The Prayer

(notes by John Radcliffe)


This poem was first published in December 1901 as a heading to chapter xiv of Kim (p. 158)  and collected in Songs from Books and the later verse collections.

Confusingly, in the American edition of Songs from Books (1912),  “The Prayer” is entitled “A Song of Kabir”. This is in fact a different poem linked to “The Miracle of Purun Baghat” in The Second Jungle Book. The confusion must have arisen because both poems are concerned with ‘Kabir’. This was remedied the following year in the English edition of Songs from Books (1913)  which unlike the American edition also included the poems from The Jungle Books. 

.It is collected as “A Prayer” in:

  • Songs from Books (1913)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vols xxi and xxxiv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vols xvi and xxvii (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 788.

The poem

The poem is an affirmation of the belief, long-held by Kipling, that all religions are ultimately seeking the same truths, a belief that shines through Kim. The boy himself is able to move freely between creeds. His mentors, whom he respects impartially, include the Lama, a devout Buddhist; Mahbub Ali, a Muslim; Colonel Creighton and Father Victor, who are Christians; and Hurree Babu, outwardly a Hindu, but with an intellectual Bengali’s fascination with European, as well as Indian, ideas, and a healthy respect for witchcraft.

In “The Miracle of Purun Baghat”, Purun Dass is a high-caste Hindu, who relinquishes his career as a senior administrator to become a wandering saddhu, pondering endlessly on the meaning of life.

Notes on the text

[Line 2]

to stone and brass in heathen wise:   See line 1 of ‘The ‘Eathen: [D.H.]

The ‘eathen in ‘is blindness bows down to wood ‘an stone.

A line from the missionary hymn written by Bishop Heber (1783-1826), Bishop of Calcutta 1823-1826, No. 358 in Hymns, Ancient and Modern and generally known as “From Greenland’s icy mountains” it was immensely popular, particularly in the United States. In “The ‘Eathen” Kipling likens the conversion of the raw recruit straight off the streets into a trained soldier to the way in which Missionary Societies then sought to convert the populations of non-Christian countries to Christianity.

The same hymn is quoted in l. 36 of “Route Marchin”  [D.H.]


©John Radcliffe 2018 All rights reserved