My Lady’s Law

(notes by Philip Holberton)


The poem, without a title, and without verses 5 and 6, forms the heading to the final chapter (XXI) of The Naulahka, published in December 1892. It is listed in ORG as no 549A. ORG notes an alternative title: “The Law and the Lady”.

Collected in:

  • Songs from Books (1912)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vols xix and xxxiv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vols xv and xxvii (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Pinney, p. 812

Peter Bellamy’s rendition  is to be found here.

The poem

This poem reflects the relationships in the final chapter of the novel. Tarvin, the hero of the book, has done things that Kate Sheriff disapproves of. He does not understand what he has done wrong, but he is prepared to follow her code of morals just because it is hers.
The first two serses echo a sentence on p. 318 of the book: ‘She could not know … how entirely he must always define morality as what pleased Kate.’

Notes on the Text

[Verse 3]

argosies: large merchant ships.

[Verse 4]

spiced sail: the argosies (from Asia) were richly loaded with spices

Sans: French for ‘without’.

gear: wealth.

[Verse 6]

clean: completely.

[Verse 7]

sore bond: tightly bound to his Lady’s Law.

freest free: with no other limit on his conduct

©Philip Holberton 2017 All rights reserved