” , by Winthrop Mackworth Praed (1802-1839). The first verse runs:

Some years ago, ere time and taste
Had turn’d our parish topsy-turvy,
When Darnel Park was Darnel Waste,
And roads as little known as scurvy,
The man who lost his way between
St. Mary’s Hill and Sandy Thicket
Was always shown across the green,
And guided to the parson’s wicket.

Kipling also echoed Praed in “The Landau” (1904), one of his parodies in The Muse among the Motors.

Verse 6

one not worthy to untie his shoestring Kipling alludes to the words said of Christ by St John the Baptist: “One mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose” (Luke 3.16; see also Mark 1.7). [D.H.]



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