"A Ballade of Burial"


(notes by John McGivering)

the poem
[October 12th 2010]

Publication history

This poem was first published in the second edition of Departmental Ditties in 1886. See David Alan Richards (p. 15); also ORG Volume 8, page 5148 (Verse No. 218).

It is collected in The theme

The Poet—aged twenty— wishes to be buried in the Hills, away from the dust, heat and general discomfort of the Plains. In verse with echoes of Browning and “Old Lang Syne ” he hopes that his executor will make a holiday of it as well but does not make any provision for payment of expenses. See “At the End of the Passage” in Life’s Handicap and many other Indian stories relating to death, including “The Pit that they Digged”, and the poem “The Sea and he Hills”.

The ballade is a verse-form of three eight-line stanzas, the last line of each being a refrain; these are followed by a four-line stanza as an 'envoi'. The rhyme scheme is usually 'ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC', where the capital 'C' is a refrain. In this case, however, Kipling has written six eight-line stanzas with no envoi. Some critical comments

Bonamy Dobrée (p. 210) observes of Departmental Ditties:

One could say that these verses are experimental. Certainly in these ditties as Kipling very properly called them, he would seem to have been trying his hand at at many forms: the ballad; the ballade as in those “Of Burial” and “On Jakko Hill”... the Browning sort of monologue as in “One Viceroy Resigns”.

Notes on the text


This is a line from “The Bishop Orders his Tomb” in the 1845 volume Dramatic Romances and Lyrics by Robert Browning (1812-1889.) The Bishop speaks in unrhymed iambic pentameters.

Saint Praxed’s Church in Rome is dedicated to a martyred Roman virgin.

[Verse 1]

Pegs in this context shots of whisky or brandy, unuslly mixed with soda-water and cooled with a lump of ice.

[Verse 2]

Umballa now known as Ambala - a large town in the Punjab. The Cantonment was established in 1843. Kim delivers a secret message to the Commander-in-Chief there.

coolies hired labourers. See Hobson-Jobson p. 249.

[Verse 3]

Babu An English-speaking clerk, usually a Bengali. One named Hurree Chunder Mookerjee plays an important part in Kim, another appears in "The Ballad of Boh Da Thone". The word, which is a respectful form of address, was also used more generally of educated Bengalis.

Kalka acquired by the British in 1843 as a depot for Simla, their summer capital. It was the railhead until the line was extended in 1903. Before that transport was by tonga as described in many of the Indian stories.,

“special brake” in this context a four-wheeled vehicle drawn by horses

[Verse 4]

Tonga a two-wheeled vehicle drawn by horses. See Hobson-Jobson p. 930. They were In use on the road to Simla before the railway came. See Kipling’s verse “As the Bell Clinks”.

teak and leaden skin the body is soldered up in a lead coffin which is placed in a timber casket. It would be very heavy,

[Verse 5]

Padre A Christian priest, and the word commonly used for military chaplains. It means 'father' in Italian.

dear departed An echo of the Service for the Burial of the Dead in the Book of Common Prayer : '...it hath pleased Almighty God ... to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed ...'

three days casual defined in a footnote as three days leave.

on the bust In this context slang for a modest celebration.

[Verse 6]

Judgement Day in traditional Christian belief the final and eternal judgment by God of all nations and peoples. (Revelations 20,12–15).

[J McG.]

©John McGivering 2010 All rights reserved