(notes by John McGivering
and John Radcliffe)
When I die I will be a Burman, with twenty yards of real King’s silk, that has been made in Mandalay, about my body, and a succession of cigarettes between my lips. I will wave the cigarette to emphasise my conversation, which shall be full of jest and repartee, and I will always walk about with a pretty almond-coloured girl who shall laugh and jest too, as a young maiden ought. She shall not pull a sari over her head when a man looks at her and glare suggestively from behind it, nor shall she tramp behind me when I walk: for these are the customs of India. [From Sea to Sea, p. 221 line 19]Charles Carrington, in his edition of Barrack-Room Ballads (Methuen 1974, p. 162), describes the poem as: 'Perhaps the favourite among the 'Barrack-Room Ballads', written to a popular waltz tune, set to music as a tenor song, and long since passed into folklore ... Recently it has been copied by Bertolt Brecht.'
Meanwhile he prepared an expeditionary force in Lower Burma: 9000 fighting men, 3000 followers, 67 guns, 24 machine-guns. The ultimatum was offensively rejected. War followed. In November 1885 the great paddle-steamers, crowded with troops, thrashed up-river. Before they could reach Mandalay it surrendered. Burmese resistance had crumbled.British occupation and annexation followed.
….the popular “Mandalay” of June 1890, well-known, perhaps, as it is set to rousing, singable tunes….. Probably his greatest successes in verse at this early period were the poems abut private soldiers, notably in Barrack-Room Ballads, where he used the Tommies’ vernacular…Charles Allen (p. 307), however, writing in 2007, is very conscious that tastes have changed in the hundred and twenty years since the Barrack-Room Ballads were written:
The shock-value of “Danny Deever”, “Tommy” and the best of the Barrack-Room Ballads has faded over the years - and the rest have not aged well. “Mandalay” now sounds almost maudlin. Kipling’ cockneyfication seems contrived and the racial insensitivities containrd in such poems as “Gunga Din”, “Loot” and “Fuzzy Wuzzy are embarrassing, even when taken in context, which is Kipling giving voice to the Victorian working man.For more on Kipling and Burma see:
Had I opened the chorus of the song with `Oh' instead of 'On the road,' etc., it might have shown that the song was a sort of general mix-up of the singer's Far-Eastern memories against a background of the Bay of Bengal as seen at dawn from-a troop-ship taking him there. But ` On ' in this case was more singable than `Oh.' That simple explanation may stand as a warning. [Something of Myself, p. 222.)That one should not take poetry too literally [Ed.]