There are versions handwritten by Kipling in Notebooks 1 and 3, both dated 7 March 1882. Notebook 1 has a note at the end A bad case of typhus’ and a later comment, dated 4 April 1883, when he had been in India for some six months:
Thought this perfection when I wrote it – forcible grand and all the rest – In straining after effect I overdid the thing, neglected the woman’s life shamefully and shamelessly and mixed my few grains of wheat with so much chaff that the whole affair has been hopelessly spoilt. Moral Don’t write like that again till I am older – but it has one good point . (Andrew Rutherford p.122)
See Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.
The poem is a meditation by a young husband on the sudden death of his even younger wife after only a year of marriage. Rutherford (p. 10) describes it as one of Kipling’s attempts to project himself imaginatively into experiences – of bereavement, for example – which he has not known at first hand , but which move his sympathies.
Notes on the Text
[Verse 2 line 3] watch pocket a small bag for holding a watch at night.
[Verse 6 line 2] slavey maid-servant.
[Verse 7 line 3] (the undertaker is speaking) three pun ten three pounds ten shillings, now 3 pounds 50 p.
[Verse 7 line 4] ten bob ten shillings, 50 p.
pall a rich cloth to cover the coffin.
[Verse 8 line 2] the land the place for the actual grave.
[Verse 8 line 3] crape Crepe, black ribbon as a sign of mourning.
[Verse 9 line 3] gird loins gather courage.
[Verse 9 line 4] feathers black plumes as a sign of mourning.
nails decorative nails to write the name on the coffin. See Verse 11 line 2.
[Verse 12 line 4] God of the Pestilence See Kipling’s note under Sources above: she died of typhus.
[Verse 15 line 3] those awful taps / On the shell he can hear the workmen knocking in the nails to put her name on the coffin. See Verse 9 line 4.
[Verse 21 line 4] ulster overcoat.
[Verse 33 line 2] To the bar on trial. He imagines himself before God on the Day of Judgement, and she pleads for him.
[Verse 37 line 2] the screw / Comes to sunder they are about to screw down the lid of the coffin.
©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved