Max Desmarets, His Valentine

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the researched of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


There is a version handwritten by Kipling on a small gilt-edged card, dated 14 February 1884, with grotesque illustrations and an end-note ‘The ende of the Valentine’. Rutherford notes that the original was in the possession of Miss M.E. Macdonald. Pinney notes that there is a photocopy in the Baldwin papers at the University of Sussex.

The poem was not collected by Kipling but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 213) and Pinney (p. 1719).

The Poem

Maximilian Desmarets was Head of the Secret Department of Police in Paris in 1810. Kipling played the part in Plot and Passion, a play put on by the Lahore Amateurs in December 1883. For further details see “Preadmonisheth ye Ghoste of Desmarets”.

The Feast of St Valentine, February 14th, has been celebrated in England since the 18th Century as a time when people send romantic greetings – called ‘valentines’ – to their loved ones, often anonymously. In this poem, the ghost of Desmarets speaks from his grave. Verses 2 and 3 describe his condition as a skeleton in his coffin. In the last verse he calls on all the heavenly bodies to find his dead love and tell her that he is ‘her true Valentine’.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

Père-la-Chaise The Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Paris, and the most visited necropolis in the world.

gamin urchin, street-arab (French).

List to archaic form of ‘listen to’.

[Verse 4]

Hades was the Greek god of the dead and the King of the Underworld.

Proserpine Commonly spelt with a final ‘a’ Proserpina was Hades’ queen in Roman mythology.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved