(notes by John McGivering)
An allegorical poem that he composed for the first English edition of Departmental Ditties (1890). It is called “The Galley Slave” and the galley is clearly India, with her wealth of goods and humanity, her constant threat of disease and death ... Even the Anglo-Indians’ perpetual concern with the chance of another Mutiny is made part of the allegory….. Kipling strains his allegory to the limit as this slave, instead of concluding with a song in praise of his new-found freedom, looks back on his servitude with nostalgia and regretAnd Charles Carrington echoes this thought (p. 335):
Life was a voyage; the profession he embraced was like a ship’s routine; his farewell to India almost inevitably took the form of a ballad called “The Galley Slave.”Some critical comments
….all are good – “The Galley Slave” in especial, being almost good enough to vie with “The Ballad of East and West” for the place of honour in Mr. Kipling’s whole metrical achievement. In a sense too, it is typical of the writer. The rhythm is coarse, and the facture (workmanship: Ed.) is by no means irreproachable: but to read it without emotion is impossible. It is a man’s work, done for men; and it puts before you the feeling of the Anglo-Indian for the Indian Empire.There is rather faint praise from Quiller-Couch in Reviews and Reminders II. "On Some Living English Poets”, in the English Illustrated Magazine, Volume X, p. 120 for September 1893:
[see R L Green p. 58]
Others may find more than facile vulgarity in Departmental Ditties. Having searched once and twice, I do not, save only the penultimate poem “The Galley Slave”, which really gave some promise of the splendid work to come.Edward Dowden, writing in The New Liberal Review, Volume XXXVIII, pp. 53-61 for February 1901, writes:
[see R L Green p. 175]
Even in Departmental Ditties which may have a fillip of fun for jaded Anglo-Indians, though now they seem too precociously clever and not agreeably bitter-sweet, the solemn note was struck at least once in the finest poem in the collection, “The Galley Slave”.Another contemporary view is that of F. York Powell in the English Illustrated Magazine, Volume XXX295-8 for December 1903:
[see R L Green p. 262]
He is exceptionally strong in allegory, a vein rarely touched of late, but which he has worked to purpose. “The Galley Slave” “The Three-Decker”, “The Truce of the Bear”….are notable examples. Neither Tennyson nor (as I think) Browning could write a good ballad, but Mr. Kipling can ... ”The Bolivar,” “The Last Suttee” etcBackground
[see R L Green p. 285]
... I dreamed for many years of building a veritable three-decker out of chosen and longstored timber-teak, green-heart, and ten-year-old oak knees—each curve melting deliciously into the next that the sea might nowhere meet resistance or weakness; the whole suggesting motion even when, her great sails for the moment furled, she lay in some needed haven—a vessel ballasted on ingots of pure research and knowledge, roomy, fitted with delicate cabinet-work below-decks, painted, carved, gilt and wreathed the length of her, from her blazing stern-galleries outlined by bronzy palm-trunks, to her rampant figure-head—an East Indiaman worthy to lie alongside The Cloister and the Hearth.
: Not being able to do this, I dismissed the ambition as ‘beneath the thinking mind.’ So does a half-blind man dismiss shooting and golf.
Our native compositors ‘followed copy’ without knowing one word of English. Hence glorious and at times obscene misprints. Our proof-readers (sometimes we had a brace of them) drank, which was expected, but systematic and prolonged D.T. (delirium tremens) on their part gave me more than my share of their work.See also "The Finest Story in the World" in Many Inventions. in which Charlie Mears has been a galley-slave in a previous life, and the linked poem > "Song of the Galley-slaves" Galleys also figure in "The Manner of Men" in (Limits and Renewals).
An overseer on the lower deck slipped from the centre plank and fell among the rowers. They choked him to death against the side of the ship with their chained hands quite quietly, and it was too dark for the other overseer to see what had happened. When he asked, he was pulled down too and choked, and the lower deck fought their way up deck by deck, with the pieces of the broken benches banging behind ’em. How they howled!’[Verse 2]