Romance and Reality

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


Published in the United Services College Chronicle, no. 8, 20 March 1882. This number of the USCC included “Ave Imperatrix”, the earliest of Kipling’s poems to be included in the Definitive Edition of his verse. (Andrew Rutherford p. 130).

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 130, and Pinney p. 1639.

The Poem

A jest by the poet, at his own expense. Andrew Rutherford (p. 10) has referred to the young Kipling’s sense of living in divided worlds – the everyday world of school and the world of emotional intensities connected largely with his hopeless passion for Flo Garrard. See “Two Lives” also written in 1882.

Here he hears a melody and in the first four verses wonders whether it has a romantic source – a brook, the sea breaking, doves or bees, or a Dryad (a wood nymph). In verse 5 he meets reality: the tune is a music-hall song sung by a fellow-schoolboy, sitting in his hut.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 2 line 4] the Bar Bideford Bar, a sandbank where the River Torridge meets the sea, about 5 km from Westward Ho!

[Verse 5 line 3] quartus the fourth (i.e. the fourth member of the Grubbins family attending the school).

[Verse 5 line 4] his hut: ‘In summer all right-minded boys built huts in the furze hill behind the College. ‘ (“In Ambush”, Stalky & Co. p. 1)

[Verse 6] Rutherford notes that the song has not been identified, but the lover caught in painful or ridiculous circumstances on a garden wall was a commonplace of music-hall song. (Dr. J.S. Bratton, The Victorian Popular Ballad, London, 1975)


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved