The Puzzler

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in Actions and Reactions in 1909, where it follows the story of the same name. Also collected in Songs from Books (1912) with an added fourth stanza, the Sussex Edition Volume 8 page 215, and Volume 34 page 53; the Burwash Edition, Volumes 8 and 27; also, with slight variations, Definitive Verse, and the 2013 Cambridge Edition.

Youtube has a recording of Sir Roger Moore reading this poem.

The poem

The story is a light-hearted farce about the way in which a little sang froid can enable one to avoid blame in tricky situations. The poem has rather more to say on its own account.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1] The Celt one of the Gaelic-speaking peoples of Western Europe, including the Irish, Welsh, Bretons etc. Kipling would have mainly had the Irish in mind.

Builth  Builth Wells in mid-Wales. [D.H.]

[Verse 2] psychology study of the nature and function of the human mind.

[Verse 3] smoking-room a comfortably-furnished room with a bar, once provided in hotels, liners and large houses where women were not admitted, and men could relax with a drink and a smoke.

[Verse 4] (added later to the Actions and Reactions version):

Yes, sometimes in a smoking-room, through clouds of “Ers” and “Ums,”
Obliquely and by inference, illumination comes,
On some step that they have taken, or some action they approve –
Embellished with the argot of the Upper Fourth Remove

argot of the Upper Fourth Remove schoolboy slang from Middle School.

[Verse 5] telegraphic sentences as few words as possible – in the late 1930s telegrams were charged at nine words for sixpence (2 ½ pence in current decimal currency)

[Verse 5] Valencia there are several places so called, in Spain and South America, but this must be the island off the coast of Co. Kerry in south-west Ireland.

Kirkwall Principal town of the Orkney Islands, off the north-east coast of Scotland. With Valencia it could be said to represent the limits of the lands of the Celt.


©John McGivering 2020 All rights reserved