The Portent

(notes by Lisa Lewis and Susan Treggiari)


First published in Debits and Credits (1926), where it introduces the story “The Prophet and the Country”.


This is the third of Kipling’s poems in imitation of the Roman poet Horace to be written for Debits and Credits. See also “To the Companions”, “The Survival” and “The Last Ode.”

In the accompanying story, an American laments in farcical language the effect on his people of the Volstead Act prohibiting alcohol, and the hostile reception that his proposed film denouncing it had received. “The Portent” mocks the attitudes of the Act’s supporters.


Notes on the Text

[Stanza 1 ] Varus  Horace’s Book I, Ode 18 is addressed to Varus. It is a poem in praise of wine, Venus, and Bacchus/Liber. It is not clear why Kipling uses the name here. Irony perhaps? In Q.Horatii Flacci Carminum Liber Quintus by Kipling and a group of classicist friends (see the Notes on “To the Companions”), Charles Graves has a parody in which Horace himself gives up wine and supports Prohibition.

[Stanza 3]   Bacchus  classical god of wine. This may be an echo of The Bacchae of Euripides, in which a king tries to suppress the rites of the god on moral grounds and is torn to pieces by his worshippers. Kipling owned several volumes of plays by Euripides, in Gilbert Murray’s translations.

fane  temple.

[Stanza 5]   lead without   perhaps refers to the traditional lead lining of a coffin; Death is an underlying theme in the story “The Prophet and the Country.” It could also recall the lead cap sealing a wine bottle.



©Lisa Lewis, Susan Treggiari 2005 All rights reserved