A Pilgrim’s Way

(notes edited by John McGivering)

Publication history

ORG Volume 8, p. 5441 records first publication as the heading to “Up the River” the fourth of Kipling’s travel letters from his visit to Egypt in 1913, which first appeared in Nash’s and Cosmopolitan for September 1914. The first three verses without the title are as given in the two magazines. The complete poem appeared in Reveille Magazine of August, 1918 (six verses with variations).

It is collected in:

  • The Years Between 1919
  • Inclusive Verse 1919
  • Definitive Verse 1940
  • Sussex Edition vol. 33, page 425
  • Burwash Edition vol. 26
  • The Works of Rudyard Kipling, Wordsworth Poetry Library 1994

See David Alan Richards p. 246 for further details of publication and p. 712 for a musical setting.

Theme and criticism

This poem is linked to Kipling’s account of his journey up the Nile in 1913, part of a visit to Egypt which he had found enlivening after the tiresome traumas of British politics in that year, and an uncomfortable journey from Marseilles by P. & O. steamer. Egypt reminded him of the sounds and smells of Muslim cities in India, and—in the Valley of the Kings—caused him to reflect on its strange echoes of the ancient past, part of the marvellous variety of human life as he had rejoiced in it over the years as he wandered over the world.
`Dr Tompkins (p. 245) writes:

In middle life, in the cheerfully serious verses of “A Pilgrim’s Way” Kipling had insisted that:
Heaven and Hell which in our hearts we have
Show nothing irredeemable on either side the grave

As a young artist, loyally open to all that was ‘given, he had not needed this fortifying chant. As an old one, he was content to separate what he saw from what he hoped, and to present his hopes with a fantasy that acknowledges the insuffency of the human imagination before ultimate mystery.

Notes on the Text

[Title] “A Pilgrim’s Way”

This is a play on words, expressing two meanings, a way or method of performing some action, and a ‘Pilgrims’ Way’ or road leading to a shrine, like those of Thomas Becket at Canterbury—immortalised by Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales)—or Santiago de Compostella in northern Spain.

See our notes on the “Prologue to the Master-Cook’s Tale”, which is linked to “His Gift” in Land and sea Tales. Also “The Two-Sided Man”, the heading for Chapter 8 of Kim.

[Verse 2]

Amorite an ancient Semitic people living in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) some four thousand years ago.

Eremite a hermit or religious recluse.


[J McG.]

©John McGivering 2011 All rights reserved