Our Lady of Many Dreams

(notes by John Radcliffe andJohn McGivering)


Published in Echoes by Two Writers in Lahore in August 1884. Listed in ORG as No 120.
Rutherford (p. 131) notes that there are three different versions of this poem in Kipling’s notebooks. two of six stanzas, and one of three. The version published in Echoes and subsequently collected, has four. Rutherford notes also that the version in Notebook 1 has a subheading ‘Old Style’, and the reference ‘Paris, rue de la jolie Mericourt’, and that the version in Notebook 3 is dated March 1882.

Kipling also wrote a quite different unpublished poem to be found in Notebook 1, under the same title, but with the subheading ‘New Style’, also dated March 1882.

The version of the ‘Old Style’ poem published in Echoes is 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. Andrew Rutherford , p. 187
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Pinney, p. 1248; and see also p. 1641

The poem

The poem asserts the over-riding – even dominant – authority of womanhood. At a time when the world of affairs, politics, the military, business, the law, journalism, the church, are firmly in the hands of men, it insists that ultimately power lies with ‘Our Lady of Many Dreams’. Men may pray to God the Father above, but she rules below, and the work of men is done in her service. Using archaic wording, he implies it has always been so.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that in both the published and unpublished versions of this poem, the striving young Kipling was wrestling with his own sense of powerlessness in the face of his passion for Florence Garrard, whom he had met the previous summer. The unpublished New Style poem. under the same title, seems to confirm this view, sadly evoking the scenes in which he had spent time with his elusive love.

Leaving aside Flo Garrard, it is also worth recalling Rudyard’s respect for female judgement. Ever since starting to write poetry at the age of thirteen, he had set great store by the responses to his work from various older women, including his mother, Alice, Edith Plowden, Hannah Winnard and the Craik sisters, his Aunt Edith, and Mrs Tavenor Perry, to whom he sent many poems which were never seen by his schoolfellows, including this one. (See chapter 3 of The Unforgiving Minute by Harry Ricketts, on “Beetle in Love”.)

So was the young Kipling an early feminist or simply a frustrated lover ? Jan Montefiore:

It’s not necessarily either/ or, is it? Certainly more than a frustrated lover, but I find it difficult to read even the young Rud as an early feminist. So I’m not quite sure about the Woman figure being ascribed authority – to me, the feeling of the poem seems closer to what a Robertson Davies character calls ‘chivalry’. I mean that Madonna invoked is invested with reverence and dedication, she is not so much a judge as an inspiration. And I’m sure it is right to see Flo as his muse. This would chime with his later insistence on the primitive power of the Female of the Species.


That said, the point about RK’s respect for (some) women’s judgment of his work is very well taken. He had respect for women writers too, he quotes or alludes to a surprising number of women poets. The whole question of his perception of women is complex and very interesting.

Kipling and Florence Garrard

As a schoolboy of fourteen Rudyard fell in love with the beautiful Flo Garrard, who was an art student, a year older than he, who had already befriended his sister Trix. Though they corresponded, his feelings do not seem to have been reciprocated.
Many of his early poems, published and unpublished, reflect his rather tortured relationship with her: see
“Caret” ,
“The Lesson” ,
“Credat Judaeus” , and
“Solus cum Sola” .

Despite a rebuff earlier that year, in the autumn of 1882 when he sailed to India to work as a journalist, he evidently still saw himself as engaged to her. He must have continued to write to her from Lahore, until, some time before July 1884, she evidently wrote to break off any understanding they might have had. See
Angus Wilson (p. 153). .


Rudyard’s work at the Civil and Military Gazette was demanding, and working conditions in the hot weather punishing. He was sustained by his home life with his parents, and – from December 1883 – by a happy partnership with his young sister ‘Trix’ with whom he played word games and other literary inventions, and wrote parodies. Several of these were published in Echoes by Two Writers. This poem, Kipling’s own work written two years before, was presented to the world as an ‘Echo’.
Harry Ricketts (p. 65) observes that several of these poems had a heavily disguised biographical underlayer:

Echoes not only allowed Rud to recycle older work as intentionally parodic, but provided him with a ready-made mask for his private emotions.


See also:

“His Consolation” (1882)
“The City of the Heart” (1884)
The Light that Failed. (1891).

Also three unpublished poems to be found in Thomas Pinney’s Cambridge Edition (2013) of Kipling’s poems:

“Parting” (p. 1613)
“An Ending” (p. 1649)
“Discovery” (p. 1653)

And in later years:

“The Winners” (1888) (‘White hands cling to the bridle-rein. slipping the spur from the booted heel’) ,
“The Betrothed” (1888) (‘A woman is only a woman. but a good cigar is a smoke’)
“The Female of the Species” (1911) (‘The female of the species is more deadly than the male’).

In 1886 Kipling wrote in “Three and—an Extra”, collected in Plain Tales from the Hills :

Then said Mrs. Hauksbee to me – she looked a trifle faded and jaded in the lamplight – ‘Take my word for it, the silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it needs a very clever woman to manage a fool.’


©John Radcliffe and John McGivering2017 All rights reserved