The King

(notes by Alastair Wilson)

Publication History

The poem was first published, under the title “Romance”, in Under Lochnagar. This was an anthology, edited by R.A. Profeit and published in September 1894 by Taylor and Henderson in Aberdeen.

The poem was collected in The Seven Seas, published simultaneously in London and the USA on 30 October 1896: London, Methuen & Co. New York, D. Appleton & Co.
The Seven Seas was itself collected in the successive editions of Rudyard Kipling’s Inclusive Verse (1918, 1926, 1932) and Definitive Verse (1940): also in the Sussex Edition (Vol. XXXV) and the Burwash Edition (Vol, XXVIII).

The version of the poem published in The Seven Seas was substantially changed from the original text; see the Notes on the Text below.

Background and Theme

The circumstances surrounding the writing of this poem are not fully clear. The Carrington extracts from Carrie Kipling’s diary record:

“1894. 29 January. Begins Farewell Romance”.

They were then in ‘Naulakha’, at Brattleboro, Vermont. Later that year they spent a short holiday in Bermuda (27 February to 21 March), then to England (April to August). There is no further mention in the diary of the poem, nor of its publication.
Under Lochnagar was an anthology produced in aid of the rebuilding of Crathie parish church, on Deeside, in Aberdeenshire in northeast Scotland. Crathie is the parish in which the Queen’s Scottish home stands, and is the church which Her Majesty the Queen attended when she was in residence at Balmoral.

According to the Editorial Notice at the start of the book, the Heritors of the parish wished to rebuild the church and had raised a substantial sum, but needed more to complete it, more in keeping with its role as Her Majesty’s place of worship. To that end, Princess Beatrice (the Queen’s youngest daughter and companion) sponsored a bazaar to raise funds, and Mr. Profeit’s anthology was ‘The Book of the Bazaar’. He wrote:

The present volume is issued to the public in the hope that the fund arising from the Bazaar proper, may, to some extent be supplemented by the profits arising from its sale. Its production has been, for the Editor, a labour of love rendered, if that were possible, still more so by the hearty co-operation of those who have contributed to its pages. My warmest thanks are, therefore, due to all – artists, authors and composers – and I take this opportunity of cordially indorsing my indebtedness to them.

Among the artists who contributed were Sir E. Burne-Jones, Harry Furniss (a noted illustrator and cartoonist), Sir Frederick Leighton, and Gustave Doré. The authors included Andrew Lang, Henry Irving, Jerome K. Jerome, and Kipling, plus very many others whose names are less well-remembered today. It would seem possible that Kipling was approached by Ned Burne-Jones or Andrew Lang to contribute: but whether he wrote ‘Romance’, especially for the book, or sent it as being a piece he had by him, is not known.

Notes on the Text

]Verse 1] The Cave-man compares his hunting weapons, flint-tipped arrows, and jasper-tipped spears (jasper is a hard mineral, mostly used in ancient times as a gem-stone), with his ancestors’ bone-tipped weapons, and considers that Romance went out with the loss of bone-carving skills. And the Gods of the Hunt and the Dance are changed, too.

[Line 1] The Seven Seas version has “Cave-men”: the Under Lochnagar version has “Cave-man”.

[Line 5] Ralph Durand (p. 98) enlarges on “the Gods of Hunt and Dance” as follows:

If we may infer the religious beliefs of prehistoric men from those of primitive people of our own day, we may suppose that the gods of palaeolithic man were hunting gods, and that they were propitiated by ceremonial dances.

Durand goes on to give examples.

[Verse 2]
The Lake folk succeeded the Cave-men, who now live in caves in the hills, in which we no longer dare to live, but they are now our romantic past, and gone forever.

[Line 1] the Lake-folk:. see our note on “In the Neolithic Age”.

[Line 2] The Seven Seas version has “We lift”: Under Lochnagar has “We face”. In neither case can this Editor establish the meaning of this line.

We lift the weight of flatling years: “flatling years” are then simply years lived on the flatlands by the lake, rather than in the mountains, where Romance remains “Him who scorns” is certainly Romance, not the cave-man. Hence the capital H. Compare e.g. “He“, stanza 1, l.6; “His“, Verse 2, l.6; “He“, Verse 6, l.2; “His”, Verse 8, l. 1, 5). [D.H.]

[Line 5] The Seven Seas version has “whereby”: Under Lochnagar has “wherein”.

[Verse 3] The soldier of the Middle Ages deplores the fact that battles are no longer won in the old romantic way, by the strength of one’s sword-arm: now it is all bangs and bullets, and you cannot see the whites of your opponent’s eyes to know that you have gained honour in man-to-man combat.

[Line 2] sleight: The Oxford English Dictionary gives two meanings “craft or cunning, etc.” (essentially involving deception) or “slaughter”. Although the former meaning is the one usually used today, as in “sleight of hand”, it is suggested that Kipling is using the latter.
Although a swordsman may, indeed, use cunning, or artifice in his swordplay, the idea of honour in a fight, expressed in line 5, suggests that the writer would not countenance deceit, as implied by the first meaning.

[Line 4] The Seven Seas version has “arquebus”: Under Lochnagar has “musketoon”.

[Line 4] Ralph Durand enlarges on “Of aquebus and culverin”:

… the arquebus, the father of the musket and grand-father of the rifle, and the culverin, the progenitor of the modern field-gun, were not among the earliest types of firearm, but came into use in the sixteenth century (siege-guns first came into use the fourteenth), when the development of the use of gunpowder was making the bow and cross-bow obsolete, and thus revolutionising warfare.

