How the day broke


(notes by John Radcliffe and John McGivering)


This poem is included in Kipling’s collection Sundry Phansies (1881) which he put together in a notebook for Flo Garrard. It was first published in Echoes by Two Writers in Lahore in August 1884. In a copy of Echoes the words ‘written at school’. are pencilled in after this poem, signed ‘R.K.’ (see Yeats, p. 15) The poem is listed in ORG as No 69.

The poem is collected in:

  • The Outward Bound Edition vol xvii (1900)
  • Edition de Luxe vol xviii (1900)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Andrew Rutherford, p. 100
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Pinney, p. 1252

The poem

A lyrical description of a cold dawn on the beach where two lovers meet as the boats head for the fishing-grounds.The tryst is a success, woe is past and done with, wrong redressd and there is new hope. In the various collected editions, Kipling gives it a subheading of ‘Drawing-room Song’, suggesting that it is an entertainment, designed to be recited to an audience, like a music-hall song, though ihis was not its original purpose.

Kipling clearly found the dawn, between darkness and light, a magical time: see “The Dawn Wind”.
He also found beaches, where the land meets the sea, haunting and evocative places. See “Commonplaces”, Quaeritur”, the first chapter of The Light that Failed, and “Baa Baa Black Sheep”:

They climbed another dune, and came upon the great grey sea at low tide. Hundreds of crabs were scuttling about the beach, but there was no trace of Papa and Mamma, not even of a ship upon the waters—nothing but sand and mud for miles and miles.

And ‘Uncleharri’ found them by chance—very muddy and very forlorn—Punch dissolved in tears, but trying to divert Judy with an ‘ickle trab,’ and Judy wailing to the pitiless horizon for ‘Mamma, Mamma!’—and again ‘Mamma!’
[Wee Willie Winkie p. 282]

Kipling and Florence Garrard

As a schoolboy of fourteen Rudyard fell in love with the beautiful Flo Garrard, who was an art student, a year older than he, who had already befriended his sister ‘Trix’. Though they corresponded, his feelings do not seem to have been reciprocated. .In 1881 and 1882 he sent her many poems, including this one, which suggests optimistically that differences between lovers can be resolved; when in October 1882 he sailed to India to work as a journalist, he seems to have felt he was still engaged to her.


Rudyard’s routine work at the Civil and Military Gazette was demanding and unremitting. He was sustained by his home life with his parents, and – from December 1883 – by a happy partnership with his young sister ‘Trix’ with whom he played word games and other literary inventions, and wrote parodies. Several of these were published in Echoes by Two Writers. This poem was clearly Kipling’s own work, dating from three years before. He does not claim it as an ‘echo’ of any other poet.

Kipling and the music-halls.

The metre of the poem is similar to that of many music-hall songs and recitations, like “The Green Eye of the Yellow God” – written later by J. Milton Hayes – and others, which Kipling so much enjoyed at Gatti’s Music Hall. This was just over the road from his rooms in Villiers Street off the Strand, when he was working in London in 1889-91.

Kipling’s work seems to have inspired other writers for the halls, whose work then inspired Kipling himself to song which was printed in newspapers all over the English-speaking world, including India. (See Something of Myself, Chapter 3)

See also David Page’s notes on “My Great and Only”; an article by Roger Lancelyn Green on the story in KJ145 for March 1963; “The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat” in A Diversity of Creatures; and “The Prophet and the Country”, (Debits & Credits) .

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

ridge in this context a bank of shingle or sand, or both, some distance from the shore, visible at certain states of the tide.

[Verse 2]

lanterns probably the coloured lights indicating the activities of the boats as laid down by the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collision at Sea.

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved