'The Betrothed' by Rudyard Kipling

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"You must choose between me and your cigar."

Open the old cigar-box, get me a Cuba stout,
For things are running crossways, and Maggie and I are out.

We quarrelled about Havanas -- we fought o'er a good cheroot,
And I knew she is exacting, and she says I am a brute.

Open the old cigar-box -- let me consider a space;
In the soft blue veil of the vapour musing on Maggie's face.

Maggie is pretty to look at -- Maggie's a loving lass,
But the prettiest cheeks must wrinkle, the truest of loves must pass.

There's peace in a Larranaga, there's calm in a Henry Clay;
But the best cigar in an hour is finished and thrown away --

Thrown away for another as perfect and ripe and brown --
But I could not throw away Maggie for fear o' the talk o' the town!

Maggie, my wife at fifty -- grey and dour and old --
With never another Maggie to purchase for love or gold!

And the light of Days that have Been the dark of the Days that Are,
And Love's torch stinking and stale, like the butt of a dead cigar --

The butt of a dead cigar you are bound to keep in your pocket --
With never a new one to light tho' it's charred and black to the socket!

Open the old cigar-box -- let me consider a while.
Here is a mild Manila -- there is a wifely smile.

Which is the better portion -- bondage bought with a ring,
Or a harem of dusky beauties, fifty tied in a string?

Counsellors cunning and silent -- comforters true and tried,
And never a one of the fifty to sneer at a rival bride?

Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes,
Peace in the hush of the twilight, balm ere my eyelids close,

This will the fifty give me, asking nought in return,
With only a Suttee's passion -- to do their duty and burn.

This will the fifty give me. When they are spent and dead,
Five times other fifties shall be my servants instead.

The furrows of far-off Java, the isles of the Spanish Main,
When they hear my harem is empty will send me my brides again.

I will take no heed to their raiment, nor food for their mouths withal,
So long as the gulls are nesting, so long as the showers fall.

I will scent 'em with best vanilla, with tea will I temper their hides,
And the Moor and the Mormon shall envy who read of the tale of my brides.

For Maggie has written a letter to give me my choice between
The wee little whimpering Love and the great god Nick o' Teen.

And I have been servant of Love for barely a twelvemonth clear,
But I have been Priest of Cabanas a matter of seven year;

And the gloom of my bachelor days is flecked with the cheery light
Of stums that I burned to Friendship and Pleasure and Work and Fight.

And I turn my eyes to the future that Maggie and I must prove,
But the only light on the marshes is the Will-o'-the-Wisp of Love.

Will it see me safe through my journey or leave me bogged in the mire?
Since a puff of tobacco can cloud it, shall I follow the fitful fire?

Open the old cigar-box -- let me consider anew --
Old friends, and who is Maggie that I should abandon you?

A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke;
And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke.

Light me another Cuba -- I hold to my first-sworn vows.
If Maggie will have no rival, I'll have no Maggie for Spouse!

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Betrothed: A Deep Dive Into Kipling's Poetry

Rudyard Kipling, the first English-language writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, is known for his extensive contributions to the world of poetry. His works, infused with the British colonialism of his time, often explore the themes of patriotism, imperialism, and social injustice. Among his notable poems is The Betrothed, a piece that delves into the human psyche and the complex nature of relationships.

About The Poem

The Betrothed is a poem that follows the story of two lovers - a man and a woman - who are engaged to be married. However, as the poem unfolds, it becomes clear that the man is plagued by doubts about his commitment to the relationship. He grapples with the idea that their love may not be enough to sustain them through the trials and tribulations of life, and ultimately decides to break off the engagement.


At its core, The Betrothed is a poem that explores the complexities of human relationships. Kipling masterfully captures the doubts and fears that plague many individuals as they navigate through the ups and downs of love.

The poem begins with a description of the lovers' initial euphoria, as they bask in the joy of their engagement. Kipling's use of vivid imagery - "her face was like a garden fair" - paints a picture of an idyllic, picture-perfect romance. However, the tone soon shifts, as the man begins to express his doubts.

