Our Lady of the Snows

(notes by Mary Hamer)

Publication history

The Times, April 27 1897; New York Sun, May 9 1897; the Critic, May 15 1897. Reprinted with Departmental Ditties in 1898 in New York and in Twenty Poems from Kipling 1918.
Collected in The Five Nations, I.V., 1919, D.V., 1940, the Sussex Edition, vol.33 and the Burwash Edition, vol.26.


The document taken to be the first autograph draft notes that this was written at 7 Beacon Terrace Torquay, Monday morning April 26 1897. Three days earlier, on the feast of St George, the patron saint of England, the Canadian House of Commons had voted to give more favourable terms to imports from Britain than from the rest of the world. They had followed this by singing ‘God Save the Queen’, the English national anthem, before the House adjourned. Further legislation favourable to Britain might be expected, following the Imperial conferences which were to be held during the Jubilee celebrations of that summer.

Kipling chose to keep only book copyright in this poem: ‘I want papers to quote it like anything’ he wrote to Moberly Bell, Editor of The Times, in May 1897 [Letters Vol 2, Ed. Pinney]. By August, however, he was reporting that there had been complaints: ‘I am-to put it mildly – supposed to be scaring away immigrants by misrepresenting the climate of the Dominion.’ (Letters Vol 2, Ed. Pinney).

Notes on the Text

(by Mary Hamer, drawing on various sources, in particular
Ralph Durand, “A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling” 1914.)

[Title] Our Lady of the Snows: possibly in acknowledgement of the religion of French Canadians, this title seems to echo the litany of the Virgin which is recited in Roman Catholic liturgy.

See the legend of the foundation of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome. [D.H.].

[Stanza 2] White Man’s law: Though the phrase constitutes a problem for today’s readers, Kipling has in mind by it a system of order and justice whose function it is to keep a society stable in a form that he could accept.

Gentiles’ clamour: When it was asked whether Germany and Belgium might not object to especially favourable trade terms being offered to Britain, the Canadian Finance minister, Fielding, made it clear that it was a matter of indifference to him.

Daniel Weiss adds: ‘The concept of ’the Gentiles’  derives ultimately from Rabbinic literature. It became used primarily to refer to those who worshipped other gods.’ [D.W.]

bow the knee to Baal:  Daniel Weiss notes: Baal in the Hebrew Bible is used in a general sense for pagan deities that Israel transgresses by worshipping.’ [D.W.]

[Stanza 3] stumbling-block to my foes: an obstacle in the way because incomprehensible, repugnant to the ideas of Canada’s foes; the poet’s second attempt to draw on the language of the Bible in the interests of dignity and authority. Cf. 1 Corinthians 8,9.

Many there be that hate us: See note to ‘Gentiles’ clamour’ above.

[Stanza 4] The din of a troubled year: 1896, the year in which Sir Wilfrid Lurier put forward his proposal for the tariff this poem celebrates had been marked by international friction over the Venezuela Boundary question, a long-standing problem. Venezuela was disputing Britain’s ownership of territory adjacent to Venezuela in the area known as British Guiana, now Guyana. When the United States became involved that caused further tension, this time between Britain and the States.

A sign ye would not see … hear: This language is Biblical in tone. The notion of ‘the sign’ sent from God recurs throughout the Bible but I have not found a precise reference.

[Stanza 5] To the Queens of the East and the South: if Canada is Queen in her own right, then Queen of the South may be Australia, it is not so easy to be sure who is Queen of the East If east from Canada, possibly South Africa?

Daniel Hadas suggests: I think the Queen of the East must indeed be South Africa. This would get the five nations into the poem, since the Queen of the South could comprise both New Zealand and Australia. Compare ‘The Young Queen‘. “Queen of the South” in any case echoes the name given to the Queen of Sheba at Matthew 12.42; Luke 11:31. [D.H.]

proven faith in the Heritage: demonstrated solidarity with the cultural inheritance held in common with England.

Ere the world’s war-trumpet blows: Kipling was quite expecting that Britain and America might soon be at war over the Venezuela boundary issue.


©Mary Hamer 2007 All rights reserved