New Lamps for Old

(Notes by John McGivering)

Publication history

First publication in the Pioneer of 1 January, 1889, reprinted in the Pioneer Mail , 2 January 1889. See ORG Volume 8, page 5245 (Verse No. 360). Collected in:

  • Edition de Luxe vol. XVIII (Early Verse), Macmillan 1900
  • Outward Bound Edition vol. XVII (Early Verse) Scribner’s 1900
  • Sussex Edition vol. XXXII p. 118 (Departmental Ditties: Barrack-Room Ballads) Macmillan 1938
  • Burwash Edition vol. XXV (Departmental Ditties: Barrack-Room Ballads) Doubleday, Doran, 1941

Lloyd Chandler  
(Summary of the Works of Rudyard Kipling, Grolier Club, New York 1930) also refers to “The Conundrum of the Workshops”. ORG notes (p. 5246) ‘slight alterations in the lines in the Sussex Edition from those which first appeared in 1889.’ For this entry we have drawn on Rutherford’s Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (OUP 1986 p. 445), which has the advantage of his notes and further details of publication. The book is reviewed in KJ 238/54.

See also David Richards pp. 142 and 344.


The poem dwells on mankind’s endless search for something new and something better than the old. Too often people are disappointed in their hopes and betrayed by those who promise great rewards for change. Often it brings disaster. More and more, throughout his life, Kipling valued continuity with the past, and was hostile to change for its own sake. Roger Ayers writes:

It is interesting that, in a little under two years from writing “New Lamps for Old”, Kipling reused the first line almost word for word in “The Conundrum of the Workshops”, a much more subtle attack on the attraction of new fashions in art than the rather shrill attack on blindly accepting everything new which he had expressed in “New Lamps for Old”.

This period was also the time of his translation from colonial India to settling down in metropolitan London and the substitution of the one poem for the other is, I believe, a reflection of the change that this brought about. That he had rejected the intemperance of ‘New Lamps’ can be inferred from the fact that it was never collected in any Inclusive or Definitive Verse editions. [R.C.A.]

Notes on the Text

[Title] In the Arabian folk-tale, “Aladdin and the Wonderrful Lamp”, a poor boy discovers a magic lamp, which brings him riches. A wicked sorcerer steals the lamp, by offering “New Lamps for Old” to Aladdin’s servant, a poor bargain since the old one was priceless; hence Kipling’s title. Aladdin succeeds in slaying the sorcerer and recovering the lamp, so all ends well for him.

The story has become a traditional pantomime on the English stage, and a version of it was performed by Stalky Beetle and Turkey in “Slaves of the Lamp”, Part 1 in Stalky & Co..

Kipling loved to write in the style of Arabian tales; see “The Butterfly that Stamped” (Just So Stories), “Railway Reform in Great Britain”, and “The City of Brass”.

[Verse 1]

When the flush of the new-born sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold Similar to the first line of “The Conundrum of the Workshops”, which has ‘a new-born sun’.

Tree the Tree of Life, or the Tree of Knowledge, which God planted in the Garden of Eden; see Genesis 2,17.

Adam The first man, who lived with his wife Eve in the Garden of Eden; see Genesis, chapters 2 and 3. Adam also figures in “The Conundrum of the Workshops”.

twain two

[Verse 2]

Eden-tree see ‘Tree’ in Verse 1.

their sons Cain who cultivated the land, and his brother Abel. who was a shepherd; see Genesis, Chapter 4.

branded Cain Abel’s animal sacrifice was accepted by God, while Cain’s offer from his crops was rejected. So Cain murdered his brother:

And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
[Genesis 4, 15.]

[Verse 3]

gat got

a town ‘And Cain knew his wife: and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.’ [Genesis, 4, 17].

Tubal See Genesis 4, 22:


And Zillah, she also bore Tubal-cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.

travailed suffered painful or laborious effort. Archaic, but the same word as the French travail, meaning ‘work’.

rain the great Flood, which covered the face of the Earth; see below and Genesis, Chapters 6, 7 and 8.

Ark the huge vessel God ordered Noah to build to save his family, and the world’s animals from the Flood; see Genesis 6,14.

Noah loosened the Dove When the waters began to go down, Noah sends a dove out to find dry land: ‘Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground’ [Genesis 8, 11].

[Verse 5]

eyeless eft a newt – an amphibian creature related to the Salamandridae family. They go through three stages of growth: aquatic larva, terrestrial juvenile (an eft), and the adult newt.

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection by Charles Darwin, one of the great scientific works of the modern age, was published in 1859. It was at first widely ridiculed by the public, since the idea that mankind was descended from blind marine creatures
—or even monkeys—contradicted traditional Christian teachings.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera “Princess Ida” (1884.) contains a song in Act
II, which ends:

While Darwinian man, though well-behaved,
At best is only a monkey shaved.

[Verse 6]

altars East and West Christian churches are usually built with the altar at the East end, and transepts North and South.

[Verse 7]

the sons of Adam mankind in general.

a noose of the thundering belfry’s rope The bells ring out a full joyful peal, but perhaps an unfortunate ringer gets a fatal turn around his neck.

[Verse 9]

Lilith Adam’s first wife, according to Rabbinical tradition. Dante Gabriel Rossetti describes her revenge on Adam in his poem “Eden Bower”, published in 1870. [See  “Lileth and Eden’s Bower”.]

[Verse 10]

Job (Pronounced JOBE with a long “O”.) see the Book of the same name in the Old Testament in which Job undergoes many sufferings.

[Verse 11]

the Schools scholars of the Middle Ages.


[J McG.]

©John McGivering 2011 All rights reserved