The Feet of the Young Men

(Notes by Mary Hamer)

Publication history

First published in Scribner’s Magazine, December 1897. Collected in The Five Nations 1903, I.V., 1919, D.V., 1940, the Sussex Edition vol. 33, and the Burwash Edition vol. 26.

Reprinted in The Outlook, where it was illustrated by Alden Piersen, June 4 1904; also in The Year Book of New England Forest Fish and Game Association, 1908; published separately in a limited edition of 377 copies in 1920;  published with photographic illustrations by Lewis E Freeman by Doubleday in 1920. This edition is online here;    reprinted in A Kipling Pageant, 1935.


On its appearance in Scribner’s, the poem bore a prose heading: ‘Dedicated to the memory of the late W. Hallett-Phillips’. This was followed by a quotation from what purported to be five letters from guides from different parts of the world. (Five destinations or settings are invoked in the course of the poem.) Hallett-Phillips (1853-97), to whom – under the name of ‘Sitting Fox’- Kipling addressed a number of long and affectionate letters – died by drowning in May 1897. He was an outdoorsman and specialist in America-Indian lore; by profession a Washington lawyer he was a member of the circle of Henry Adams. A letter from Kipling to C.E. Norton dated 16 August 1897 indicates that this poem was already in circulation even before it came out in print, (Letters Vol 2, Ed. Pinney)

Notes on the Text

(by Mary Hamer drawing on various sources, in particular Ralph Durand, “A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling” 1914. and some additional references from Daniel Hadas)


Fourway Lodge: probably refers to the use among Native Americans of sweat-lodges.

‘They were constituted by adherence to the basic rules of the cosmic system, with sunken hole as receptacle for the hot stones, seating protocols, spirit directions, tobacco thank offerings, prayer flags and special songs to the spirit helpers of the owner. The sweat progressed through four sessions of sweat, appropriately to the spirits of the four directions in the cosmic structure, each of which ended by opening the flaps of the lodge to allow for the spirits to leave and the devotees to cool.’Earle H. Waugh, Dissonant Worlds, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1996 pp 56-7.

Smokes of Spring: Among Native American peoples, the invitation to join in a general council early in the spring was originally associated with passing round the lighted war-pipe. Those accepted it who were willing to go to war in the summer campaigns; but ‘now there are smokes throughout spring, summer and autumn’, in which special praise is addressed to the earth for her continued blessings of sustenance and care. Ibid. 55. It seems probable that Kipling had the less war-like version in mind.

the whisper of the Trues: See letter of 16 August 1897 to C.E. Norton quoted above:

‘The Trues in the verses are – well, the Trues – the old original four or five head-deities of the Red Man’s mind –the old Beast Gods I think they were – Buffalo –Beaver – Elk/Coyote –or something of that nature. At any rate they are the Red Gods of the hunting grounds –earth spirits waking man up in the spring.’

This is the whisper of ‘The Explorer‘ and of stanza 1 of ‘The Song of the Dead‘.  I believe ‘send in the refrain is short for “God send”.[D.H.]

blacktail: type of deer or buck.

ouananiche: lake variety of Atlantic salmon, a name adapted from the Cree language.

Red Gods: see note to ‘the Trues’ above.


[ II ]

lee-boarded: fitted with lee-boards,  a strong frame of planks fitted to the side of flat-bottomed vessels. It may be let down to diminish the drift to leeward. The Oxford English Dictionary quotes these lines from Kipling in its definition.

fishing-lugger:  a lugger is a small working sailing vessel with a fore-and-aft four-cornered ‘lugsail’ which hen raised overlaps the mast.


threshing: To ‘thresh’ in a ship  is to go forward with difficulty against a strong wind  [D.H.]


[ III ]

sago-dealers: in Southeast Asia, as a high-yielding starch, sago was an important commercial crop.

camphor, net, and boxes: the equipment of a butterfly hunter.

pirate: the setting appears to be Malaysian, where piracy was historically a common way of life.


[ IV ]

head of heads: a superb specimen of game.

Ovis Poli: wild sheep with extravagant horns native to the Pamir plateau, which lies between the extreme northeast of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. A wild and extravagant rhyme, too.

Smokes of Council: see note to ‘Smokes of Spring’, above.

spoor: term used by hunters in Africa to describe the prints left by an animal, from the Dutch.

Line: the Equator.

make their medicine: exert their divine influence over human affairs.



©Mary Hamer 2007 All rights reserved