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

[Page 179, line 5] 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.

[Page 179, line 12] 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.

[Page 179, line 12] fane temple.

[Page 179, line 22] 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