I keep six honest serving men

(The Elephant’s Child)

(notes by John Radcliffe)


Published in Just So Stories (1902) following The Elephant’s Child

Like Kipling’s best beloved daughter Josephine, who must surely be the subject of the poem, the Elephant’s Child asked ever so many questions.



The Poem

In the early lines Kipling is looking back over his own life as a journalist. He had always been ‘full of ‘satiable curtioity’, asking  questions, restlessly determined to penetrate, understand, and inhabit, the secret inner worlds of others.

Thus here, and in “The Elephant’s Child“, he is writing of himself. When the young elephant is spanked for his ‘curtioity’ he must surely be recalling his time as a ‘person small’ in the House of Desolation described in “Baa Baa Black Sheep” asking many questions which Mrs Holloway, his hated foster-mother, had been too uninformed or impatient to answer. When in the story the Elephamt’s Child uses his new trunk to spank his censorious aunts and uncles Rudyard is getting his own longed-for revenge.

The ‘person small’ in the later lines must be his lost daughter Josephine, just like her father as a child, the ‘best beloved’ companion of the Just So Stories, ‘Taffy’ of “How the Alphabet was Made”, “How the First Letter was Written“, and “The Tabu Tale“. (Josephine was called – or called herself – ‘Effie’.)

See also “I am the Most Wise Baviaan“, “Merrow Down”, and “They“.



©John Radcliffe 2020 All rights reserved