The Totem

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in Limits and Renewals (1932) where it precedes
“The Tie”. Collected in subsequent editions of the verse.

Notes on the Text

[Title] Totemism is the worldwide belief that an animal, plant, or object is of benefit to a nation or tribe: normally associated with Native Americans who make impressive and highly-decorated emblems of their belief in the form of tall poles but here referring to The Old School Tie which may sometimes be of benefit to the wearer.

This belief still persists today, as witness the importance attached to national flags, to regimental and other emblems like the Red Bull on a Green Field on the flags and mess silver in Kim, and — in some circles — to The Old School Tie.

See The English Public Schools, Ritualism, Freemasonry and Imperialism by P.J. Rich (Regency Press, London & New York, 1989), reviewed in KJ 255/46.
The sub-title of the book indicates its subject-matter, which is largely concerned with the intimate link between the traditional British Public School system (with its highly developed ritualistic culture) and the 19th-century British Empire.

See the Headnote for a critical view by Hilton Brown, and KJ 075/08 for “Kipling and the Old School Tie” by Sir Christopher Robinson, and KJ 273/56 for a letter suggesting a tie for the Kipling Society .

[Verse 1]

the Brethren: the school is regarded as a Masonic Lodge. (see Verse 2) and “The Mother-Lodge”.

[Verse 2]

‘ Bunny,’ ‘Stinker,’ ‘Podge’: the nickname, often based on physical characteristics is likely to last for life. See Something of Myself Chapter 2, and Schooldays with Kipling by George Beresford (‘Turkey’). Kipling’s own nickname at United Services College was ‘Gigger’ because he was the only boy in the school who wore glasses (‘gig-lamps’). In Stalky & Co. and those stories which refer back to schooldays, he figures as ‘Beetle’.

[Verse 3]

palm and toe: he was slapped and kicked.

the Armoured Man  may refer  to the symbolic armour of Freemasons? [D.H.]

[Verse 4]

Oppressing as oppressed: he is old enough to bully the younger boys. See “The Moral Reformers” (Stalky & Co.).



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