Song for Two Voices

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


There is a holograph [handwritten by Kipling] version in Notebook 1, with the title “Song for Two Voices”, dated 11 June 1882, and a transcribed version in Notebook 2, with the title “Song (For Music)”dated June 1882. See Andrew Rutherford pp. 24-28 for details of the Notebooks.

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 152, and Pinney p. 1663.

The Poem

This is not to be confused with the earlier “Song (For Two Voices)” beginning ‘I bound his soul by a word’. The voices of the earlier poem are of women trying to captivate a man. In this one, they are different voices from a man seeking to win a woman.

Here, the first voice recommends perseverance, in the certainty that ‘thy Lady comes to thee tomorrow’. The second is disillusioned. He persevered, but no-one came. He concludes that ‘who waits on woman waits on sorrow’.

Jan Montefiore comments:

“Song for Two Voices” sounds as if Kipling had been reading Christina Rossetti’s well known and equally, or even more, gloomy lyric “Up-hill”, the central image of a long journey, the two voices, the rhythms and rhymes. Kipling’s stanzas are 6 and 7 lines to Rosetti’s 4, but their first four lines repeat both her rhythm and rhyme, iambic pentameter a alternating with shorter lines carrying two heavy stresses rhymed b. Here’s her opening:

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day ?
From morn to night, my friend.

It’s better than Kipling’s poem, but then it’s not from her juvenilia. Kipling certainly read and admired Christina Rossetti. His late story “Unconvenanted Mercies” quotes from the last sonnet of her “Monna Innominata”, and “The Return of the Children” echoes her “A Christmas Carol” . [J.M.]


Notes on the Text

[Line 3] No day so sad but reacheth even song An echo of a couplet by the minor poet Stephen Hawes (1474-1523):

For though the day be never so longe,
At last the belles ringeth to evensonge.

See also “To You”, “Caret”, and
“Solus cum Sola”.


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved