(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


Published in Echoes by Two Writers in Lahore in August 1884. Subtitled (Swinburne). Listed in ORG as No 124. Not to be confused with an earlier unpublished poem of the same name, see Andrew Rutherford (Ed.) p.106, Pinney, Poems of Rudyard Kipling (Cambridge 2013) p. 1607.

Collected in

  • The Outward Bound Edition vol xvii (1900)
  • Edition de Luxe vol xviii (1900)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Andrew Rutherford , p. 241
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Pinney, p. 1242. .

The poem

It is a dull day on a grey shore. There is a rushing wind, waves drive onto the rocks and sea birds seek their prey. A savage and desolate scene. Then comes hope of escape. A swift swallow flashes high across the sky. But it will not wait for the poet, sad, and imprisoned in his sorrow. It is a rollicking alliterative ballad, relishing the sheer joy of expression. but it expresses sadness and frustrated longing.


Kipling left United Services College in July 1882, where he had read widely and written copiously, determined to become a published poet. In October, at the age of sixteen, he became Assistant Editor of the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore. where he was plunged into the daily grind of newspaper production, in a strange land, with a fearfully demanding climate, and a heavy workload. During 1883 there were periods when he was left alone to manage the paper.

He was sustained by his home life with his parents, though there were times when they were away, and – from December of that year – by happy collaboration with his young sister ‘Trix’, with whom he played word games and other literary inventions, and wrote parodies. Several of these were published in Echoes by Two Writers.

Kipling and Swinburne

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. His poems have many common themes, in particular the Ocean, Time, and Death. His verse ws much admired by Kipling, and there are many echoes of it in his works over the years, as Ann Weygandt explains (pp 124/125).
Jan Montefiore writes:

Kipling probably had in mind Swinburne’s poem “Itylus”, as it echoes the rhythm as well as the theme of the migratory bird, and was well known at the time. Here are its first two stanzas.

How can thine heart be full of the spring?
A thousand summers are over and dead.
What hast thou found in the spring to follow?
What hast thou found in thine heart to sing?
What wilt thou do when the summer is shed?


O swallow, sister, O fair swift swallow,
Why wilt thou fly after spring to the south,
The soft south whither thine heart is set?
Shall not the grief of the old time follow?
Shall not the song thereof cleave to thy mouth?
Hast thou forgotten ere I forget?


See also “The City of the Heart”, “Solus cum Sola”, “The Lesson”, “His Consolation” , and “Commonplaces”.


Notes on the Text


Quaeritur ‘It is sought’ (Latin), hence ‘yearning’.

[Verse 1]

the foam-frescoed reach ‘fresco’ is the art of painting on the wet plaster of ceiling or wall so that the picture becomes permanent as it dries – here perhaps a reference to the stranded foam drying in a pattern on the beach. By ‘reach’ he clearly means a stretch of beach.

gull the common gull (Larus canus) is a medium-sized seabird of Northern Europe and North America

guillemot a large sea-bird, a members of the auk family (Charadriiformes)..

[Verse 2]

thou treacherous swallow the swallow (family Hirundinidae) is a fast flying migrating bird, which winters in Africa, and flies north to Europe for the summer.

pinions wing-feathers.

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved