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Rudyard Kipling's "The Female of the Species"

Updated on March 11, 2016
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962

Rudyard Kipling

Source

Commentary

Rudyard Kipling's poem dramatizes the notion that females in all species, often thought to be demure and soft, are actually more iron-willed than their counterpart.

In thirteen stanzas, each consisting of two couplets, Rudyard Kipling's "The Female of the Species" describes the archetypal differences between the male and female of various species from the cobra to the human.

Stanza 1: "When the Himalayan peasant meets the he-bear in his pride"
The speaker begins by claiming that if a dweller of the Himalayas happens upon a male bear and "shouts to scare the monster," the bear will "often turn aside." Not so with the female of the bear species—she will "rend[ ] the peasant tooth and nail." Therefore the speaker concludes that the "female of the species is more deadly than the male."

Stanza 2: "When Nag the basking cobra hears the careless foot of man"
Moving to the reptiles, the speaker again claims that the female is deadlier. If a person happens upon the male cobra, "Nag" will sometimes wriggle sideways and avoid [the careless foot of man] if he can." Again, not so with Nag's female mate, who "makes no such motion."

Stanza 3: "When the early Jesuit fathers preached to Hurons and Choctaws"
The speaker then reports that when the Christian missionaries encountered the "Hurons and Choctaws," the "Jesuit fathers" feared "the squaws" "not the warriors." The woman "turned the [fathers] pale."

Stanza 4: "Man's timid heart is bursting with the things he must not say"
In stanza 4, the speaker reports that men have to hold their tongues, because the men are "timid" and have no recourse but to suffer in silence. Even though God gave woman to man, man is not allowed to give her away.

Stanza 5: "Man, a bear in most relations--worm and savage otherwise"
While a man is tough in most dealings with his fellows, he is a "worm and savage" with women. A man will negotiate and compromise as necessary. About a man's behavior, the speaker asserts that the male will not push his argument to the outer limits of logic.

Stanza 6: "Fear, or foolishness, impels him, ere he lay the wicked low"
In stanza 6, the speaker continues describing how a man will behave and what drives him: fear, foolishness, and "mirth obscene diverts his anger." A man is often assailed with "doubt and pity." And for all this, the speaker thinks man's nature is scandalous.

Stanza 7: "But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame"
Unlike the scattershot virtue of the male, the female is focused on "one sole issue," and "every fibre of her frame" is concentrated on that issue, and that concentration makes her "deadlier than the male." But the reason for that concentration is "lest the generations fail."

Stanza 8: "She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast"
The female takes as her purpose of being the care for her young. She has no time and inclination for doubt. She cannot be swayed by "male diversions" that inhere in argument resolution. Her one goal is clear, and she will protect her young without compromise.

Stanza 9: "She can bring no more to living than the powers that make her great"
The power that makes the female great is her power to protect her young, which includes her relationship with the male. Even unmarried, childless women possess the same "equipment."

Stanza 10: "She is wedded to convictions--in default of grosser ties"
The female is "wedded to convictions" that demonstrate that "her contentions are her children," and she will fight to death anyone who disagrees with her or tries to injure those children.

Stanza 11: "Unprovoked and awful charges--even so the she-bear fights"
Despite the manner of the accost, the female will "fight," "bite," or cause "the victim [to writhe] in anguish."

Stanza 12: "So it comes that Man, the coward, when he gathers to confer"
Because of the uncompromising nature of the female, and because the male is a "coward," the men cannot invite women to meet with them "in council." Men, who seek justice "at war with Life and Conscience," cannot allow themselves to be distracted by females, who do not make those fine distinctions.

Stanza 13: "And Man knows it! Knows, moreover, that the Woman that God gave him"
The speaker claims that both men and women know the inherent differences between them, implying that they must take steps to mollify those differences. The woman, who may be banished from the council, will always "command" if not "govern," because "[h]er instincts never fail." She will always be "more deadly than the Male."

Reading of Kipling's "The Female of the Species"

Kipling: Poems

Kipling: Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)
Kipling: Poems (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets Series)

This collection includes "The Female of the Species"

 

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
      Author

      Linda Sue Grimes 17 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      Thank you for your response, Shyron! One of my faves also. And this fine poem certainly deserves more attention.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 17 months ago from Texas

      Rudyard Kipling is also one of my favorite writers, I love poetry and I especially love "The Female of the Species" poem.

      Thank you for bringing this to mind.

    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
      Author

      Linda Sue Grimes 17 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

      Oh, yes, Kipling was a master, for sure. His reputation has been somewhat sullied by postmodernist, left-wing loons, but that is to be expected. Thanks for the response, John!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 17 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Rudyard Kipling is one of my favourite writers, and this is perhaps his best poem. I love the reading and your commentary.