The Only Son

(notes by Philip Holberton)


This poem (ORG No. 598) was first published in seventeen lines as a heading to “In the Rukh” in Many Inventions (1893). It was enlarged to twenty-six lines for Songs from Books (1912) and later verse collections: Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse, The Sussex Edition and The Burwash Edition.

It should not be confused with the lines at the head of Chapter XI of The Light that Failed, or the fourth of the “Epitaphs of the War”.

The poem

Although “In the Rukh” is about Mowgli in his later years as a forest ranger, it was the first story Kipling wrote about him. This was the first of Kipling’s poems about his upbringing by Mother Wolf, hence his later interest in extending the poem after the other Mowgli stories had been written. In Many Inventions the first line has nothing to rhyme with, but in Songs from Books it becomes the fourth line and rhymes with the third. It is possible that there was a draft of the full poem which was tailored to fit onto the page. There are also small variations between the two, e.g. ‘blackbuck‘ for ‘sambhur‘.


Notes on the Text

[line 10] steep soak. (P.H.)

[line 11] riven dragged. byre farm-shed. (P.H.)

[lines 11-14] The Only Son has the keen sight, hearing and sense of smell of a wolf. See “Kaa’s Hunting” The Jungle Book p. 46 line 9: ‘Eyes that can see in the dark; ears that can hear the winds in their lairs…. these things are the marks of our brothers.

And “Hunting-Song of the Seeonee Pack” verse 3 line 4, ‘and Eyes that can see in the dark – the dark!‘ .

[line 15] tyre curdled milk or cream beginning to turn sour. From the Tamil, tayir.

[line 22] Sambhur a large Indian deer, genus rusa. The best known of the five species within this genus, Rusa unicolor is a very massive animal standing as much as 54 inches (some 140 cm) at the shoulder, with, in the case of some stags, antlers up to 45 or 50 inches (130 cm) in length.





© Philip Holberton 2012 All rights reserved