The Sign of the Flower

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


There are versions handwritten by Kipling in Notebook 1, dated 16 August 1882, with the title “The Sign of the Withered Violet”, and in Notebook 3 with the title “The Sign of the Flower”, undated. See Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 170, and Pinney p. 1678.

The Poem

The title (borrowed from Arthur Clough’s poem of 1858) is French for ‘shipboard romance’. Flirtation and romance tended to flourish when passengers were thrown together on a long voyage but the affairs were not expected to survive the journey’s end. (In verse 3 this love might last for a year.) He treated the same theme in his slightly earlier poem “Les Amours Facile” and “The Lovers’ Litany” of 1886.

In his story “The Brushwood Boy” (1895), Mrs. Zuleika tries to start an affair with George Cottar on the ship going home on leave, but he (nicknamed “Galahad” by a fellow-officer) is too innocent to realise what is going on. (The Day’s Work p. 384).

Verse 1 line 5] fires: Rutherford p. 174 notes that the reading of this is uncertain.


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