The first edition 1894 is also “Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow, " but in the first edition of Animal Stories published by MacMillan in 1933 it is:
“Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pillow, " So both versions in Kipling’s lifetime.
My 1898 London edition of the Jungle Book
has "Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow, "
The book has, on the page preceding the Preface
First Edition 1894
Reprinted 1894 (twice), 1895, 1896, 1897, 1898
This may be helpful
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Tuesday, February 02, 2010 8:10 PM
Subject: Re: Kipling's poem "Seal Lullaby"
May I congratulate you on your fascinating and thorough research of "Seal Lullaby". I will post it on our mailbase and copy it to David Alan Richards, a vice president and our representative in the USA. His bibliography of Kipling's works is to be launched next week. As this is a copyright issue he may be the best person to comment, when he has the time.
----- Original Message -----
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Sent: Tuesday, February 02, 2010 5:42 PM
Subject: Kipling's poem "Seal Lullaby"
Dear Ms. Keskar,
I am writing concerning a prior correspondence between you and a colleague of mine, one Peter James (PJ) Livesey. To refresh your memory, this concerned textual disagreement among printed sources of Rudyard Kipling's poem Seal Lullaby, which I am given to understand first appeared in print in the August 1893 edition of the British magazine National Review. In some sources, one line of the poem reads, "Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow;" while in others it reads "Where billow meets billow, there soft be thy pilow;".
Unaware of PJ's inquiry to you, I had been doing some research on this very topic. He recalls that you cited a 1901 edition of The Jungle Book as a source for the word "then" being authoritative. As it turns out, google.com has an enormous online collection of digitized books - not text files made from scans that were passed through an optical character recognition algorithm mind you, but actual photographs of individual pages. Their search capability is quite extensive so that one can, for example, look for all books in their collection published between 1893 and Kipling's death in 1936 that contain a specific phrase. When searching for the phrase "then soft be thy pillow", a total of eight different relevant books turns up in that period - Human Documents: Character-Sketches of Representative Men and Women of the Time, by Arthur Lynch and published by Bertram Dobell of London in 1896, an 1897 edition of The Jungle Book, Volume 47 of the Ohio Educational Monthly (1898), a book entitled Psychology for Teachers (1901), Kipling compilations from 1919 and 1928 and two others. When searching for the phrase "there soft be thy pillow", there are about forty unique relevant citations, including editions of The Jungle Book from 1894, 1895, 1899 and 1920; various collected works of Kipling from 1894, 1899, 1902, 1919 and 1936; and Volume 12 of Book News (1894).
If you care to have a look at these yourself, the URLs in question are
In books published since Kipling's death, I found "then" in what appear to be about fifteen different sources. One of these is an historical photographic reprint edition of Psychology for Teachers cited above. A couple of the most recent state that they obtained the text from public domain Internet sources. Several of the rest have the look of low-budget, limited-run, soft-cover editions that may not have been afforded the editorial wherewithal to detect, let alone question such a small difference. By contrast, I found several times as many volumes that used "there", including Kipling compilations and editions of The Jungle Book from 1937, 1940, 1942, 1948, 1969, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2008.
This is in no way conclusive because there are certainly other editions and possibly even direct instructions from the author himself of which I am unaware. However, it does seem that most of the versions published both during Kipling's lifetime and since his death have used the word "there" in the line in question. That initially led me to wonder whether there might have been a typesetting error in 1897 that was subsequently corrected in some editions and reproduced in others.
The earliest source that I have found using "when" is, curiously, Lynch's book in 1896. As I very much doubt the 1897 version of The Jungle Book used Lynch as a source, I can only conclude that either there must have been an even earlier printing of Seal Lullaby that used "then" or else two people made the same change quite independently of one another. The sources that I have seen that use "where" prior to 1896 were all printed in the United States. This may be because google.com has gotten much of its collection from University libraries in the US, or it may be that US editions are somehow more likely than UK editions to use "there".
Kipling was very precise with his choice of words and the preceding phrase,"Where billow meets billow" is consistent in every version I have seen. Given the parallel construction with the following phrase, it seems to me to make more sense that both phrases would refer to a common spatial location established by the use of the word "where". In other words, Kipling has the mother seal saying something along the lines of, "may your pillow be soft in the place where the billows meet". For me, at least, that works much better than, "may your pillow be soft at the time where the billows meet". Had Kipling wanted "then soft be thy pillow", would he not have started with "When billow meets billow"? In either case, agreement within the phrase goes hand in hand with a natural internal rhyme. For an author whose poems all but demand to be read aloud, matching "there" with "where" seems to me the preferable choice.
I would be very interested to know of any sources that you may have prior to the 1901 edition that PJ mentioned, particularly British sources. International copyright violations were no less rampant in the late 19th century than they are today and it is possible that a word of no major consequence might be changed here and there by an unscrupulous publisher intending to provide themselves a legal loophole. Alternatively, it is possible that a minor error happened during the rush to typeset the second or third printing of a very popular book. Whatever the cause, I would like to hear your own views on the discrepancy. Thank you for your time on this matter. I very much appreciate any light that you may be able to shed on this issue.