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Rudyard Kipling

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea, 
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me; 

For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say; 

"Come you back, you British Soldier; come you back to Mandalay!" 
mandalay imagesCome you back to Mandalay, 

mandalay imagesWhere the old Flotilla lay; 

mandalay imagesCan't you 'ear their paddles clunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay? 

mandalay imagesOn the road to Mandalay, 

mandalay imagesWhere the flyin'-fishes play, 

mandalay imagesAn' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay! 

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green, 
An' 'er name was Supi-Yaw-Lat jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen, 

An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot, 

An' wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot: 

mandalay imagesBloomin' idol made o' mud-- 

mandalay imagesWot they called the Great Gawd Budd-- 

mandalay imagesPlucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud! 

mandalay imagesOn the road to Mandalay ...

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow, 
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-la-lo!" 
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek again my cheek 

We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak. 

mandalay imagesElephants a-piling teak 

mandalay imagesIn the sludgy, squdgy creek, 

mandalay imagesWhere the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak! 

mandalay imagesOn the road to Mandalay ... 

But that's all shove be'ind me -- long ago and fur away, 
An' there ain't no 'buses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay; 

An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells: 

"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else." 
mandalay imagesNo! you won't 'eed nothin' else 

mandalay imagesBut them spicy garlic smells, 

mandalay imagesAn' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells; 

mandalay imagesOn the road to Mandalay ...

I am sick 'o wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones, 
An' the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones; 

Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand, 

An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand? 

mandalay imagesBeefy face an' grubby 'and-- 

mandalay imagesLaw! wot do they understand? 

mandalay imagesI've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land! 

mandalay imagesOn the road to Mandalay . . . 

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst, 
Where there ain't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst; 

For the temple-bells are callin', and it's there that I would be-- 

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea; 

mandalay imagesOn the road to Mandalay, 

mandalay imagesWhere the old Flotilla lay, 

mandalay imagesWith our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay! 

mandalay imagesO the road to Mandalay, 

mandalay imagesWhere the flyin'-fishes play, 

mandalay imagesAn' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay! 


As a young man, I had heard Kipling's Mandalay read at a poet's gathering. The reader's accent was British-thick and the wonderful rhythms of the poem flowered in my mind and remained in my memory. In thinking the poem now as an older man, I've written: Mandalay and Me

It's a bit difficult to feel the romantic tug of Kipling's poetry from that era when England was at the height of its colonialism and knowing Kipling's feelings about colonialism and the "white man's burden." And, Burma, renamed Myanmar, has been subject to a brutal military dictatorship for many years. That the soldier's Supi-Yaw-Lat was likely a prostitute is another off putting aspect of this poem. Yet, Kipling, in my view, is simply using he images and sensibilities of his time to effectively evoke the middle-aged man's whimsy for other places, for earlier times with fewer burdens, themes which likely will appeal to any man (or woman) burdened with today's responsibilities and themes which appear in contemporary poems.

~ Ray Rasmussen Email

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