Holograph [handwritten by Kipling] version in Notebook 1 with title “A Dedication”, dated 3 February 1882. Another holograph version in Notebook 3, with the long title and the same date, has been followed here. An undated version in Sundry Phansies has the title “Dedication”.
The poem is clearly addressed to Flo Garrard, the beautiful art student with whom the young Kipling had become infatuated in the summer of 1880, when he was fourteen, and she a year older. Sundry Phansies is a book of his poems, written out by hand, that he presented to her before he sailed for India in October 1882.
On re-reading this poem in Notebook 1 in his early years in India, Kipling added a marginal gloss attributed to “Brisbane Convict’s Song (altered)” :
And she turned me off like a dog my boys /
and while I sing this lay-ay-ay /
She’s a going on the spoon’ /
‘neath an English moon /
Six thousand miles away.
(Going on the spoon meant flirting: Andrew Rutherford)
The song “Ten Thousand Miles Away” was written for the music halls by Joseph Geoghegan (1816-1889). Several variants exist: usually it is the lady “my true love” who has “taken a trip on a government ship” and is a convict in Australia, while the singer is still in England and eager to rejoin her. One version has the lines:
And while I sing this lay,
She’s doing it grand in a distant land,
Ten thousand miles away
The mileage was appropriately changed by Kipling to “six thousand” as better fitting the actual distance from India to England. But none has “And she turned me off like a dog my boys” : this seems to be original to Kipling. Perhaps it was part of his revenge on Flo Garrard after she finally dismissed him in 1884; see “The Second Wooing”.
The poem seems entirely appropriate as Kipling’s Dedication to Sundry Phansies. It disparages his poems (line 2), suggesting that their only value lies in the passion that is in a line, and in the source of that passion. As Rutherford (p. 12) says of the slightly later poem “An Ending” (April 1882):
‘there is a kind of naked sensitivity revealed here which is suppressed or hidden in the years that were to follow.’
©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved