The Master-cook

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in 1923 in Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides following the story “His Gift”. Listed in ORG as No. 1122.

Collected, as “The Master-Cook” in:

  • Inclusive Verse (1927)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xv1 and xxxiv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vols xiv and xxvii (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Pinney, p. 983

Part of Kipling’s game here is to write a plausible imitation of a Chaucer preamble that is in fact a self-contained poem which makes a point of its own, rather than leading up to anything further.  [D.H.]


Although Kipling’s ‘Preamble’ calls this a parody or imitation of the verses of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400) it is more ‘in the manner of’ and a delightful work in its own right. T.S. Eliot was unable to decide if Kipling wrote poetry or verse and this Editor is certainly not rushing in where he feared to tread! For more verses after the manner of Chaucer, see “The Justice’s Tale” and “ The Consolations of Memory”; also the story “Dayspring Mishandled” (Limits and Renewals).

Chaucer had an active and interesting life mainly in royal service as a poet, diplomatic emissary, customs official, and secret agent. The work here echoed is The Canterbury Tales, related by a party of pilgrims, who relieve the tedium of their journey to Canterbury by each telling a story, See The Oxford Companion to English Literature (Ed. Harvey, 1937, p. 134). Chaucer completed only twenty-three titles out of the twenty-nine or so projected, a total of some 17,000 lines, mainly in heroic couplets like Kipling’s parody. “The Cook’s Tale” is described as imperfect and omitted from some manuscripts.

See Steve Ellis, Chaucer (Oxford University Press 2005) for observations on Chaucer’s “Cook’s Tale” and “Prologue” which, he says (p. 78): ‘shows us the street life of late fourteenth-century London with an immediacy and energy without parallel elsewhere’.

Notes on the Text

As we have indicated, most of the
notes below are by Kipling himself

[Line 2] Rochelle: La Rochelle – a port on the west coast of France.

Angoulême: capital of the Department of Charente, some 270 miles southwest of Paris.

[line 6] marzipans: a kind of sticky sweetmeat. [R.K.]

[line 7] Caen:  city in Normandy, capital of the Department of Calvados, some 120 miles west-north-west of Paris.

[line 7] Burdeux snailés swote: Bordeaux is a major region on the western coast of France. Its snails are especially large and sweet. [R.K.]

[line 8] Seinte Menhoulde:  They grill pigs’ feet still at St. Menehoulde, not far from Verdun, better than anywhere else in all the world. [R.K.]

[line 10] wonne: gone – to get patés of ducks’ liver at Toulouse in southwest France; fatted poultry at Bourg in Bresse, on the road to Geneva; and very large chestnuts in sugar at Carcassone, about forty miles from Toulouse. [R.K.]

[line 11] Thuringie: This would probably be some sort of wild-boar ham from Germany. [R.K.]

[lines 14-15] manne liveth nat alone / By bredde: echoes of several Biblical quotations, including Matthew 4,4: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’

[line 16] purchasable: expensive. [R.K.]

[line 18] mortred: beaten up. [R.K.]

[line 19] carpe: sneer or despise. [R.K.]

[line 21] setteth him at boorde: brings him to table. [R.K.]

[line 25] sterve: starve. [R.K.]

[line 29] Holie Fader’s self: the Pope himself, who depends on his cook for being healthy and well-fed. [R.K.]

[line 31] disputison: dispute or argument. [R.K.]

[line 33] which follow them as schippe her gouvernail: Men are influenced by their cooks as ships are steered by their rudders. [R.K.]


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