Ride with an idle whip

(notes edited by John McGivering)



This is the heading to “The Conversion of Aurelian McGoggin” in Plain Tales from the Hills (1888). Collected in Songs from Books, Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse, the Sussex Edition, vol xxxiv, and the Burwash Edition, vol. xxvii.

The poem

Rather than being a quote from an existing poem, this verse will have been written by Kipling to head this story. It expressed his deeply felt belief that to do good work, men must be subjected to firm discipline, as he was as a young journalist at the Civil and Military Gazette. He used the expression, with its echo of a horse made to run a race under the weight of a handicap, for his later collection of Indian stories, published in 1891, Life’s Handicap.

Notes on the Text

Aurelian (Latin): Lucius Domitius Aurelianus Augustus; (214 or 215 – 275), Roman Emperor from 270 to 275. During his reign, he defeated the Alamanni after a devastating war, also numerous ‘barbarians’, including Goths, Vandals, Juthungi, Sarmatians, and Carpi.

ride with an unused heel the young horse has never felt the spurs, which are worrn on the heels of the rider’s boots

colt Literally an entire (uncastrated) male horse under four years old; figuratively, a young man still in training for whatever work he will be doing.

curb a chain or strap attached to a horse’s bit .

rowelled steel a little spiked wheel on a spur.


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