(notes by Roger Ayers)

the poem
[February 11th 2011]

Notes on the text

Line numbers apply to the accompanying copy of the poem
where the line layout has been very slightly modified to show
the junction between stanzas and choruses.

[Title] Loot Private property stolen from an enemy in time of war. The word was taken into English from Hindustani lut, the verb to rob, in the 18th century although the practice must be as old as war itself.

[Line 2] ‘…snigged…’ In Australia and New Zealand now used of dragging or towing something away with a rope, usually in connection with removing logs or branches in logging. Australian dictionaries give an unnamed ‘British dialect’ as the origin. Kipling could be using it here in the same sense, i.e. pulling the washing away on the clothes line, but a firm connection has not been established.

[Line 6a] ‘(Cornet: Toot! Toot!)’ This ‘stage direction’ is placed below line 6 to which the ‘Toot! Toot!’ should belong. To make it scan when reading it, the ‘Cornet’ has to remain unspoken. This also applies to the same stage direction in other stanzas, though not all have it. See the Introductory Comment for a discussion of Kipling’s use of this technique.

[Line 7] ‘…marchin’ clobber’ His field uniform, ‘clobber’ being slang for clothes.

[Lines 8 and 8a](Chorus) Loo! Loo! Lulu!..etc.’ ’ Another stage direction, here set after the first two words of the line to which it belongs, the Lines 8 and 8a together forming the last line of the second quatrain. The word Chorus has to be overlooked in order for it to scan, which contributes to the generally disjointed and haphazard effect. This also occurs at Line 24 and 24a. (See Verse Form in the Introduction.)

The Chorus proper does not actually start until the next line, 1C1, and goes on to 1C8. In the next three stanzas this Chorus is omitted apart from the first line, which differs with each stanza. The Chorus to the last stanza has its own numbering, 5C1 to 5C8.

[Line 1C3] ‘… to make the boys git up an’ shoot’!’ Motivate them to fight.

[Line 1C4 to 1C8] ‘It’s the same with dogs an’ men, …etc.’ The last lines of this quatrain are composed of the sort of cries that were used to urge on dogs in dog fights, hare coursing, rabbiting or ratting, so that they would ‘come again’, that is, return to the fray or hunt. All were popular country activities in the 19th century.

[Line 9] ‘… knocked a nigger edgeways …’ Struck down an enemy. At the time, the term ‘loot’ was only applicable in war (see [Title] above) so this must at least be on the fringes of combat. However offensive ‘nigger’ is now, in Kipling’s day and long after it was a normal term for a black person and could be used without deliberate racist overtones, although a soldier is almost certain to have used it in a derogatory sense about an enemy.

[Line 11] ‘… thank your lucky stars and gaiters’ a mixture of a common phrase and a name often used for a public house or hotel. The phrase, based on astrology, is ‘thank your lucky stars’. The pub name is ‘The Star and Garter’, referring to the insignia of the Order of the Garter, the oldest and most senior British Order of Chivalry, founded by Edward III in 1348, the Star being the shoulder badge. Many British pubs are named after items of royal regalia, such as The Crown, The Crown and Sceptre and The Orb and Sceptre.

It can have nothing to do with the Star and Garter charity for British ex-servicemen, as this was only set up in 1916 and took its name from the old hotel in which it was established.

[Line 17] ‘… ‘acking round a gilded Burma god’ Hacking, i.e. fighting, round a gilded statue of Buddha, mistaken by the soldier for a god.

[Line 19] ‘… treat a nigger to a dose o’ cleaning rod’ The speaker here is quite definitely showing racial contempt. Kipling is depicting an attitude that would have been evident in many of the soldiers that he met.

A ‘cleaning rod’ was a long metal rod that had a slot in one end to take a small piece of flannelette which could be pushed down a rifle barrel to clean it. When not in use, the cleaning rod was housed in the woodwork of the rifle under the barrel, so it was always ready to hand.

[Line 21] ‘… pour some water on the floor’ This implies that the floor was that of a poorer type of dwelling, made of something such as hydrated lime and soil, in which a loosely packed area, such as over a recently buried bag or box, would collapse when soaked and thus reveal itself.

[Line 23] ‘…baynick …’ Bayonet. An exaggerated representation of Cockney pronunciation.

[Line 24 and 24a] Together, these make the last line of the stanza with the stage direction ‘(Chorus)’ within the line, as in Lines 8 and 8a.

[Line 30] ...to dust a flute Since this is not in the Oxford Dictionary of Slang and an advanced search on Google only brings up quotations of this line, it would appear to have been invented by Kipling, although I have heard it used in conversation. Any proof of independent use before 1890 would be very welcome. Presumably Kipling is suggesting that the amount of dust that would cover a flute would be very little.

[Line 31] … sling your 'ook, Sling one's hook; slang for to go, to leave. First recorded 1874 (Oxford Dictionary of Slang).

[Line 33] … square … Conciliate with a bribe. First recorded 1859 (Oxford Dictionary of Slang).

… Sergeant an' a Quartermaster too, Sergeant and Quartermaster; at the time both could be senior non-commissioned officers or, in the case of Quartermaster, an officer given an honorary commission from the ranks.

[Line 38] An' I see another tunin' up to toot A clear indication by Kipling that this is a performance, a show, as the line means that the speaker sees the next act preparing to come on stage.

[Line 39] ...the Widow's clo'es The Queen's Uniform, the original title Kipling gave to his poem, 'Tommy'. The Widow was Queen Victoria.

[Line 5C3] In the tunic an' the mess-tin an' the boot! All good places for hiding something small and valuable. Mess tins were rectangular open metal containers that doubled as plate or bowl for a meal. Two, one fitting inside the other, were carried in the haversack in the field.

[Line 5C7] Heeya! Sick 'im, puppy! Again a cry encouraging a dog to go for another animal in some form of hunt or fight.


©JRoger Ayers 2011 All rights reserved