Donec Gratus Eram

(notes by John Radcliffe)


First published in the United Services College Chronicle no. 10, on 24 July 1882, with the sub-heading ‘Devonshire Dialect”. It is listed in ORG as No. 40B. It was not, of course, one of the Schoolboy Lyrics published in Lahore by Alice Kipling the previous year, but was included in the Schoolboy Lyrics section of the later collections listed below:

  • The Outward Bound Edition vol xvii (1900)
  • Edition de Luxe vol xviii (1900)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Rutherford, p. 160
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 1176.

The poem

Kipling wrote of his problems with Latin in “An English School” (1893, later collected in Land and Sea Tales p. 268):

There was one boy, however, to whom every Latin quantity was an arbitrary mystery, and he wound up his crimes by suggesting that he could do better if Latin verse rhymed as decent verse should. He was given an afternoon’s reflection to purge himself of his contempt; and feeling certain that he was in for something rather warm, he turned Donec gratus eram into pure Devonshire dialect, rhymed, and showed it up as his contribution to the study of Horace.

The result is a warm and affectionate piece about two would-be lovers in a north Devon village.

Some critical comments

The poem has attracted admiration from the critics. Harry Ricketts (p.48) sees it as ‘looking forward to the great soldier ballads, which ten years later established Kipling’s reputation as a poet.’

And R A Maidment in the Kipling Journal for June 1981 writes:

Something of Kipling’s ability can be judged from “Donec gratus
eram” … Not only does he keep the light touch and essential compression of
the original, he also shows—at the age of sixteen—the human insight
and use of everyday speech which was to characterise his later verse.
This little gem was produced as an “imposition” for Mr Crofts:
Kipling was never one to relish being put in his place.


After his unhappy years at Southsea, Kipling was sent to United Services College at Westward Ho! in Devon at the age of twelve, in 1878. Because of his poor eyesight he was no good at rugby or cricket, and the Head, Cormell Price, who was a friend of his father, gave him the freedom of his library:

He gave Beetle the run of his brown-bound, tobacco-scented library; prohibiting nothing, recommending nothing. There Beetle found a fat armchair, a silver inkstand, and unlimited pens and paper. There were scores and scores of ancient dramatists … hundreds of volumes of verse—Crashaw ; Dryden ; Alexander Smith ; L.E.L. ; Lydia Sigourney ; Fletcher and a purple island ; Donne ; Marlowe’s Faust; Ossian ; The Earthly Paradise ; Atalanta in Calydon ; and Rossetti—to name only a few.

(Stalky & Co. pp. 217-8)

Kipling was also exposed to the classics, a staple part of the education of an Englishman in Kipling’s day, and taught at USC by the brilliant and irascible W C Crofts (right), the model for “King” in Stalky & Co.

The young Kipling was already writing himself, commenting on events in the school, experimenting with styles and language and themes, borrowing from many writers, expressing his feelings about the world around him, finding his own voice, determined to become a published poet. It was as a riposte to Crofts that this poem was written.

Kipling and Horace

‘Crofts taught me to loathe Horace for two years ; to forget him for twenty, and then to love him for the rest of my days, and through many sleepless nights’ wrote Kipling in Something of Myself (p. 33).

He continued to echo Horace in a number of poems written in later life, including:

See also Kipling’s Horace, Ed. Carrington ; “Crofts and King” by R A Maidment in
KJ218 for June 1981; and “Kipling and Horace” by Roger Lancelyn Green, in KJ124 for December 1957.

Notes on the Text

for readers who may need help
in construing Devonshire dialect

[Verse 1]

‘twuz It was

praoud proud

tu too

[Verse 2]

yeou you

[Verse 3]

‘ud ‘elp ‘er would help her

laike like

[Verse 4]

Yeou’m You’re

[Verse 5]

But s’posin’ I threwed up Jane But supposing I gave up Jane

niver went walkin’ with she Never walked out with her, as a couple

‘ud would

[Verse 6]

allus done badly always done badly

An’ yeou shifts like cut net-floats, yeou du And you shift like the floats of a fishing-net that has been cut, bobbing up and down, never constant.


©John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved