Sir Galahad


(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the work of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


There are versions in Kipling’s handwriting in Notebooks 1 and 3, both dated 24 February 1882. In Notebook 1 the fourth stanza comes at the end of the poem and is followed by a note ‘But they were disappointed’. There is a later note ‘The usual end’, and a final gloss: Moral. Never be satirical on my present resources of rhyme – and reason.’ (Andrew Rutherford p. 119) See Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 119, and Pinney p. 1626.

The Poem

A band of knights sets out with high hopes on a quest to defeat lust and passion, feeling that they are invincible. They are beguiled in the city (verse 5) and in the last verse return defeated, with their armour and weapons in ruins.

His father Lockwood seems to have feared that Kipling himself was susceptible. Harry Ricketts (p.47) quotes a letter from Lockwood to Cormell Price (Headmaster at Westward Ho! and a family friend):

I must confess from what I have seen of Ruddy it is the moral side I dread an outbreak on. I don’t think he is the stuff to resist temptation.

The title is copied, satirically, from the poem “Sir Galahad” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, the highly-revered Poet Laureate. In that, Sir Galahad boasts:

My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure.

In line 4 of the last verse Kipling uses ‘casque’ for ‘helmet’, an echo of the first line
of Tennyson’s poem: ‘My good blade carves the casques of men.’


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved