The Widower

(notes by John Radcliffe)


The fourth stanza was published as the heading for chapter xii of the twelve-chapter ‘happy ending’ version of The Light that Failed on November 5th, 1890. The poem is listed in ORG as 459B (p. 5302), and the ORG editors note that in that first published version line 2 of this stanza read ‘ Shall not see the face of my love’. (For the various editions of The Light that Failed see David Richards.)

Pinney (p. 1475) notes an unidentified cutting showing that the poem had been published in full before collection, but it is not known when or where. He also notes earlier titles “Prescience” and “Patience”, a copy of the poem in Alice Kipling’s hand, dated July 1882, and some further lines in what is evidently an earlier version of the fourth stanza

To the outer bounds of space,
Till we find a resting place
Where we two shadows can stay –
Telling the old tale over,
Watching the old earth move
With Eternity for each Lover
And infinity of Love.

Daniel Hadas notes that ‘the additional lines follow the 4th stanza in the manuscripts where they’re found, and make sense as a sequel to it.’ [D.H.]


The poem is collected as “The Widower” in:

  • Songs from Books (1912)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • The Complete Stalky & Co. (1929)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vol. xxxiv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol, xxvii (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 786.

The poem

The poem describes a widower’s feelings after his bereavement; pain, though this diminishes as time passes, and vivid recollection of the loved one, who at the last claims him back, despite his later love for another.


If, as it appears, this poem dates back to the summer of 1882, when Kipling was about to leave school, it may reflect his early feelings about the pains of love and loss arising from his unrequited passion for the beautiful Flo Garrard. He had fallen in love with her in the summer of 1880, when he was fourteen, and she two years older. There is little evidence that his feelings were reciprocated, and from time to time she clearly made him feel inadequate. While still at school he wrote a number of elegiac poems, expressing pain and regret, of which this may be one. He kept his more personal verses from his schoolfellows, but sent many of them to his aunt, Edith Macdonald, and to his mother, Alice Kipling, who published a selection of them in Schoolboy Lyrics in 1881. A number of others surfaced later in Echoes, but not this one.

See “The Lesson”, “Solus cum Sola”. “Credat Judaeus”, and “Roses”. See also the relationship between Dick Heldar and Maisie in The Light that Failed, including the early scene on the beach, and Andrew Lycett pp. 72-4.

©John Radcliffe 2018 All rights reserved