The Goat

(notes by Philip Holberton)


One of the poems Kipling wrote for his father Lockwood’s Beast and Man in India (1891).

Collected as a Chapter Heading in Songs from Books (1912) and in the later verse collections.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1] This describes the sacrifice of a goat as a substitute for human sacrifice. In the chapter that follows this heading, Lockwood Kipling writes:

For many years a goat has been sacrificed daily at a temple within the precincts of the old palace at Amber, the former capital of the Jeypore state in Rajputana; and here, as in some other places, the tradition is that the goat is a substitute for a human sacrifice once regularly offered.

As collected (though not in the original), Child (l.1) and Babe (l.3) are capitalised. This suggests that Kipling had some specific sect or temple in mind. (Comments from readers will be welcomed: Ed.)

See also the story of  Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac at (Genesis 22.1-19).

[Verse 2] This describes the scapegoat. When, in the biblical account, the Children of Israel were in the wilderness, they were commanded to take a goat and confess over him all their iniquities and transgressions and sins, putting them on the head of the goat. This scapegoat was sent out into the wilderness, bearing all their iniquities away. Lev. 16. v.10, 20-21

[Verse 3] This describes how goats are still sacrificed to atone for mankind. Cf. “Without Benefit of Clergy”: when Holden’s son is born, the old watchman of his house brings him two goats to sacrifice, saying “Never life came into the world but life was paid for it.” (Life’s Handicap, p.156 l. 31)


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