The Prairie

(notes by John McGivering)


First published with the article “The Fortunate Towns” in the Morning Post on April 16th, 1908, one of eight “Letters to the Family” on Kipling’s visit to Canada in 1907.

Collected in

  • Songs from Books (1912)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Vol. 24 p. 201 and Vol. 34 p. 24
  • Burwash Edition Vols 19 and 27
  • Wordsworth Edition Poems of Rudyard Kipling (2001)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 681

The poem

The poem celebrates Kipling’s affection and admiration for the magnificent prairie country of Western Canada, which he rejoiced in during his visit in 1907. See Alastair Wilson’s notes on Kipling’s articles from his Canadian journeys, Letters to the Family, collected in Letters of Travel, 1902-1913 published in 1920.

See also the speeches delivered during his tour of Canada in October 1907, and KJ 317 for March 2006 page 19: “Rudyard Kipling’s 1907 cross-Canada speaking tour”, by Dr Jay Johnson, of Medicine Hat College, Alberta.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

leagues: an ancient measure of distance, usually taken to be three miles, here meaning ‘a very long way.’

[Verse 3]

wheat: Vast areas of wheat are cultivated in Canada; this presumably refers to rain at the right time for the crop to germinate.

telephone: in this instance the classic ‘ear to the ground’ which will sometimes transmit the sound of approaching horsemen.

[Verse 4]

a million sheaves: From time immemorial corn had been cut by scythe or sickle, made up in bundles called sheaves, and arranged in groups called ‘stooks’ to dry until taken into a barn for the grain to be thrashed out. Patrick Bell invented a reaper in Scotland in 1826 which mechanised the first process, while Hiram Moore in the United States in 1834 invented the combine harvester which both cut and threshed the corn; both were hauled by mules, horses or oxen. In 1885 Hugh Victor McKay brought out an improved combine harvester in Australia; such machines were in use in North America at the beginning of the twentieth century, some hauled by twenty horses.

[Verse 5]

I possess: the twenty acres of wilderness Kipling bought in Vancouver, which – as Birkenhead (p. 135) reports – unfortunately did not belong to the vendor.

[J McG]

©John McGivering 2017 All rights reserved