The Gipsy Trail

(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


This poem, listed in ORG as No 534, was first published in Century Magazine for December 1892, in thirteen stanzas. The stanza omitted when the poem was collected runs:

Morning waits at the end of the world
Where winds unhaltered play.
Nipping the flanks of their plunging ranks
Till the white sea-horses neigh.

It is dated 1890 in the Sussex Edition, but Pinney (p. 1537) points out that this is wrong, since Carrie Kipling’s diary for February 25th, 1892 notes the completion of the poem. The eleventh stanza (within quotation marks) and the first line of the last stanza, are taken from “The Romany Lass” published in 1880 by Frederick Weatherley (1828-1929). Indeed, the style of “The Gipsy Trail” bears a strong resemblance to Weatherley’s poem; see KJ119. Kipling also used a modified version of this stanza by Weatherley as the heading to The Story of the Gadsbys, attributing it to Gipsy Song.

Collected in

  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition
  • The Burwash Edition
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 1325.

The poem

The poem celebrates the wandering freedom of the Romany (gipsy) life, across the wide world, and the camaraderie and affection between the Romany people.

As we have written in our notes on “The Long Trail” Kipling was a great traveller, relishing new lands and scenes and people—and their stories. He had travelled back and forth to India in his youth, roved over northern India as a young journalist, sailed in 1890 through the China Seas to Japan and on to San Francisco, and after rail journeys across America, back to England across the Atlantic, as he recounts in his travel letters in From Sea to Sea. Sometimes he had been alone, but on much of the journey back from India he was with Professor Hill, and greatly enjoyed the chance to share his impressions with a trusted friend.

This poem was completed a few weeks after his marriage to Caroline Balestier, when they were in New York on their honeymoon, planning to travel to Japan, and on to the South Seas:

Morning waits at the end of the world,
And the world is all at our feet!

Kipling and the Gipsies

Lisa Lewis writes in her notes on “Gipsy Vans” (1926)

There is no known evidence that Kipling had personal knowledge of gipsy culture, though there is an encounter with a gipsy encampment in “A Priest in Spite of Himself” in Rewards and Fairies. He seems to have got his ideas from literary sources such as George Borrow’s Lavengro, of which there is a copy in his study.


Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

moth: one of a group of insects related to butterflies, belonging to the order Lepidoptera.

bine: the long flexible stem of a climbing plant, perhaps the hop (right) which was extensively grown in Sussex for flavouring beer.

clover: clover or trefoil are common names for plants of the genus Trifolium (Latin, tres “three” + folium “leaf”),

[Verse 3]

gorgio: the gipsy name for a non-gipsy. See “Gipsy Vans”.

[Verse 4]

boar: sus scrofa, the wild pig – see the verse “Boar of the Year”, and the story “Pig” in Plain Tales from the Hills. Lockwood Kipling has “‘Of Pigs and Buffaloes’ in Chapter 7 of his Beast and Man in India.

crane: in this context a family (Gruidae) of large, long-legged, and long-necked birds (right), in the group Gruiformes. There are fifteen species of crane in four genera.

reed: a tall, slender-leaved member of the grass family that grows on wet ground or in water.

Romany lass: a gipsy girl. ‘Romany’ signifies a gipsy, or the language of the gipsy people.

[Verse 5]

pied: having two or more colours.

rifted: cracked or split.

buck: the male of some horned animals, especially the fallow deer, roe deer, reindeer, and antelopes, also rabbits and some other creatures.

[Verse 7]

pattern: a coded sign (left) showing a route to be followed or giving other information used by gypsies. Baden Powell shows some in his Scouting for Boys.

bows: in this context the “front” of a ship or boat.

shod with mail: mail in this context is ‘armour’ – the sea is also freezing on the masts.

rifted: cracked or split

[Verse 8]

Austral Light: aurora australis or the southern lights, created when electrically charged particles from solar winds enter the Earth’s atmosphere and interact with gases in the atmosphere to give a magnificent display of coloured lights. aurora borealis in the Northern hemisphere.

besom: in this context a broom made from a bundle of twigs lashed to a stick.

[Verse 9]

West the sinking sun:  Daniel Hadas notes that this echoes the theme of West becoming East as in ‘Victoria’ stanza of ‘The Song of the Cities”    [D.H.]

junk: in this context the classic Chinese sailing-vessel, see “The Junk and the Dhow”. Also “An Unqualified Pilot” in (Land and Sea Tales.


[Verse 10]

Mahim: a district of Bombay (now Mumbai).

[Verse 11]

hawk: One of a group of medium-sized diurnal birds of prey of the family Accipitridae which includes buzzards, goshawks, falcons. and many others.

deer: ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae which include the muntjac,
the elk, the fallow deer, and the chital.

wold: a range of hills consisting of open country overlying limestone or chalk. As in the Cotswolds in Southern England.

[Verse 12]

Light of my tents: a variation of ‘Light of my Life’ or some such expression of affection.

fleet: in this context ‘swift’.

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2018 All rights reserved