Kipling Tuesday: 'To James Whitcomb Riley,' a grateful reply to a fellow poet

Kipling Tuesday: 'To James Whitcomb Riley,' a grateful reply to a fellow poet

In 1890, Rudyard Kipling received a copy of “Rhymes for Children” by James Whitcomb Riley, a fellow poet, who lived in Indiana.

These days, such a gift would result in some sort of social media post on the theme of “Look what I got!”

But in 1890, Kipling wrote to Riley in a poem we can still read. “To James Whitcomb Riley, 1890, on receiving a copy of his ‘Rhymes for Children.'”  If you don’t have the definitive Kipling book I’ve been using to find these poems, you can find the whole text at the Poetry Lovers’ Page here.

Like many other works I’ve presented on recent Tuesdays, this poem shows Kipling looking past the imperialist mindset of his time.  This time, he does it by looking, with help from Riley’s young readers, by looking at the lives of children. The poem begins:

“Your trail runs to the westward,

   And mine to my own place,

There is water between our lodges

    And I have not seen your face.

But since I have read your verses

    ‘Tis easy to guess the rest — 

Because in the hearts of the children

    There is neither East nor West.”


Riley was well known as poet for children, and my research shows that he wrote about “Little Orphant Annie” (sic).

Thinking of the children touched Kipling, and he was ready to admit it to his colleague. Here are the last two lines describing the children and the ending of the poem:

Very happy together,

And very near to God.


Your trail runs to the westward,

  And mine to my own place:

There is water between our lodges,

   And you cannot see my face. —

And that is well — for crying

   Should neither be written nor seen,

But if I call you Smoke-in-the-Eyes,

   I know you will know what I mean.


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Filed under: Writing

Tags: Rudyard Kipling

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