The Flight of the Bucket

(notes by
John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


First published in in August 1884 in Lahore, in Echoes by Two Writers, with the sub-heading ‘Browning’. It is listed in ORG as No 109.

Collected in

  • 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. 226
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Pinney, p. 1218

The poem

A parody in the style of Robert Browning, at inordinate length, of the old English nursery rhyme “Jack and Jill”


Kipling left United Services College in July 1882. In October, aged sixteen, he became Assistant Editor of the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore, where he published Echoes two years later. See our notes on “A Vision of India” for an account of his experiences and state of mind at that time.

Kipling and Browning

Kipling had read Browning’s poetry with enthusiasm ever since he encountered it at USC. See our notes on
“Overheard”, one of the Schoolboy Lyrics published in Lahore in 1881.
Harry Ricketts (p. 64) comments that a number of the new poems in Echoes were simply burlesques:

“The Flight of the Bucket” Rud described to Aunt Edie as ‘a psychological poem on Jack and Jill in Browning’s vein’. In fact it was simply a take-off of Browning’s habit of complicating a simple story with endless parentheses.

Ann Weygandt (p. 107) notes various specific Browning influences:

“The Flight of the Bucket” takes its title from the “Flight of the Duchess,” its
pre-admonishment from “The Heretic’s Tragedy,” its metre and tone from the blank verse pieces in Men and Women, and its final “grrr” from “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister.”

It is a more finished piece of work than its predecessors in Schoolboy Lyrics, but “Jack and Jill” as Browning would have written it grows a bit tedious, despite such Browningisms as “Down to the bottom-all but-trip, slip, squelch,” “Clinkety­ tinkle,” and “Fist welted into eye-ball.”

Notes on the text

[line 3] Sordello A legendarily ‘difficult’ poem by Browning. See

[line 4] “Jack and Jill” Sometimes “Jack and Gill” in earlier versions, this is a traditional English Nursery Rhyme. (No. 10266 in the Roud Folk Index) which dates back to the eighteenth century. with various versions.

[line 11] Liquor vitae the fluid of life.

Lawson Sir Wilfred Lawson (1829-1906) A Liberal politician of radical persuasion, a life-long advocate of Temperance and exponent of the right of local communities to prohibit the possession and use of alcoholic beverages.

[line 14] scrap o’ blue a small piece of blue ribbon worn in the buttonhole as a sign of Temperance.

[line 19] ferret Mustela putorius furo the domesticated form of the European polecat, a mammal belonging to the same genus as the weasel, used for scaring rabbits out of their holes. Here a figure of speech meaning rummaging (searching) the shed.

[line 21] splice join ropes by interlacing the strands. This is probably a wooden bucket made like a cask sawn in half with a rope handle; but see line 32 below

[line 23] spate a number of events happening together. Usually applied to a torrent of water.

[line 32] Clinkety-tingle sounds like a metal bucket after all, though at that date one would expect a wooden one.

[line 35] brimstone an archaic term for sulphur, here meaning cursing.

[line 46] kibes ulcerated chilblains, usually on the heel. The reference is not clear unless it just means that Jill went down ‘head-over-heels’..

[line 52] The Devil an echo of the proverb ‘The Devil looks after his own’.

[line 53] Packs the cards a card-sharp arranges a deck of cards in such a manner that he will have a winning hand.

[line 56] bucolic a rural lifestyle and a genre of music, painting and writing that celebrates it, here also a countryman, from the Greek boukolos meaning ‘cowherd’.

[line 58] cruet-stand a (usually) metal article for the table with glass bottles containing salt, pepper and mustard, some have, as in this case, oil and vinegar as well.

[line 60] Eureka Ancient Greek for ‘I have found it !’ It is said to have been exclaimed by the mathematician Archimedes, who when sitting in his bath suddenly understood the principle of displacement of water.

[line 62] medicament a substance used in medical treatment – a medicine – the unlikely ‘substance’ in this case being rag-based brown paper steeped (soaked) in vinegar.

[line 65] bedward in Echoes this line is followed by ‘Your true bucolic always swears.’ (Rutherford)

[line 69] Luggage-label in this era a piece of thin cardboard which attaches to the handle of the luggage by twine threaded through the hole. This must have been a red one.

[lines 69-74] dappled bodies Defeated gladiators lying in the arena where they had been fighting to the death for the entertainment of the citizens of Rome, waiting for a signal from the audience to kill or spare them.

[line 75] down thumbs a gladiator who had fought well or was particularly good-looking might be spared (thumbs up.) others would be killed (thumbs down)

[line 79] Nemesis the implacable goddess in Greek mythology who sees that all get their due punishment. The instrument of divine vengeance.

[line 85] The world’s best women Not clear, suggestions from readers will be appreciated.

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved