Visit a Beautiful Forest in the Poem 'The Way Through the Woods' by Rudyard Kipling

Visit a Beautiful Forest in the Poem 'The Way Through the Woods' by Rudyard Kipling

Tuesday, 30 November, 2021

Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. Although he lived with relatives in England from age 6 to 17, he spoke Hindi and Portuguese, in addition to English. You might know him best from his 1894 children’s story The Jungle Book (or, at least, the 1967 Disney film based on it).

But before Mowgli, Baloo, and Shere Khan, he wrote Barrack-Room Ballads (1899). This collection of songs and poems — including the well-known ‘Gunga Din’ — took on the heavy topic of the Victorian British Army. In 1907, he won the Nobel Prize in literature ‘in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.’

black and white photo of rudyard kipling

Published in 1910, this poem is a celebration of the life that thrives in the woods, whether we puny humans are there to appreciate it or not. There’s a sense of longing, perhaps a tinge of regret, in the recognition that ‘they shut the road through the wood,’ but the animals and trees carry on.

Kipling’s imagery is rich with sound — whistles and swishes and hoof beats — and permeated by the weather: rain and night-air and mist. Unsentimental but moving all the same, it makes us yearn to walk in the woods, too.

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The Way Through the Woods — Rudyard Kipling

  • They shut the road through the woods
  • Seventy years ago.
  • Weather and rain have undone it again,
  • And now you would never know
  • There was once a road through the woods
  • Before they planted the trees.
  • It is underneath the coppice and heath,
  • And the thin anemones.
  • Only the keeper sees
  • That, where the ring-dove broods,
  • And the badgers roll at ease,
  • There was once a road through the woods.
  • Yet, if you enter the woods
  • Of a summer evening late,
  • When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
  • Where the otter whistles his mate,
  • (They fear not men in the woods,
  • Because they see so few.)
  • You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet,
  • And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
  • Steadily cantering through
  • The misty solitudes,
  • As though they perfectly knew
  • The old lost road through the woods.
  • But there is no road through the woods.

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Enjoy this fine reading of the poem by English actor Ralph Fiennes:

Heads up: Spotify has the entire album if you need more Fiennes+Kipling in your life.

Top image courtesy of Ekaterina Kondratova/Shutterstock.

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