The Vision of Hamid Ali


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


This poem was published in the Calcutta Review for October 1885, signed “Rudyard Kipling”. In a letter to his aunt Edith Macdonald, 30 July 1885, he writes (Letters 1, p. 82):

the Calcutta Review has written very sweetly about a poem of mine – in blank verse – which appears in the August number.
(in fact it was postponed until the October)

The Calcutta Review was a successful quarterly, founded in May 1844, and owned in Kipling’s day by Thacker Spink & Company. Pinney notes that in a letter to Cormell Price on September 19th 1885 Kipling refers to this poem as ‘peculiarly blank verse’. (Letters 1 p. 86)

It is collected in the Sussex Edition (vol. 35 p. 170) and the Burwash Edition (vol 28) but not in Inclusive Verse or Definitive Verse.

The Poem

Hamid Ali and a learned man, a moulvie, have been smoking ganja (cannabis) with two courtesans, in a chamber above the Delhi Gate of the walled city of Lahore. Hamid Ali, under the influence of the drug, has had a fearsome dream of dissolution and destruction, and the moulvie is called on to write it down. His presence, as a witness rather than an active participant, is similar to that of the narrator of “On the City Wall” in Soldiers Three and Other Stories, and “In the House of Suddhoo” in Plain Tales From the Hills.

In Hamid’s dream, the temples of all faiths, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and all their symbols, are destroyed with fire and the sword. All is lost, and the priests cry that the gods are dead. The Pearl dismisses the vision, telling Hamid that she at least is real. The moulvie hopes that it is only the ganja speaking, otherwise they are lost for their blasphemy.

Notes on the Text

ganja The buds of Indian Hemp, dried for smoking, cannabis.

Muezzin The crier who calls the Muslim faithful to prayer.

Mosque of Wuzzer Khan (usually Wazir Khan). One of the sights of Lahore, built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1641. c.f. “The City of Dreadful Night” (Life’s Handicap p. 371), published at almost the same time as this poem, September 1885.


In that story, the narrator, wandering through the sleeping city as Kipling often did, climbs one of the minarets hoping for a breath of cool air, and hears the muezzin making his midnight call, ‘Allah ho Akbar!’ (‘God is the Greatest!’).

chillam hookah, water-pipe.

The Twelve the twelve Imams, religious leaders of the Shia branch of Islam.

The Prophet Mohammed.

Moulvie title given to a learned man.

Perfect Flower the ganja.

Roum originally Rome, meaning the Eastern Roman Empire centred on Byzantium; hence Christendom.

As people hold shall be in two more years a popular prophecy of an invasion from the north which will sweep the British away. They always felt a Russian invasion was a threat: see “The Man who Was”, “The Truce of the Bear”, and above all “Kim”.

kashi tilework.(right) The interior of the Mosque of Wazir Khan is richly embellished with elaborate floral and geometric tiles.

The Banner Shiite banner carried in procession at the Mohurrum festival. See “On the City Wall” (Soldiers Three, p. 339)

the Crescent The emblem of Islam, as the Cross is of Christianity.

the Wheel The Buddhist emblem of the Wheel of Life. See “Kim”.

the Flowers probably flowers used in Hindu temple ceremonies.

Parvati (left) The Hindu Goddess of fertility, beauty, and love, the wife of Siva.

The Seven Stars In ancient Indian astronomy, the constellation of the The Great Bear (Ursa Major) is called saptarishi, with the seven stars representing seven rishis (saints), namely “Vashistha”, “Marichi”, “Pulastya”, “Pulaha”, “Atri”, “Angiras” and “Kratu”.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved