The Explorer

(Notes by Mary Hamer)

Publication history

Collected in I.V. 1919, and in D.V. 1940, the Sussex Edition vol. 33, and the Burwash Edition vol. 26; reprinted twice in US anthologies, The Kipling Reader for Upper Grades, 1912 and in A Kipling Pageant 1935.


In its repeated claims of divine promptings and its assertion of divine support “The Explorer” presents readers with a challenge. It may be read literally as the record of a divinely inspired quest; it is likely that it was taken at face value, for instance, when it was included in the school reader noted above. But we know that Kipling was not a believer in any conventional sense. Do we then read the poem as a dramatic monologue, with all the ironic distance that such monologues invite?

The poem might well be seen as a study of the blend of courage, delusion and self-aggrandisement which fuels the solitary pioneering it describes. Yet in his singularity of mind, Kipling himself could be described as a pioneer, one moreover who felt himself driven at times by a power that was unearthly, the force he described as his daemon.

Kipling and the Bible

As one aiming at the widest readership, Kipling did not scruple to draw on the language of believers, for it gave him access to levels of feeling in his audience that he could not otherwise have reached. Biblical cadence and quotation could lend his writing an authority above and beyond the merely literary. They had the power to touch his readers as nothing else could, for they were linked both with early experience, with being taught to pray as children, and with the sense of membership of a community, of belonging, as adults.

Notes on the Text

(by Mary Hamer drawing on various sources, in particular
Ralph Durand, “A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling” 1914.)

Notoriously, after the first printing Kipling was obliged to correct a slip of memory at Stanza 11, l.3. For the American edition he changed ‘David’ to ‘ ‘Saul he’. cf I Samuel 9,3-27 and 10,1-24. This correction was then carried through in all subsequent reprintings.

[Stanza 3] faith that moveth mountains: cf Matthew 21, 21.

Whipping up and leading down: urging the mount uphill with the whip, dismounting and leading for the descent.

[Stanza 5] Norther: American term for a strong wind off the snows

[Stanza 7] snow ran out in flowers . . .aloes: these changes in vegetation mark increases in temperature.

dwined: faded, petered out.

[Stanza 10] White man’s country: a country whose climate would permit western Europeans to exert themselves in hard physical labour and to rear children, unlike the climate of the tropics.

[Stanza 11] blazed and ringed them: cut into the trunks, both to mark his own pioneering trail and to create landmarks.

[Stanza 13] head: as in head of steam, the unit of water power.

plant: groundwork, foundation.

[Stanza 18] Never-never country: term applied to the wastes of central and northern Australia.


©Mary Hamer 2007 All rights reserved