[Verse 4] The trader deplores the fact that sailing the world is getting too easy: the winds and tides have been mapped, so that when we make a landfall, we can be reasonably assured that we are where we really want to be. In the romantic past, one sailed off into the sunset, ignorant of where we were going and how we would get back.
[Speaking as a seaman (of sorts) this Editor would suggest that Kipling has made a rather simplistic assertion on behalf of ‘the Traders’, but it is fair to say that from the start of the 16th century, the “Seven Seas” became bridges, rather than barriers.]

[Line 2] The Seven Seas version has “ha’ lain”: Under Lochnagar has “have talked”.

[Line 3] The Seven Seas version has “The dull-returning”: Under Lochnagar has “And sure-returning”.

[Line 4] The Seven Seas version has “the wharf”: Under Lochnagar has “the port”.

[Line 4] The dull-returning wind and tide / Heave up the wharf where we would be: The winds and tides blow or move as regularly as clockwork, and our destination heaves up over the horizon just where we thought it would be.

[Line 5] Durand enlarges on “The known and noted breezes” as follows:

The scientific mapping out of the prevailing winds of the world began in Germany at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and was soon taken up in England and America, At the present day
[he was writing in 1914 and such things have advanced considerably further since then: Ed.] charts are obtainable which lay down not only the regular winds but the tracks of recent storms and the courses they may be expected to take in the near future. the great maritime explorers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had to trust more to luck than to science, but it seems that Columbus, before undertaking his historic voyage, evolved a theory, which proved to be correct, as to the general trend of the North Atlantic winds.

[Line 6] The Seven Seas version has “trudging”: Under Lochnagar has “drudging”.

[Line 6] trudging sail: the sail which wearily drives us towards our destination; ‘drudging’ has a similar implication of being toilsome or laborious.

[Verse 5] The captain of the liner deplores the passing of the romance of sail. The steamship runs, as you might say, on tram-lines from port to port. We know to the minute the time we shall arrive at our next port of call.

[Line 3] Our dial marks full steam ahead: Today (2012) steam itself has effectively passed from ships’ engine rooms, but the telegraph dial still says ‘Full Ahead” – which, in the Merchant Service is taken to mean the normal economic speed at which the ship is expected to travel to keep to its schedule. [In fact, in all modern ships, the engine’s speed is controlled directly from the bridge, and the telegraph, if it is there, is there only for use in an emergency.]

[Line 4] half a turn: one half a revolution per minute (see “McAndrew’s Hymn” line 16 “three turns for Mistress Ferguson”.)

[Lines 5 and 6] The Seven Seas version has ‘Sure as the ferried barge we ply / ‘Twixt port and port’: Under Lochnagar has ‘Sure as the tidal trains we ply / ‘Twixt wharf and wharf’.

[Line 5] Sure as the ferried barge we ply: This Editor finds this imagery interesting. In the UK one does not usually associate barges, in the sense of towed floating containers for goods, with ferries. In the major ports such as London, Liverpool, and Glasgow barges would go along the river, but rarely directly across a river. But in the USA (where Kipling was writing this poem), such freight ferries exist (or existed then), as was pointed out by one of our correspondents when discussing the notes on “.007” (The Day’s Work).

And as something of an aside, in the Under Lochnagar version, the whole point about ‘the tidal trains’ was that they weren’t sure – their time varied with the tide on a daily basis. Charles Dickens had cause to know this – when he returned from the continent in 1865, his boat came into Folkestone, where the harbour was tidal, and the boat’s schedule varied from day to day according to when the state of the tide would permit the ferry to enter the harbour. Consequently, the connecting boat train’s schedule varied from day to day. Unhappily, a ganger replacing a rail near Staplehurst got the times muddled and did not replace the rail in time, so that the train derailed and fell into a stream with substantial loss of life, and to the detriment of Dickens’ health which was seriously affected by the accident.

[Verse 6] The regular railway traveller mourns the passing of the romantic era of the stage- and mail-coach and their red-coated guard blowing his horn to open a turnpike gate, or to warn the ostlers at the next inn that the change of horses would be wanted in five minutes. But they do not realise that romance had a similar part to play in preparing for the nine-fifteen “to town”. The iron horse has replaced the flesh-and-blood one, but needs just as much caring for: the engine whistle sounds to clear the road as much as did the coach-horn of the mail guard.

These six verses formed the original version as published in Under Lochnagar. In addition to the textual changes noted above, there were one or two changes in punctuation, which did not vary the sense of the verses.

[Verse 7] The author talks about the Boy-god, Romance, who is still as active as ever he was: his hand on the lever controlling the engine (ship or train) was just as romantic as the ship’s captain casting an eye to windward to spot the next squall, or the coach-driver trying to get the best out of a team of strange horses. The sound of the engine’s whistle on the prairie, or in the Yorkshire dales was as romantic as the mail-guard with his ‘yard of tin’. And in the days of the steam railway in the USA, the men servicing the steam locomotive in their various depots were known as ‘ostlers’, or ‘hostlers’ – thus maintaining a direct connection with their forebears who looked after the motive power of the mail- and stage-coaches

[Line 4] reeking banks: a reference to the Grand Banks, off Newfoundland, which lay across the main shipping lanes from Europe to Canada and the USA, and which were prone to fogs (see Captains Courageous)

[Verse 8] Romance is King – in everything: Wherever humans have their being, there is Romance, weaving his miracles, in a world which can only see behind itself, and doesn’t recognise a daily miracle when it sees it But here is Romance’s “chosen bard” – Kipling, yes, but there are others also – to say, “But Romance was here only yesterday.”


©Alastair Wilson 2012 All rights reserved