A Profession of Faith

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the research of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


There are versions in Kipling’s handwriting in Notebooks 1 and 3, both dated 17 February 1882. See Andrew Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 118, and Pinney p. 1625.

The Poem

The poem is a traditional sonnet. It is clearly addressed to Flo Garrard, the beautiful art student with whom the young Kipling had become infatuated in the summer of 1880, when he was fourteen, and she a year older. The poet looks back over the past year. Though he and his love had been through many painful times together, he cannot think of turning to some strange woman who knows nothing of their tortuous relationship. ‘Surely’. he declares, ‘old Love is sweeter far than new.’

But in a changed mood Kipling added a later gloss in Notebook 1, which may suggest the opposite:

And how can we pray at an empty shrine? /
And how can we call on a goddess that’s flown? /
Come, come away, sweet mistress mine /
And build up a temple all our own.


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved