Illusion, Disillusion, Allusion


(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


The first publication of this poem was in Schoolboy Lyrics published in Lahore in 1881 when Kipling was fifteen. This was an edition of around fifty for private circulation arranged by his mother the year before his arrival in the city to work as a journalist. It is listed in ORG as No 22.

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. Rutherford, p. 92
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 1195.

The poem

A savage cynical piece, somewhat surprising from the pen of a fifteen-year old schoolboy, musing on beauty and the falseness of beauty contrived, dissolution, decay, illusion and disillusion. It must be based on reading rather than experience, although he had encountered ill treatment and hypocrisy from his foster-mother in the ‘House of Desolation’ at Southsea. He wrote at the end of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” (1888):

…when young lips have drunk deep of the bitter waters of Hate, Suspicion, and Despair, all the Love in the world will not wholly take away that knowledge; though it may turn darkened eyes for a while to the light, and teach Faith where no Faith was.

When he wrote this poem Rudyard was himself in love with the beautiful Flo Garrard, though there is no evidence of disillusionment with the relationship at this time, although it came to nothing.


After his unhappy years at Southsea, Kipling was sent to United Services College at Westward Ho! in Devon at the age of twelve, in 1878. Because of his poor eyesight he was no good at games, and the Head, Cormell Price, gave him the freedom of his library, where he read voraciously. See Stalky & Co. (pp. 217-8)

He also wrote himself, experimenting with styles and language and themes, borrowing from many other writers, finding his voice, determined to become a published poet.

See Ann Weygandt for the influence of Kipling’s reading on his verse.

In his later Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) and Wee Willie Winkie (1888) he was more detached, though no less critical, towards the vagaries of love – often illicit – between men and women in British India.

“The Hill of Illusion”,
“Venus Annodimini”,
“In Error”,
“Beyond the Pale”
and “A Second-Rate Woman”.

Notes on the Text


Illusion, Disillusion, Allusion The lover believes that the lady’s beauty is real; when she – or another – simulates beauty with powder and paint, he becomes disillusioned; the relationship becomes merely a subject for the writer’s art, something he alludes to.

[Verse 2]

rouge also called blush or blusher, a red powder or cream applied to a woman’s face to emphasize the cheek-bones and, with any luck, give her a more youthful appearance.

puff here meaning a pad of soft material used to apply powder to the face.

powder in this context very fine particles of ground-up talc applied to the face as a cosmetic.

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved