The Threshold

(notes by Gillian Sheehan and John McGivering)


First published in Limits and Renewals (1932), where it follows “Unprofessional”. Collected in the Sussex Edition volume 11 page 271 and volume 34 page 419. Also, with slight differences, Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse and The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library)

The poem

Peter Keating (p. 219) notes that:

… the poem pursues this theme of ‘professional’ and ‘unprofessional’ knowledge. Ionia, c. 1000 BC, situated on the coast of Asia Minor (now Turkey), initiated the developments that came to typify ancient Greek civilisation. The philosophers of Ionia (usually referred to as ‘pre-Socratic’) sought to trace the laws of the universe to one physical source (‘Matter’, line 29), thus dispelling earlier concepts of knowledge founded on primitive superstition. The Ionians were in turn superseded, and their sense of the wholeness or oneness of human experience rejected, by a resurgence of superstition and the fragmentation of modern knowledge.

See also “The Redemption Theme in Limits and Renewals, Two Different Paths”, by John Coates, KJ 260/10 and his The Day’s Work, Kipling and the Idea of Sacrifice (p. 84) for an excellent interpretation of these lines in terms of:

… the knowledge, now on the verge of rediscovery, that was possessed by the pre-Socratic philosophers but was strangled at birth. Briefly, “The Threshold” offers a sketch of man’s intellectual development. Men in their caves pictured the gods in an attempt to control and propiate them by “sympathetic magic.”

See also our notes on “Unprofessional”.

Notes on the Text

Verse 1

The pictures moved in the torchlight the paintings on the walls of the caves appeared to move in the flames of the torches.

Ionia a prosperous Greek settlement on the coast of what is now Turkey, the site of distinguished schools of philosophy and art which flourished between 700 and 500 BC. Taken here by Kipling as a source of ancient wisdom and knowledge.

Verse 4

Babylon an ancient city and empire in Mesopotamia.

Egypt fabled for its ancient culture.

[G S / J H McG]

©Gillian Sheehan and John McGivering 2008 All rights reserved