A verse letter in Kipling’s handwriting to his aunt Edith Macdonald, his mother’s youngest sister, in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
It is undated: probably December 1883 to judge by the content of the poem, in particular the nostalgia for schooldays, but Pinney suggests that 1884 is also a possibility.
A poem of homesickness, contrasting his present life in India with memories of London. It is very similar in theme to “A Ballad of Bitterness”, written to his “Mater”, Mrs. Tavernor Perry, dated December 1883, though the verse form is very different.
Notes on the Text
Flo’s heart Kipling fell in love with Florence (‘Flo’) Garrard in 1880, when he was fourteen. She was a beautiful art student, a year older than him. In 1881-82, as a schoolboy, he wrote a number of love poems which one assumes were addressed to her. (See Uncollected Poems from Schooldays).
When he sailed for India in October 1882 he presented her with a notebook, Sundry Phansies, containing many of his poems in his own handwriting. This is now in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. (See Rutherford p. 23)
However, this seems to be the only time in any of his poems when he actually names Flo. Significantly, Rutherford (p. 12) describes Edith Macdonald as Rudyard’s closest confidante in matters of both literature and love.
Entre nous between ourselves (French).
three hundred a year pounds sterling. After a year in his post his salary was increased to 375 rupees a month, some £300 a year, the equivalent of some £30,000 today.
the touch of a vanished hand An echo of “Break, Break, Break” (1842), by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
O, well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!
P and O vessel of the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company.
Nota Bene note well (Latin).
Colombo port in Sri Lanka.
Quetta military station on the North West Frontier.
I’ve lost … My Love See Flo’s heart in Verse 1 above.
‘strange oaths’ see Jaques’ speech on “The Seven Ages of Man” in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Or, with cowdung and straw, duly plastered and set,
I may guard my successor’s young head from the wet.
This is an echo of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act V. scene 1:
Imperious Caesar, dead, and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved