The Love-song of Har Dyal

(notes by Philip Holberton)



The poem figures in the story “Beyond the Pale”, which first appeared in the first Indian edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and in the many subsequent editions of that collection. It was also published in Papyrus in 1909 under the title of “Bisesa”. The poem is also collected in Songs from Books (1913) , Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse, and the Sussex and Burwash editions.

The Poem

This poem comes in the heart of the story, when Bisesa, the little widow, sings it to welcome her lover. In Kipling’s words:

…the little voice behind the grating took up ‘The Love Song of Har Dyal’ at the verse where the Panthan girl calls upon Har Dyal to return. The song is really pretty in the Vernacular. In English you miss the wail of it.
It runs something like this…

Earlier in the story, Kipling provides two other extracts, not versified and presumably closer to the original. They must be spoken by Har Dyal himself:

Can a man stand upright in the face of the naked Sun; or a Lover in the Presence of the Beloved?
If my feet fail me, O Heart of my Heart, am I to blame, being blinded by the glimpse of your beauty?


Alas! Alas! Can the Moon tell the Lotus of her love when the Gate of Heaven is shut and the clouds gather for the rains?
They have taken my Beloved, and driven her with the pack-horses to the north.
There are iron chains on the feet that were set on my heart.
Call to the bowmen to make ready –

We do not know whether these words were taken from a song in the vernacular – how good it would be to have it, if it exists – or whether Kipling simply wrote them himself.

T.S. Eliot included the poem in his 1941 collection A Choice of Kipling’s Verse. In an address to the Kipling Society (reprinted in the Kipling Journal for March 1959), he said:

Traces of Kipling appear in my own mature verse where no diligent scholarly sleuth has yet observed them, but which I am myself prepared to disclose. I once wrote a poem called ” The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” : I am convinced that it would never have been called “Love Song” but for a title of Kipling’s that stuck obstinately in my head : ” The Love Song of Har Dyal.”


© Philip Holberton 2012 All rights reserved