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In the poem The Three-Decker, by Rudyard Kipling, there is one line where the meter is slightly different from all the other lines. I Googled that line, not expecting to find anything, and Google Books came up with this from the magazine The Academy (1896).

The very last literary device (or vice) which we should expect to find Mr. Kipling using is the pun. Yet he is ever a dealer in surprises, and here in that delightful piece of fancy "The Three-Decker" (one of the four literary ballads in The Seven Seas), we came upon this distressing stanza:

By ways no Gaze could follow, a course unspoiled of Cook,
Per Fancy, fleetest in man, our titled berths we took
With maids of matchless beauty and parentage unguessed,
And a Church of England parson, for the Islands of the Blest."

The italics, we admit, are our own. We employ them in the hope that Mr. Kipling may see his error emphasised, and repent.

So that answered my question about the discrepancy in the meter: Kipling did it for the sake of the pun.

But what is the pun?

  • @Rand: fixed. There should be a pun/wordplay... or similar tag (at least, I think there should be). Anyway, I've created one. – Peter Shor Feb 20 '18 at 13:45
  • We already have a wording-choice tag (related meta), but the topic of puns/wordplay is more specific, and yes, may also be worthy of a tag. – Rand al'Thor Feb 20 '18 at 13:53
  • I don't trust my ear when it comes to English metre, but is it correct that if “in man” is pronounced Inman (trochaic, i.e. with stress on the first syllable), then the metre is fine? That would suggest that Kipling was thinking primarily of the pun when he wrote that line. :-) – ShreevatsaR Feb 20 '18 at 22:57
  • @ShreevatsaR: indeed, if Inman is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable (as it is in Massachusetts, at least), the meter is fine. So that makes it completely clear that these puns were deliberate, if anybody had any doubts. – Peter Shor Feb 20 '18 at 23:02
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These are puns on the names of tourist agencies and operators.

Ways no gaze could follow has the double meaning:

  1. routes that go beyond the horizon (or otherwise out of sight);
  2. routes that are not available as package tours from Henry Gaze & Sons, nor found in their publication Gaze's Tourists Gazette.

Unspoiled of Cook has the double meaning:

  1. never visited by the navigator and explorer Captain James Cook;
  2. not spoiled by crowds of tourists taking package holidays with Thomas Cook & Son.

Fleetest in man has the double meaning:

  1. the fastest of human faculties;
  2. the ships of the Inman Line, which included winners of the Blue Riband for fastest crossing of the Atlantic. In support of this reading, note that the scansion is regular if you put the stress on in (as required by this reading) and irregular if you put the stress on man (as required by reading 1).

(Surprisingly, the two lines with the puns do not appear in all editions of The Seven Seas. See my follow-up question for more about this puzzle.)

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    I am amazed at the breadth of the wordplay; 1 pun is amusing, but 3 related puns in only two lines, and barely derailing the poem. I am in awe. – Matthieu M. Feb 20 '18 at 15:46

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