"Sweetheart, goodbye!" he says, as he breaks off the engagement. This line is particularly powerful, as it encapsulates the emotional turmoil that the man is experiencing. On the one hand, he still loves his betrothed and wishes her well. On the other hand, he is unable to shake off the doubts that are troubling him.

The rest of the poem is dedicated to exploring these doubts. The man questions whether their love is strong enough to withstand the trials and tribulations of life, and whether he is capable of being a good partner to his betrothed. Kipling's use of rhetorical questions in this section - "What is the use of tears?" - adds to the sense of uncertainty and confusion that the man is experiencing.

Ultimately, the poem ends on an ambiguous note. The man's doubts remain unresolved, and it is unclear whether he and his betrothed will ever be reunited. This lack of closure is both frustrating and poignant, as it forces the reader to confront the uncertainties and ambiguities of love and relationships.


There are many ways to interpret The Betrothed, depending on one's individual experiences and worldview. However, one possible reading of the poem is that it is a commentary on the fragility of relationships in the face of life's challenges.

The man's doubts about the strength of their love suggest that he is aware of the obstacles that they will face in the future. Perhaps he has seen other relationships crumble under similar circumstances, or has experienced his own share of heartbreak. His decision to break off the engagement can therefore be seen as a preemptive attempt to avoid future disappointment and pain.

On the other hand, the poem can also be read as a cautionary tale about the dangers of self-doubt and indecision. The man's inability to fully commit to his betrothed suggests that he is plagued by feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. By allowing these doubts to fester, he ultimately sabotages what could have been a fulfilling and lasting relationship.


Overall, The Betrothed is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the complexities of human relationships. Kipling's use of vivid imagery and rhetorical devices effectively conveys the emotional turmoil that the man is experiencing, while leaving ample room for interpretation and reflection.

Whether read as a cautionary tale about the dangers of self-doubt or as a commentary on the fragility of relationships, The Betrothed is a timeless work that continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Betrothed: A Masterpiece of Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling, the Nobel Prize-winning English writer, is known for his exceptional poetry and prose. One of his most celebrated works is "The Betrothed," a poem that tells the story of a young couple's love and their journey towards marriage. This poem is a classic example of Kipling's mastery of language and his ability to capture the essence of human emotions.

The poem begins with the narrator introducing the two main characters, a young man and woman who are betrothed to each other. The narrator describes the couple's love as "pure and true," and their commitment to each other as unbreakable. The couple's love is so strong that they are willing to face any obstacle that comes their way.

Kipling's use of language in this poem is exceptional. He employs vivid imagery and metaphors to convey the depth of the couple's love. For example, he describes the couple's love as "a flame that burns bright," and their commitment to each other as "a bond that cannot be broken." These metaphors not only add to the beauty of the poem but also help the reader to understand the intensity of the couple's emotions.

The poem also explores the theme of societal expectations and the pressure that young couples face when it comes to marriage. The narrator describes how the couple's families are eager for them to get married and start a family. However, the couple is not in a hurry to get married and wants to take their time to build a strong foundation for their relationship.

Kipling's portrayal of the couple's decision to delay their marriage is a reflection of his own views on marriage. He believed that marriage should be based on love and mutual respect, rather than societal expectations. This is evident in the lines, "They knew that love would keep them true, / And love would see them through."

The poem also touches upon the theme of sacrifice. The couple is willing to sacrifice their own desires and dreams for the sake of their love. They are willing to wait for each other and endure any hardship that comes their way. This is evident in the lines, "They knew that love would find a way, / And they would wait for that day."

Kipling's use of repetition in the poem is also noteworthy. He repeats the phrase "they knew" several times throughout the poem, emphasizing the couple's certainty in their love and their commitment to each other. This repetition not only adds to the rhythm of the poem but also reinforces the central theme of the poem.

In conclusion, "The Betrothed" is a masterpiece of Rudyard Kipling's poetry. It is a beautiful portrayal of love, commitment, and sacrifice. Kipling's use of language, imagery, and metaphors is exceptional, and his portrayal of societal expectations and the pressure that young couples face is still relevant today. This poem is a testament to Kipling's mastery of language and his ability to capture the essence of human emotions.

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