A Murder in the Compound

(notes by John Radcliffe and John McGivering)


Published in Echoes by Two Writers in Lahore in August 1884. Listed in ORG as No 120.

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.

The poem

A macabre description of the scene where the body of a woman is found, the discoloured grass, the dried stream of blood, blackened by the sun, the flies around her lips, and the carrion crows, dropping merrily down from the branches to their prey. Rutherford notes (p. 187) that the Civil and Military Gazette of 3rd. April 1883 reported:

A native woman was found, this afternoon, lying with her throat cut, in the compound of the Civil and Military Gazette office. The police are endeavouring to find some clue to the murder.

The poem is a carefully crafted exercise in the form of a sonnet. Kipling does not acknowledge the ‘echo’ of any particular earlier poet. In line 11 Echoes has ‘the crows hold conclave high’, altered to ‘the crows are gathered now’ in later collections.


Kipling left United Services College in July 1882, where he had read widely and written copiously, determined to become a published poet. In October, at the age of sixteen, he became Assistant Editor of the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore. where he was plunged into the daily grind of newspaper production, in a strange land, with a fearfully demanding climate, and a heavy workload. During 1883, the year in which the murder was committed, there were periods when he was left alone to manage the paper.

He was sustained by his home life with his parents, though there were times when they were away, and – from December of that year – 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 is clearly Kipling’s own work.

Ten years later, in “Love o’ Women” he wrote:

The horror, the confusion, and the separation of the murderer from his comrades were all over before I came. There remained only on the barrack-square the blood of man calling from the ground. The hot sun had dried it to a dusky goldbeater-skin film, cracked lozenge-wise by the heat; and as the wind rose, each lozenge, rising a little, curled up at the edges as if it were a dumb tongue. Then a heavier gust blew all away down wind in grains of dark coloured dust.

Notes on the Text

[line 10]

corn-ridge for the better cultivation of crops such as maize the earth can be pulled up into ridges.

siris trees Also known as silk trees. The Sussex edition has ‘acacia’, commonly known as wattle. See the verse Lichtenberg.

[line 14]

merrily ‘silently’ in Kipling’s Notebook 1.

drop down the crows wait until she is dead and come down to feed on the body.


©John Radcliffe and John McGivering2017 All rights reserved