A Question

By the sea


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


There is a holograph (handwritten by Kipling) version in Notebook 3, with title “A Question”, dated 25 December 1881, and a transcribed version in Notebook 2, dated “Xmas Day 1881”. There is another holograph version in Sundry Phansies, with the title “By the Sea” and the first two stanzas transposed. (Rutherford p. 98).

See Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.

The poem

Sundry Phansies is a handwritten notebook presented by Kipling to ‘Flo’ Garrard, the beautiful art student with whom he had fallen in love after meeting her in the summer of 1880, when he was fourteen. In this poem he questions whether her love for him still lives. She was two years older than him, and the affection always seems to have been stronger on his side. See the last two lines of the earlier poem “The Lesson”:

We have played out the game — I, boy-lover,
In earnest, and you, dearest, how?

This poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 98), and Pinney p. 1599.

As we have noted of several poems and tales in this Guide, the seashore was often a place of sadness, loneliness, and apprehension for Kipling. See “Baa Baa Black Sheep” and the early passages of The Light that Failed.

See also “Waytinge”, “To You”, “Caret”, and
“Solus cum Sola”.


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved