The Virginity

(Notes by Mary Hamer)

Publication history

An early version, consisting only of four stanzas was published in Nash’s Magazine in June 1914 and in Cosmopolitan in July 1914. It stood as an epigraph to the first essay in a series titled “Egypt of the Egyptians” in Nash’s. In Cosmopolitan the series title was Egypt of the Magicians. The verses themselves bore no title but were headed by the quotation from Exodus vii, 22: ‘And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments.’

A second and fifth verse were added when the poem was published in The Years Between. That version was collected in Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse, the Sussex Edition vol.33, the Burwash Edition vol. 26, and the Cambridge Edition of 2013 (Ed. Pinney) p. 1129.

Daniel Hadas notes that this poem uses only two rhymes, not something I’ve seen before in Kipling. It seems to be a variant on the rondel. The scheme matches the poem’s theme of failing to move beyond a first love: it fails to move beyond the first rhymes. [D.H.]


When the original four-stanza poem was written, Kipling, newly arrived in Egypt, was excited to rediscover the vivid street-life of the East that he’d known in India as a child. The essay which the poem heads makes that clear. The longing to ‘settle somewhere near the sea’ arose in the poet himself, aching for a lost world, newly recalled: he was actually born between the palm trees and the sea in Bombay, spending his first five years there.

Notes on the Text

Besides adding two extra verses, Kipling made a small number of minor verbal tweaks to the text as it appeared in Nash’s and Cosmopolitan before publishing the longer version in The Years Between. ie ‘will’ for ‘may’ ‘near’ for ‘by’ etc. The most interesting change is made to make it sound as though an uneducated seaman is speaking: Stanza 4 ‘no cruise’, was originally ‘a cruise’. See below.

[Stanza 2]

It don’t excite me: deliberate choice of incorrect form instead of ‘doesn’t’.

pack o’shipping: many ships

[Stanza 4]

never going on no cruise: not going on any cruise. The double negative is incorrect and has the same effect as ‘don’t’ in Stanza 2.

[Stanza 6]

parsons in pulpits . . .Kings on their thrones: a mock appeal to the powerful, modelled on the French medieval poet Francois Villon, but made playful by including tax-payers.

virginity: the state of a person who has never engaged in sexual activity. The poem compares the first passionate engagement with the world, as in the sailor’s response to the sea, with a person’s first experience of sex.


©Mary Hamer 2014 All rights reserved