Figurative Language in Kipling's “My Boy Jack”

Rudyard Kipling is an English poet who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907. He wrote a poem named “My Boy Jack” after his loss of his son John in France at the Battle of Loos in 1915. Kipling in this poem was expressing his feelings of grief and loss of his only son John who died during WWI. He felt guilty because he is the one who encouraged his son to enter the military. Kipling when he wrote this poem hoped it reaches every family who suffered from the loss of their sons in WWI and comfort them with his poem.


My analysis will focus on figurative language which includes (interrogative sentences, foregrounding, change of tone, feelings of pride), and the perspective of the writer.

The general themes of “My Boy Jack” are the feelings of grief, guilt, and heroism were shown throughout the poem.

At the beginning of the poem, Kipling starts his poem with interrogative sentences in lines 1, 3, 5, and 9. The function that he wants to deliver is as if he is asking someone about his son and he replies to himself in a detached manner. This has the effect that someone is comforting him by answering his painful questions that appear no one can answer them. The use of this stylistic device is powerful in that it gives a sense of relief to the writer/reader in that someone is responding to his unanswered questions.

In lines 2, 6, 4, 8, 13 there are repeated sentences which reflects the stylistic effect foregrounding. According to Verdonk foregrounding means “ a distinct patterning of parallelism in a text’s typography, sounds, word choices, etc.”. In the omniscient witness's voice who repeats “Not this tide. Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.” to every question asked by the first-person pronoun, which functions as a constant answer to the questions being asked. This gives the writer/reader an effect that to every question the writer asks he got the answer “not this tide” which has a bit of hope to the father who is searching for his missing son, and this hope keeps him asking more about his son as if he eventually will get an answer that will satisfy him.

I have noticed from lines 1 to 9 there is a pessimistic tone and after that from lines 10 to 18 there is a change in the tone to a more optimistic one. This functions as if the writer has got the answer that he should move on and be proud of his son because he served in WWI and died during it. Moreover, he did not shame his family nor his country because he died while he is serving in the war. This effect has on the reader/writer that every obstacle or hardship should be looked at from a bright point of view.

In line 12 when the omniscient witness voice said, “he did not shame his kind” referring to the son, his usage of words indicates that the son did a heroic act that made his parents so proud. In these two sentences “hold your head up all the more”, “he was the son you bore” refer to the father that he should not feel guilty or sad because his son was a soldier who defended his country.

Kipling’s perspective was that it is a patriotic duty for every individual to serve and defend his country from the enemy who threats their own peace and stability. So, from this perspective, Kipling encouraged his son to enlist and protect his country even though later the father felt guilty, but at the same time, he is proud.


The purpose of this poem was to comfort the writer and also the expected readers that their sons who served in the war and died in it were a source of pride to their families and countries because they did not bring shame to them. The poem also has the purpose of how the parents should deal with their grief and loss of their sons. For me when I read this poem I felt that I can relate to it, because I have been in a similar situation.

29 April 2022
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