Itu and his God

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


This poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette (CMG), on 10 October 1887, with the signature ‘K.’. It is authenticated by inclusion in Kipling’s Scrapbook 4 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.

It was not otherwise collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 386) and Pinney (p. 1868).

The Poem

Rutherford (p. 386) traces its origin to one of Kipling’s contributions to the CMG on May 1887:

There has been a “revival” on a large scale in far off Kafiristan by reason of the displeasure of the great god Kysh, who last month loosed a great stone from a glacier on a congregation of the Oash Gool and killed thirty of them as they were praying to him. Then, says our devout correspondent, came Oatta, Bishop of the God of Kysh, and a very holy saint from the Himalayas, and told the men of Oash Gool that Kysh was angry with them, and unless offerings were made, they would be accounted followers of Aram and Yaboosh, which being translated means Satan.

Kafiristan is an area of north-eastern Afghanistan including part of the Hindu Kush mountain range, the region that ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ chose for his kingdom. In that story it is defined as ‘the top right-hand corner of Afghanistan, not more than three hundred miles from Peshawur.’ (Wee Willie Winkie p. 214)

The poem tells the story of Itu, war-leader of the Oash Gool, who carved his own God from a pine log, set it in a secret cave, and consulted it as an oracle. The cave was destroyed in an earthquake, and when Itu came next he found his God lying, just a log in a mountain torrent. When it did not answer him, Itu chopped it up. Then he went to the Temple and attacked the statues of the Gods there because his own God was only carven pine. So the priests of the other Gods put him to death and no-one spoke Itu’s name any more.

The theme of primitive religion, the names of the Gods Kysh and Yabosh, and the place-name of Ao-Safai, all recur in “The Sacrifice of Er-Heb”. That poem was first published in Barrack- Room Ballads in 1892 but is dated 1887 by Kipling in Inclusive Verse and later collections. Both poems are written in blank verse, which is uncommon for the mature Kipling.


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