Romulus and Remus

(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)


First published untitled with the article “Cities and Spaces” in the Morning Post on March 26th 1908, one of eight “Letters to the Family” on Kipling’s visit to Canada in 1907. ORG No. 913

Later collected in:

  • Songs from Books (1912)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Vol. 24 p. 159, and Vol. 34 p. 168
  • Burwash Edition Vols 19 and 27
  • Wordsworth Edition Poems of Rudyard Kipling (2001)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 823.

The poem

This poem, like “Jubal and Tubal Cain”, tells of two brothers with opposing philosophies of life, Romulus the builder and maker, and Remus the sceptic. Romulus kills Remus to silence him, since his ideas are dangerous and would hold back progress to future greatness. Linked to his article “Cities and Spaces”, it reflects Kipling’s powerful sense of the dynamic growth of Canada, and his belief that no criticism should be allowed to hold it back, neither the mockery of Remus, nor the dreams of Jubal Cain.

In the previous Canadian article, “A People at Home” Kipling writes:

Villages and hamlets had grown to great towns, and the great towns themselves had trebled and quadrupled. And the railways rubbed their hands and cried, like the Afrites of old, ‘Shall we make a city where no city is; or render flourishing a city that is desolate?’ They do it too, while, across the water, gentlemen, never forced to suffer one day’s physical discomfort in all their lives, pipe up and say, ‘How grossly materialistic!’.
[Letters of Travel pp. 134/5].

Notes on the Text


Romulus and Remus: In classical legend, Romulus and Remus were twin brothers, abandoned at birth on the bank of the Tiber, suckled by a she-wolf (hence wolf-child in Verse 1), and brought up by a shepherd. They decide to build a city, but quarrel. Romulus kills his brother, and goes on to found Rome. In one account Remus shows his contempt for his brother’s plans, and is killed for it. See also “The Explorer”.

[Verse 1]

what city should arise: Rome, capital of the Roman Empire and now of modern Italy, one of the world’s great centres of the arts, and – with the Vatican – the seat of government of the Roman Catholic Church.

[Verse 3]

leaped the wall:   According to a story reported by Livy (1.7), Remus was killed by Romulus after the former jumped over the latter’s new city wall, to mock his ambition as a city-builder. [D.H.]

[Verse 6]

sent his brother to the Gods: murdered him.

turves:  turfs


[J McG/J.R.]

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved