Naaman’s Song

(notes edited by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


First published in Limits and Renewals (1932), where it follows “Aunt Ellen.” Collected in the Sussex Edition volume 11 page 141 and volume 34 page 408, Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse.

Some critical comments

Hilton Brown (p. 194) confuses Naaman with Naboth.

Bodelsen looks at these verses and “Aunt Ellen” in his Chapter 1, “The Revelation of Mirth”, observing in a footnote to page 26:

This is a reference to a theme of film-making that occupies a prominent place in the story. The accompanying poem …. takes its cue from Naaman’s reply to Elisha when the prophet tells him that he will be cured of leprosy if he bathes seven times in the Jordan…. (which) …. clearly stands for Hollywood….. I believe that Kipling wanted to suggest an analogy between what he regarded as the preposterous plots of contemporary films and the crazy events which lead up to the Comic Experience in the story: if it comes to that sort of thing, he and his ‘demon’ can do better than Hollywood.

The story is told in the Second Book of Kings, Chapter 5, and mentioned in Luke, 5, 27, but it should be noted that Tzaarath, a transliteration of the Hebrew, a complaint mentioned in chapters 13-14 of Leviticus which afflicts humans, clothing and houses, was mistranslated as ‘leprosy’ in early versions of the Bible in English even though it has nothing whatever to do with that illness and is more akin to psoriasis. See also Luke 4,27.

Notes on the text

[Verse 1]

Israelites Is this perhaps a reference to the fact that so many of the big Hollywood studio owners, and so many people in the US movie business in general, were Jews? [D.H.]

[Verse 5]

Pharpar … Abana … Damascus   See 2 Kings. 5.12 –

Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel

Damascus is the capital of Syria.

Hermon] Mount Hermon in the anti-Lebanon. The Abana, if it is the Barada, does indeed rise in the Anti-Lebanon – whether precisely within the Mt Hermon mountain cluster is beyond my topographical knowledge.

They perish fighting desert-sands   both the Pharpar (Awaj?) and Abana flow into the desert past Damascus, not into the sea.Is this poem about a writer’s refusal to go write for Hollywood, at a time (the beginning of talkies) when writers were in hot demand there? If so, the choice of Naaman for Kipling’s allegory seems self-satirical, since Naaman’s decision was foolish, and he also went back on it.  [D.H.]



©John McGivering and John Radcliffe2020 All rights reserved