There are versions handwritten by Kipling in Notebooks 1 & 3, dated 10 May 1882. Kipling also sent a copy to his sister Trix – see below. See Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.
Another classical Shakespearean sonnet, of which Kipling wrote a number at this time. Two lovers have found Cupid dead in a wood, with no arrow loosed and bow unstrung. Accepting that their love is dead, they give back heart and troth and ring. In Notebook 1 the last line reads:
And set the dry baked earth above the thing.
A literary debate
While Kipling was at school at Westward Ho! his sister Trix stayed in London with “three dear ladies” – the Misses Winnard and Mary and Georgiana Craik. Kipling himself spent his school holidays there. It was a cultured household, full of books, and Georgiana was a popular novelist. But when Trix showed them this poem they disagreed strongly over its interpretation. Lord Birkenhead (pp 53-4) gives the full text of the letter Trix wrote to Rudyard describing the argument:
226 Warwick Gardens
March 18, 1882
I showed your new poem – ‘A Discovery’ – to Mrs Winnard and Miss Georgie, and thereby hangs a tale funnier than any of Oscar’s. [Oscar Wilde, whom Trix had met] I thought it was simple to the verge of childishness– obvious is the word I mean –but the dear ladies summoned me to a conference! Mrs Winnard said–‘ The verses are musical but–’
‘It’s a sonnet’, I said foolishly–’Yes dear, we know that, but what does it mean? Do you know?’ I said I thought I did– it was fairly clear–and looked at Miss Georgie–she said in her gentle voice that they understood that a beloved cage-bird had flown away and been found dead, but the emotion expressed was disproportionate – exaggerated.
‘But it is not a bird–it’s a kind of allegory– it means dead love– Cupid you know.’
‘Did your brother explain that to you?’
‘No, he only said it was a new poem, and he wanted to know if you liked it…’
Then Mrs Winnard said in her ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ voice– ‘Really Trixie I hoped we had eradicated your unfortunate tendency to think yourself wiser than your elders, but I fear we have only repressed it. Do you seriously think a little girl of your age can understand somewhat abstruse verse better than two educated mature ladies ?’
‘Oh no– Of course not. Only I know Ruddy so well, and the way he thinks and writes, that I feel I can understand him better than anyone.’
‘Well I can hardly agree with you. But Georgie shall write to him at once.’
Miss Georgie did so, and Trix’s opinion was vindicated. Kipling later added a comment in Notebook 1:
Cheap; Miss Winnard said that the King was a dead canary, for which mistake (a genuine one) I find it hard to forgive her.
©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved