The Wishing Caps

(notes by Philip Holberton)


Kipling used the last verse (“Good luck, she is never a lady…”) as the heading for Chapter IV of Kim (1901). When the poem was collected, he moved the last four lines to the end of Verse 1 and wrote four slightly different lines to close the poem.

The complete poem, “The Wishing Caps”  is collected in :

  • Songs from Books (1912)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Vol. 21 p. 79, Vol. 34 p. 147
  • Burwash Edition Vols 16 and 27
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 801

The poem

The poem is a meditation on good and bad luck and how one cannot avoid one, or earn the other. In this chapter, Kim has taken to the road with the Lama and is revelling in the freedom and new experiences:

…Kim’s bright eyes were open wide. This broad, smiling river of life, he considered, was a vast improvement on the cramped and crowded Lahore streets. There were new people and new sights at every stride — castes he knew, and castes that were altogether outside his experience.
(p. 86 line 12)

Kim is happy to take whatever Fortune may give him.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

Life’s  all getting and giving … spend it:   See l. 2 of Wordsworth’s ‘The World Is Too Much With Us‘: [D.H.]

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.

Largesse!: a call for a gift (usually of money) expressed to an eminent person on some special occasion. (Oxford English Dictionary)

[Verse 2]

Bad Luck, she is never a lady: reminiscent of the phrase “Lady Luck”, which in fact doesn’t seem to have had much currency until Kipling’s time. See OED. I wonder if Frank Loesser knew Kipling’s poem when he wrote ‘Luck be a lady‘: [D.H.]

besom: a derogatory term for a misbehaving woman. It also means a broom. Like many of Kipling’s less common words, it is from the Scottish dialect, bizzom.  [D.H.] John Walker points out that the more usual derivation is from Middle English beseme,  a broom.

board: approach, make advances to.

[Verse 3]

quean: a loose, ill-behaved woman.

Tricksy: mischievous. When Kipling’s sister Alice was only five months old, her father described her as a “tricksy baby”. From then on she was known to all the family as “Trix”. (Charles Carrington p.13)

wincing: restive, resisting control.

jady: like a headstrong or disreputable woman.

kittle: a Scottish term meaning ‘needing careful handling’.

busking: getting ready.


© Philip Holberton 2017 All rights reserved