Its first publication was in Schoolboy Lyrics in Lahore in 1881, in an edition of around fifty arranged by his mother the year before Rudyard’s arrival in the city at the age of sixteen, to work as a journalist. It is listed in ORG as No 33.
- The Outward Bound Edition vol xvii (1900)
- Edition de Luxe vol xviii (1900)
- The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
- The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
- Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Rutherford
- Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 1163.
A group of souls is waiting aimlessly on the banks of the Styx to pass over to the underworld. It is a fearsome experience, they cannot communicate with one another, mouths move and no sounds are heard, there is little sense of anything happening, and all around are crumbling banks of mud and hideous slimy monsters. The young Kipling must have taken much pleasure in describing the horrors of the scene.
The poem is written in iambic pentameters, which made rhyming unnecessary. In the view of Ann Weygandt (p. 110) it may have owed something to Kipling’s early reading of Tennyson in magazines he read at Southsea.
After his unhappy years at Southsea, Kipling was sent to United Services College at Westward Ho! in Devon at the age of twelve, in 1878. It had been recently established to provide education for the sons of army officers. Because of his poor eyesight he was no good at rugby or cricket. The Head, Cormell Price, who was a friend of his father, gave him the run of his library, where he read voraciously, including a great deal of poetry,
There is an echo in this poem of Dante’s Inferno. Kipling wrote in Something of Myself (p. 33):
After my second year at school, the tide of writing set in … I discovered … that there had been a man called Dante who, living in a small Italian town, at general issue with his neighbours, had invented for most of them lively torments in a nine-ringed Hell, where he exhibited them in after ages.
And as Andrew Rutherford (Ed.) recounts (p. 3):
… extensions of his literary and emotional experience came during his Christmas visits to the Burne-Jones household at The Grange, North End Road, Fulham, where he was welcomed by his beloved Aunt Georgiana … Further appreciation of the Pre-Raphaelite milieu was to come later, but already Kipling responded to some of the drawings and paintings on which Burne-Jones was engaged, and he sensed the importance attached to art and literature by the whole circle.
Kipling was later to use the scene as souls are ferried across the Styx in a story called “The Pleasure Cruise” (1933), in the form of a play, in the style of the classical author Lucian, about the need for military preparedness in the face of danger if disaster is to be averted.
Notes on the Text
The Styx in Greek mythology, the river that divides Earth from the Underworld.
[line 2] boatman Charon, see the note to line 37 below.
[line 15] Tullius Quaestor Marcus Tullius Cicero was a notable Roman poet, lawyer, orator and politician (106-43 BCE)
[line 17] unmixed wine undiluted wine. It was common at lengthy drinking sessions for Romans to dilute their wine with water.
[line 18] Poetus Probably an invented character.
[line 26] Claudius Herminius Probably an invented character, though Herminius was the name of one of the companions of Horatius who held the bridge over the Tiber against the advancing Tuscans, and saved Rome from invasion.
[line 28] Ixion punished for his sins by being tied to a perpetually revolving wheel
[line 37] Charon the ferryman who carried the souls of the dead across the Styx to Hades, the land of the dead. (see the figure at the top of this page)
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