The Story of Ung

(notes edited by John McGivering)


First published in The Idler Magazine, December 1894, and in the New York World December 2nd, 1894. ORG No. 613.

Collected in:

  • The Seven Seas (1896)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Vol. 33 p. 98
  • Burwash Edition Vol. 26
  • Wordsworth Edition (2001)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 401

It is also illustrated by Heath Robinson, in a Doubleday, Page edition of 1910.

The poem

The artist begins to doubt if his work is really good, much as the Devil worries the protagonist of “The Conundrum of the Workshops”, and consults his father who gives him good advice, much as Kipling consults his father on many occasions.

See also “In the Neolithic Age”, where it is firmly laid down that:

There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays
And-every-single-one of-them-is-right !


Notes on the Text

[Verse 3]

Auroch: an ancient breed of cattle that became extinct in the Bronze Age

mammoth: a large woolly elephant-like creature of the Pleistocene Age. (see above).

scriving:  This word is not found in OED, and Kipling wrote “scribing” in earlier versions. I think he is here coining a word that assimilates prehistoric carving to writing, in line with the tales on the invention of writing in the Just So Stories.  A ‘scrivener’ in former times, was a scribe or clerk.  [D.H.] John Walker points out that ‘scrivening’ is found in OED, and relates to writing. Indeed, SCRIVENER is a popular wordprocessing suite.

[Verse 5]

Mastodon: another extinct elephant-like creature

Bow-head: a species of whale (Balaena mysticetus) living in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters.

[Verse 8]

needles: an echo of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience” (1881) ‘The needles opened their well-drilled eyes’ (Grosvenor’s song in Act II)

ouches: brooches or belt-buckles.

[Verse 9]

trammels: fishing-nets.

[Verse 10]

houghing: hamstringing or hocking – cutting three muscles between the knee and the thigh, thus rendering the victim not only lame, but liable to die from loss of blood. Used in warfare, see “Fuzzy-Wuzzy” Verse 1; ‘E squatted in the scrub and ‘ocked our ‘orses’

[Verse 13]

Dordogne: a particularly beautiful and historic Department of central France renowned for splendid mediaeval architecture, excellent food and drink, and neolithic remains. Why it is marked ‘lost’ is not clear unless this is a reference to the time when it was part of the territories of King Richard the Lion-Heart of England . The limestone caves along the Dordogne river contain prehistoric wall-paintings that might well have been carried out by “Ung” !

mammoth editions: a play on words – very large printings of books, or in this instance, a lot of carvings. There is a celebrated Grotte des mammouths (cave of the mammoths) at Rouffignac in this region, full of such carvings.

[J McG]

©John McGivering 2017 All rights reserved