Crossing the Rubicon

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


There is a holograph [handwritten by Kipling] version in Sundry Phansies, a notebook of thirty-two poems presented by Kipling to Florence Garrard. It was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Andrew Rutherford (p. 53), and Pinney p. 1572.

In her MS reminiscences Fond Memory Edith Plowden, a friend of Kipling’s mother, recalls that in 1879 John Lockwood Kipling in Lahore received a letter from his son saying:

“I am writing a poem it begins like this”, and citing the first stanza of this poem. “Rudyard”, she goes on, ‘finished the poem in 1880 at my request when we were together at Warwick Gardens”.

Kipling and Flo Garrard

As a schoolboy of fourteen Rudyard fell in love with the beautiful ‘Flo’ Garrard, an art student, a year older than he, who had already befriended his sister ‘Trix’ at Lorne Lodge in Southsea. Though they corresponded, his feelings do not seem to have been reciprocated.

In 1881 and 1882 he sent Flo Garrard many poems, including this one, which clearly failed to impress her or win her heart.

The Poem

‘Crossing the Rubicon’ was taking, consciously, an irrevocable step, as Julius Caesar did when he ordered his army to cross the Rubicon, a river separating his own province from Italy, so that he became technically and legally a rebel against the state. The phrase is used here rather oddly to refer to the involuntary process of dying. (Andrew Rutherford).

The first verse describes a death in the night. The other verses contemplate how soon the dead are forgotten. At the very end of his life, in “The Appeal”, which closes his Definitive Verse, Kipling wrote two lines with exactly the same burden:

The little, little span
The dead are borne in mind.



©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved