The Vampire: Poetry Friday

When something I have put a lot of effort into goes wrong, I think “Oh the toil we lost and the spoil we lost/ And the excellent things we planned”. I was looking into where that line came from and it’s from a poem called The Vampire by Rudyard Kipling. I found the full text of the poem and so much more.

The poem is based on a painting — it was “written for a picture by Philip Burne-Jones exhibited at the New Gallery in London, 1897”. After doing a little hunting around, I found the painting:

The Vampire by Rudyard Kipling

A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the years we waste and the tears we waste
And the work of our head and hand,
Belong to the woman who did not know
(And now we know that she never could know)
And did not understand.

A fool there was and his goods he spent
(Even as you and I!)
Honor and faith and a sure intent
But a fool must follow his natural bent
(And it wasn’t the least what the lady meant),
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the toil we lost and the spoil we lost
And the excellent things we planned,
Belong to the woman who didn’t know why
(And now we know she never knew why)
And did not understand.

The fool we stripped to his foolish hide
(Even as you and I!)
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside —
(But it isn’t on record the lady tried)
So some of him lived but the most of him died —
(Even as you and I!)

And it isn’t the shame and it isn’t the blame
That stings like a white hot brand.
It’s coming to know that she never knew why
(Seeing at last she could never know why)
And never could understand.

* * * * *

The poem and the painting inspired a Broadway play called A Fool There Was by Porter Emerson Browne. The play is available for download from project Gutenberg. It’s pretty florid, melodramatic stuff:

“Schuyler came down the stairs slowly, leaning heavily against the broken balustrade. He laughed a little, wildly, with the mirthless chill that is of a maniac. His knees bent; he staggered…. And he laughed again….

At first Blake did not know him…. Then, knowing, he could not believe that his eyes brought to his brain the truth…. This was not John Schuyler. It could not be John Schuyler. It was not possible. John Schuyler was at least a man—not a palsied, pallid, shrunken, shriveled caricature of something that had once been human…. John Schuyler had hands—not nerveless, shaking talons…. This sunken-eyed, sunken- cheeked, wrinkled thing was not John Schuyler—this thing that crawled, quiveringly—from the loose, pendulous lips of which came mirth that was more bitter to hear than the sobs of a soul condemned.”

The play then inspired the first vampire movie — a silent movie called A Fool There Was. The colorized version is still available on DVD and includes the text of the original Kipling poem. The text of the poem was included in the movie as intertitle cards.

The movie is infamous for its risque intertitle cards. One of the cards was “Kiss me, my fool!” but Theda Bara mis-spoke the line and THAT is how we ended up with the catchy phrase, “Kiss me, you fool”.

Quite the rabbit-trail from one half-remembered line of poetry!

On a totally unrelated note, I’m hosting a giveaway of the ebook of S.R. Johannes’ Uncontrollable (YA, mystery, adventure, outdoors, winter) this week. If you want to be entered in the drawing, leave a comment on Monday’s post.

For more Poetry Friday, visit Betsy at Teaching Young Writers.

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7 Responses to The Vampire: Poetry Friday

  1. Thanks for sharing! Love the rolling cadence of the poem, considering the subject matter…and the backstory you provided, as well! I always thought ‘Nosferatu’ (1922) was the first Vampire movie, so thanks for setting me straight!

  2. Betsy says:

    I love how this post just keeps unraveling from those lines that inspired the research.

  3. It looks as if several lines from the poem have managed to inspire you too, Katya, thus the frenzied research that led to one thing and the next and the next! I am amazed! I have a special affinity with the dark side (on occasion) – and cold blooded romantic vampires (I am thinking of Anne Rice’s Lestat) always get me. This should be perfect for Halloween. :)

  4. Linda Baie says:

    Terrific and interesting, Katya. Do you think this line, “To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair” is the first rag and bone, etc. line? Or just a few words that go together with creepy things? The rhythm of the poem is really nice.

  5. Tabatha says:

    Fascinating, Katya! Thank you for all the illustrations. The expression on her face in the painting!

  6. Laban says:

    And the painting was probably inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was published in 1897.

  7. The text of the poem has given me unexpected trouble. When Iedited some of Gray’s poems several years ago, I found that theyhad not been correctly printed for more than half a century; butin the case of Scott I supposed that the text of Black’sso-called “Author’s Edition” could be depended upon as accurate.Almost at the start, however, I detected sundry obvious misprintsin one of the many forms in which this edition is issued, and anexamination of others showed that they were as bad in their way.The “Shilling” issue was no worse than the costly illustratedone of 1853, which had its own assortment of slips of the type.No two editions that I could obtain agreed exactly in theirreadings. I tried in vain to find a copy of the editio princeps(1810) in Cambridge and Boston, but succeeded in getting onethrough a London bookseller. This I compared, line by line, withthe Edinburgh edition of 1821 (from the Harvard Library), withLockhart’s first edition, the “Globe” edition, and about adozen others English and American. I found many misprints andcorruptions in all except the edition of 1821, and a few even inthat. For instance in i. 217 Scott wrote “Found in each cliff anarrow bower,” and it is so printed in the first edition; but inevery other that I have seen “cliff” appears in place ofclift,, to the manifest injury of the passage. In ii. 685, everyedition that I have seen since that of 1821 has “I meant not allmy heart might say,” which is worse than nonsense, the correctreading being “my heat.” In vi. 396, the Scottish “boune”(though it occurs twice in other parts of the poem) has beenchanged to “bound” in all editions since 1821; and, eightlines below, the old word “barded” has become “barbed.” Scoresof similar corruptions are recorded in my Notes, and need not becited here.