Two Lives


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


There are two versions in Kipling’s handwriting in Notebooks 1 & 3, both dated 27 March 1882. In Notebook 1, a note dated 7 June 1883 (when Kipling was working in Lahore as a journalist) reads: ‘Not bad – a direct Shakespeare crib which I thought vastly fine when I wrote it’. See Rutherford pp. 24-27 for details of the Notebooks.


This poem is famous as the first published work that Kipling was paid for. It appeared in The World on 8 November 1882, by which time Kipling was working in Lahore.

It was published in the Sussex Edition (vol. 35 p. 169) and Burwash Edition (vol. 28). It is also to be found in Rutherford p. 137, and Pinney p. 1315.

Kipling gives an account of its publication in “An English School” (1893):

Later still, money came into the Syndicate honestly, for a London paper that did not know with whom it was dealing, published and paid a whole guinea [one pound one shilling] for some verses that one of the boys had written and sent up under a nom de plume [a pen name] and the Study caroused on chocolate and condensed milk and pilchards and Devonshire cream, and voted poetry a much sounder business than it looks. (Land and Sea Tales, p. 273)

Kipling’s account is not strictly accurate. The poem as published is signed R.K. which, though a godsend for researchers, is not much of a nom de plume, and the paper probably did know with whom it was dealing. Andrew Lycett (p. 104) suggests that an element of nepotism may have been involved:

Not for the last time, Rudyard had used his parents’ wide circle of friends to his advantage. For Yates, the editor of The World, had once published early work by Alice Kipling.

Angus Wilson (p. 53) goes further, claiming that Kipling personally knew Yates. He gives Beresford (the original of M’Turk in Stalky & Co.) as his authority, but no reference. .

However, see Thomas Pinney’s article in KJ367 for March 2017, which suggests that Edmund Yates had only just heard of Kipling when he sent a reporter to interview him in Embankment Chambers in 1889/90 some seven years later.

It seems probable that the identification of the poem as Kipling’s earliest paid work is due to the research of Mr. W.M.Carpenter, who wrote as “A Hustling American” in KJ007 for October 1928, in the Newspaper Reading Room of the British Museum:

The particular thing that I wanted to find was that writing by R.K. for which he first received payment. In an interview in April, 1890, he had said, that the first money he ever received for something that he had written was from The World, for a sonnet. The sonnet was located the first day and soon copied and sent on the way to be photographed.

Carpenter’s article, “Kipling About” in London for a Week, has a photo of the page from The World, as shown above.The poem is duly signed R.K.

The Poem

The poem is a classical Shakespearean sonnet. It describes two very different lives lived by the one person.

Andrew Rutherford (p. 10) describes it as an attempt to convey his sense of living in divided and distinguished worlds – the everyday world of school routine and the world of emotional intensities connected largely with his hopeless passion for Flo Garrard (the beautiful art student with whom he had become infatuated in the summer of 1880, when he was fourteen and she a year older).
Andrew Lycett (p.104) notes Kipling’s division of his work into traditional schoolboy material for the College Chronicle and poems not for general consumption, and in that context discusses this poem.

Rudyard’s separation of private and public poetry reflected the growing conflict he felt – and which the Flo Garrard affair served to bring into focus – between the two sides of his personality. In his poem “Two Lives” he expressed something of this split:

One life is strange and full of hot red days,
Strong Love, that checked at naught, wild hope, mad sin.
But in the other there are beaten ways
I travel steadfastly nor fail therein.




©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved