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”.

A rendition of Percy Grainger’s setting is to be here.

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

[Stanza 2]

[line 2] steep: soak. (P.H.)

[line 3] tyre: curdled milk or cream beginning to turn sour. From the Tamil, tayir.

[line 4] riven: dragged.

byre: farm-shed. (P.H.)

[lines 10-12] 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.

[line 20]  the Lena Falls  We have not traced waterfalls of this name in India, though there are celebrated Lena Falls in New South Wales. Kipling is clearly  writing here of the Indian jungle, so it seems likely that he used the name because it sounded right. {J.R.]

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




© Philip Holberton 2012 All rights reserved