This poem, written when he was no older than fourteen, was never published by Kipling. Between November 1878 and March 1880 the younger members of the Burne-Jones and Morris families produced a hand-written magazine, The Scribbler, to which the young Kipling submitted a number of poems. (Edward Burne-Jones, the distinguished painter, was married to Georgiana MacDonald, Kipling’s much-loved “Aunt Georgie”.)
The poem was found in an editorial portfolio of The Scribbler, signed “Nickson”, apparently for a proposed number which never came out. See Andrew Rutherford (p. 49).
The poem takes as its starting-point Job 2.9:
“Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? Curse God and die.”
It is spoken by Job’s wife, giving all the reasons why Death is better than the Misery of continued Life, and written in the classic 14-line form of a sonnet.
The story of Job
Job figures in both the Christian Old Testament, and in Jewish sacred writings.
He is a virtuous and wealthy man, who is the victim of a debate between God and Satan, who argues that he is only virtuous because God has blessed him. God allows Satan to take away Job’s wealth and his children, and afflict him with sore boils, but he continues to praise God. His wife urges him to curse God and die. He challenges God, insisting on his own righteousness, but remains faithful, and is restored to his fortune.
Jan Montefiore comments:
As a poem I see this as merely a competent if wordy paraphrase of the biblical ‘Curse God and die’, but its subject is pretty startling for a 13 year old. In “Baa Baa Black Sheep” (1888), the fearsome account of Rudyard’s experience as a foster child, under the authority of a cruel godly self-righteous woman, there’s an allusion to just this quotation. Punch and Judy discover their world is shattered, and can’t curse God and die, so they cry and cry. Rudyard can only have written the poem a year or two after escaping from what he called the ‘House of Desolation.’ [J.M.]
This is what Kipling wrote in 1888, some seven years after writing this poem (Wee Willie Winkie, p. 280):
When a matured man discovers that he has been deserted by Providence, deprived of his God, and cast without help, comfort, or sympathy, upon a world which is new and strange to him, his despair, which may find expression in evil living, the writing of his experiences, or the more satisfactory diversion of suicide, is generally supposed to be impressive. A child, under exactly similar circumstances as far as its knowledge goes, cannot very well curse God and die. It howls till its nose is red, its eyes are sore, and its head aches. Punch and Judy, through no fault of their own, had lost all their world. They sat in the hall and cried…
Notes on the Text
[ Line 6] Love is not. Love does not exist.
[Line 14] Lethe The river of forgetfulness in the underworld in classical mythology. See Rutherford .
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