ORG Volume 8, page 5486 lists this poem as Verse No.1218. It was first published in a copyright edition in 1939, three years after Kipling's death, with the sub-title “A Cattle Song, 1934.” See David Alan Richards p. 333.
It is collected in:
Definitive Verse 1940, with the subtitle "Western Version, 1934"
The Sussex Edition, Volume 35 p. 300
The Burwash Edition, Volume 28
The Works of Rudyard Kipling, Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994
This is Kipling's re-telling of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, related in Chapter 4 of The Book of Genesis, the tale of the first murder. In Genesis Cain, the elder brother, a farmer, finds that his offerings to the Lord are rejected, while those of his brother Abel, the shepherd, are accepted. In a rage he kills Abel, and is cursed for ever after. The moral is, perhaps, that jealousy, even between brothers, can lead to murderous violence, that murder cannot be forgiven, and that obedience to the Lord God is all.
The story had clearly captured Kipling's imagination. He couches the tale in the language of the farmers he had met in North America, where conflicts on the land between cattle ranchers and farmers, often over water, have provided the plots for many stories and films. He also significantly changes the underlying moral message.
In Kipling's version, Cain is the farmer, with land on the bank of the Euphrates, one of the Rivers of the Garden of Eden, while Abel is the rancher running cattle on the range. There is a long drought and requests for water by Abel and his cattle are rudely refused several times; Abel digs a hole in a dyke releasing water onto his land for his cattle to drink. Cain taunts his brother, who makes to strike him. But Cain gets in first with a fatal blow.
Cain is left to the judgement of God; but the narrator, another American-style farmer, concludes with the observation:
...seein’ all he had had to bear
I never could call that Judgement fair !
The newly wed Kiplings lived in Brattleboro, Vermont, in the United States, from 1892 to 1896. (See Something of Myself Chapter V, "The Committee of Ways and Means", and Charles Carrington, Chapter IX). On their honeymoon journeys they had travelled from coast to coast and back across the American continent. They set up house in Brattleboro, Kipling went on with his writing, and their two daughters were born there. Kipling talked a good deal to the local people, comparing the America he saw with the England he knew, and picking up many American attitudes and turns of phrase which are reflected in stories and poems – even years later. Besides this poem these include:
[Heading] “Western” in this context refers to the Western states of the USA.
Koop-la! a shout of encouragement when driving cattle
raised in this context 'grew'
banked and sluiced These lines describe the building of dams with sluice-gates and other works for irrigating land.
Euphrates a river which rises in modern-dayTurkey, and flows southwards through the deserts of various countries, including Iraq, to the Persian Gulf. Genesis 4 records it as one of the rivers of the Garden of Eden
dams in this context barriers of earth, rock etc. erected across the course of a stream to form a reservoir.
[Verse 6] With the hot red Sun between their brows In the blazing sunshine. We have not traced any earlier literary source for this expression; information will be welcomed.
[Verse 25] 'I never could call the Judgment fair!' Kipling is expressing a different moral viewpoint from that of the Old Testament, where there is no question of challenging the dictates of the Lord God. Genesis does not tell us the full story, in particular we are not told why the Lord accepted Abel's offering and rejected that of Cain.