“The doors were wide”

(notes edited by Philip Holberton)

Publication

First published as the heading to “The Recrudescence of Imray” in Mine Own People in the United States in 1891 and Life’s Handicap the same year, in which the title was changed to “The Return of Imray”.

The poem

In the story a dog stirs uneasily outside a bungalow, sensing an unquiet spirit abroad. Next day a dead man is found among the rafters.

In these lines a ghost follows its enemy. It can be seen but is completely powerless:

… he could not stir
A hair of the Baron’s miniver.

The ghost in the story can do a bit more: it is seen by the narrator’s servant and by the dog Tietjens, it tramps around the house, tries to open a door, and speaks in a husky whisper. (Miniver is a fur used in trimming ceremonial dress – OED)

In Life’s Handicap the verse is attributed to “The Baron”. The ORG editors write:

Kipling’s lines are based on “The Baron of St. Castine” Part Two of “The Student’s Tale” in Tales of a Wayside Inn by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).

However, I am sceptical about whether “The Baron of St. Castine” deserves to be credited as Kipling’s inspiration. There’s a Baron and a castle, but no wraith and no enemy to follow. And the verse form is very common – what Byron called ‘The fatal facility of the octo-syllabic verse.

[P.H.]

©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved