Jobson’s Amen

(notes edited by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


The first two stanzas were published in Cosmopolitan Magazine and Nash’s Magazine in July 1914 as a heading to “A Return to the East”, one of the articles within “Egypt of the Magicians”, but did not appear when the articles were collected in Letters of Travel in 1920.

The poem was first published in full in A Diversity of Creatures in 1917, linked to the story “In the Presence”. It is published in Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse and The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library), in the 2013 Cambridge Edition, and – with slight differences – in the Sussex Edition Volume 9, page 239 and Volume 34, page 322 and the Burwash Edition, Volumes 9 and 27.

Apart from a brief reference by Dr Tompkins (p. 216) and a quotation by Charles Carrington (p. 87), there has been little comment by the critics on these verses.

The Poem

Jan Montefiore writes:  I see this poem as a rebuttal of xenophobia, on the lines of his later poem ‘We and They’”, with two voices: the bigoted patriot who hates everything un-English and non-Christian, and Jobson, who recalls his own experience of difference Africa and Asia which doesn’t so much contradict the first voice as bypass it.  The bigotry of the first voices is simply irrelevant to the palm trees and surf, the well-wheel and the parrots, the desert and its bones – and of course to the Himalayas and ‘my Beloved’.

So the title is deceptively ironic because when Jobson says ‘Amen’ it’s a quiet opposite of the conventional pious endorsement  at the end of a prayer, and more like ‘Yes, but’  – and by the end, has become something like ‘No, because’.

The note about  ‘Hobson-Jobson’ below is quite right and is a clue:  Hobson-Jobson, a  dictionary of Indian loan-words, represents knowledge of the ‘pagan’ East’ gained through experience, the opposite of the pious first speaker’s dismissive ignorance; especially that hint at the end – ‘the feet of my Beloved hurrying back through Time– of youthful (and possibly interracial) romance.

The poem’s connection with ‘In the Presence’: obliquely endorses the story’s theme of respecting the values held by non-English indigenous peoples, the bloodthirsty honour of the Sikhs soldiers, and the honourable endurance of the Goorkhas. [J.M.]


Notes on the Text


An echo of the name of The Anglo-Indian Dictionary, the invaluable reference book, called “Hobson-Jobson”. It was reviewed by Kipling in 1886. See Kipling’s India (p. 158).

See KJ 275/47, 276/53, 277/59, 276/35, and 279/49 for further suggestions.

[Verse 1]

Infidels: usually those who do not belong to the religion of the speaker.

Hereticks: archaic spelling of heretics – similar in meaning to infidels.

Turks: historically, inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire – countries including and bordering on present-day Turkey – usually not of the Christian faith.

Candle, Bell nor Book: usually ‘Bell, book, and candle’, which refers to the excommunication of a person who had committed a particularly grievous sin. The ritual was once used by the Roman Catholic Church; a bishop, with 12 priests, would recite an oath that excluded the offender from the Church until he repented, ring a bell, close a holy book and extinguish a candle.

[Verse 2]

Conches: shells of large gastropods made into trumpets.

[Verse 4]

Well-wheel…water-channel: used for irrigating land – see “Little Foxes” (Actions and Reactions, page 228)

Rise and shine: An echo of Isaiah 60,1-3:

‘Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising…

This passage from Isaiah was the theme of Kipling’s last story, “Proofs of Holy Writ”. which we have annotated for this Guide.

But ‘Rise and Shine’ became a familiar expression where late sleepers needed to be roused, in barrack rooms, in school dormitories, or lazy children’s bedrooms. This is its meaning here. [J.R.]

[Verse 5]

The Infidels that bow to wood and stone!: see the verse “The ‘Eathen.

Gospelleer: (various spellings) an ardent preacher or evangelist.

[Verse 6]

mirages: optical illusions usually found in deserts or at sea, caused by the refraction of light in hot and cold air.

a red wind out of Libya:  the sirocco, an oppressively hot and blighting wind  (Wordsworth Edition).

[Verse 7]

Rule: in this context a measure

Calliper: (or calipher) another measuring device.

[Verse 8]

Himalaya: the vast mountains of Central Asia extending from Kashmir to Assam and containing some of the highest peaks in the world, mentioned in many of the Indian stories.

A certain sacred mountain: perhaps Mount Everest,


©John McGivering and John Radcliffe2020 All rights reserved