The Return of the Children

(notes edited by John McGivering)


This poem was first published in Traffics and Discoveries (1904) where it precedes, and should be read with ‘They” as it forms an essential part of the story. (Hart p.194, R L Green p.175).

Collected in the Sussex Edition Volume 7 page 309 and Volume 34 page 119, the Burwash Edition Volumes 7 and 27, Songs from Books, Definitive Verse, Inclusive Verse, and The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994)

Jan Montefiore writes:

Listening recently to Holst’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ – ‘In the bleak mid-winter’ (first published 1872), it came to me that this must have influenced Kipling’s poem “The Return of the Children”. The emphasis on the loving physical, indeed animal warmth of the Nativity – Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus, the animals in the stable, contrasted with the glorious but inhuman angels – is so strikingly similar. Note also the way both poets invoke Mary’s breast (and the word ‘adore’).

Rossetti stanzas 3 and 4
Enough for him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay.
Enough for him whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.
Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only his Mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.
Kipling’s stanza 3:
Then, to Her Son, Who had seen and smiled, She said: “On the night that I bore Thee,
What didst Thou care for a love beyond mine or a heaven that was not my arm?
Didst Thou push from the nipple, 0 Child, to hear the angels adore Thee
When we two lay in the breath of the kine?” And He said — “Thou hast done no harm.”

Holst’s setting was first published in The English Hymnal 1906, two years after Traffics & Discoveries, so I don’t suppose it influenced RK when he wrote the poem. But he certainly knew Christina Rossetti’s poems – he and Trix parodied here in Echoes, and in the later story “Unconvenanted Mercies” a key line is quoted from the last poem of her sonnet sequence Monna Innominata. [J.M.]

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1] Cherubs usually represented as little naked boys with wings – the plural is strictly cherubim.

[Verse 2] Mary the Mother the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, Matthew 1, Luke 2.

Peter St. Peter, patron saint of fishermen and keeper of the keys of heaven.

[Verse 3] Her Son Jesus Christ.

The breath of the kine Jesus was born in a stable, as there was no room at the inn. Luke, 2. Kine is an old word for cattle.

[Verse 4] Suffered the children to come to Me an echo of Mark 10,14: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.’ ‘Suffer’ here means ‘allow’.


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