“Thew Flight”



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


This poem exists in two holograph [hand-written by the author] copies, made in 1882. One, with the title ‘Haste”, is dated 25 June 1880, when Kipling was fourteen. The other, in Sundry Phansies, is entitled “The Flight.” It was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Andrew Rutherford (p. 50), and Pinney p. 1566.

Sundry Phansies is a holograph notebook of thirty-two poems presented by Kipling to Florence Garrard while he was still a school-boy.

Kipling and Florence Garrard

As a schoolboy of fourteen Rudyard fell in love with the beautiful ‘Flo’ Garrard, an art student, a year older than he, who had already befriended his sister ‘Trix’ at Lorne Lodge in Southsea. Though they corresponded, his feelings do not seem to have been reciprocated.

In 1881 and 1882 he sent Flo many poems, including this one, which clearly failed to impress her or win her heart. Despite rebuffs, when he sailed to India in October 1882 to work as a journalist he apparently felt he was still engaged to her. However, in the summer of 1884, before the publication of Echoes, she evidently made it clear in a letter that their relationship was over.

The Poem

A bleak, dramatic, rather stilted narrative, by a schoolboy poet, echoing his reading of other poets, and carefully structured. Two lovers fly to the sea to escape “the doom”, but are separated. The speaker prays to be given his Love again, but without much hope. Kipling used the basic situation again in “The First Chantey”, published in 1896 in The Seven Seas. But that ends happily: the lovers escape on a floating log and are carried so near to the rising-place of the Sun God that when the tide brings them back they are sacred and immune from punishment. Here all is doom.

The scene also recalls the passage on the seashore in “Baa Baa Black Sheep” (Wee Willie Winkie) pp. 280-282, in which the deserted children rush hopelessly to the sea, believing they have been forgotten by their parents. Also the passage in the opening chapter of The Light that Failed in which Dick and Maisie fire the revolver out on the beach. The young Rudyard clearly saw the seashore as a place of sadness and desperation, and failure to escape one’s fate.

Notes on the Text

This is the earlier, 1880, version. In verse 6, Sundry Phansies has “sea” for “rain” in line 6 and “give” for “bring” in line 9.

[Verse 5] the wrack seaweed.



©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved