(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the work of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


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.

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 144, and Pinney p. 1653.

The Poem

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