David Richards (p. 92) notes the first appearance of this poem in The Seven Seas (1896). It is later collected in:
Raymond Macdonald Alden, in English Verse (Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1903), explains (p. 383):
This form, although originally found in mediaeval Provence in southern France, has been more used in Italy than in France, and, as the English form of the word indicates, was introduced into England under Italian influence. It was invented at the end of the thirteenth century, by the troubadour (wandering singer and poet) Arnaut Daniel.Some critical comments
Ann Weygandt writes (p. 134):
Only one of Kipling's efforts in this vein presents no prob- lem. "The Sestina of the Tramp-Royal" is an absolutely regular, conventional sestina, following exactly the intricate arrangement of end-words laid down for it. Even the envoy is perfect. What is more important, it does not appear labored. It is possible to read it without noticing that the same six words appear at the end of the six lines of each of the six stanzas in changing order.This poem is still cited in Fowler’s Modern English Usage (OUP 2004, p. 705) with W. H. Auden’s “Paysage Moralisé”, as examples of the genre; and Wikipedia cites the oldest British example of the form:
... a pair of sestinas (frequently referred to as a double sestina), "Ye Goat-Herd Gods", written by Philip Sidney. Writers such as Dante, Petrarca, A. C. Swinburne, Rudyard Kipling, Ezra Pound, W. H. Auden, John Ashbery, Joan Brossa, Miller Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Paul Muldoon and Joe Haldeman are all noted for having written sestinas of some fame.The poem was written in 1896, the year in which the Kipling's, harassed by their quarrel with Beattie Balestier, returned to England. During his last two months in Vermont. as Charles Carrington recounts (p. 239):
One day in July Rudyard sat down and completed, in a few hours, a composition in one of the most rigorous of all verse-forms. He called it “Sestina of the Tramp-Royal.”The poem is neatly encapsulated by G. K. Chesterton is his essay “On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small" in Heretics (1905) pp. 38-53, part of which is collected in Kipling, the Critical Heritage, edited by Roger Lancelyn Green (p.293):
The first and fairest thing to say about Rudyard Kipling is that he has borne a brilliant part in recovering the lost provinces of poetry ... .And Bonamy Dobrée writes (p. 174):
Whatever opinion may be held of him as a poet, it is agreed that he was brilliant in versification. Some of his verse admittedly is jungle, but of set purpose, and always disciplined, prosodically controlled. He could handle all sorts of metres, while his rhythms are complex, sometimes indeed subtle……He was at home in the heroic couplet, common measure, ballad forms; the iambic or the rollicking anapaest as well as more difficult prosodic units ...[An anapaest is a metrical foot of three syllables, the first two short, the last long: Ed.]
It seems paradoxical to this Editor that Kipling should permit an uneducated man to express his views on life in such an esoteric verse-form – especially when it would not mar the scansion if correct English were used: the views expressed bear some resemblance to his own life as Dobrée seems to imply. Is it possible that Kipling is cocking a snook at the critics, and showing them that he could do it, and to irritate those that found him vulgar; and, to add insult to injury, to do so in a dialect that he knew would irritate the literati even more ?
tramp a homeless person – usually male – who wanders the country on foot begging for his bread. They were known as 'hobos' in the United States, where they often rode illegally on freight trains. Unlike Kipling tramps tended to avoid work. See The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by the Welsh poet W H Davies (1871-1940).
royal a word of many meanings ashore, afloat and in natural history but, in this context implying something on a grand scale as in 'battle-royal' for very fierce fighting. Today he might be called a 'super-tramp'.
[Verse 1] he has the beginnings of the 'go-fever' upon him. He wants to up-stakes and move out. See “The Ladies”, and “The Explorer”.
such as cannot use one bed too long this sentiment is reflected in verses 4 and 5 and in chapter 8 of The Light That Failed (p. 125)
pretendin’ they are good
An echo of the later "If—"
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster An’ treat those two imposters just the same;
tucker Australian slang for food.
‘im that doth not work If you don’t work you die. See “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”, and an echo of Paul's second Epistle to the Thessalonians, 3, 10: 'If any would not work, neither should he eat.'
the wind see “The Dawn Wind”, “The English Flag”.
‘E liked it all See “For to Admire” and “The Captive” (Verse.)
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