A Week in Lahore (3)

First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 6 January 1885


Diary. 5 January 1885

Kipling’s penchant for parody and his interest in American poetry are combined in this item. He had been somewhat unusual among literary schoolboys in paying as much attention to American as to English poets, and Emerson, Longfellow, Lowell and Whitman were nearly as familiar to him as were Tennyson, Browning and Arnold. It is interesting to note that the stock figures of Anglo-India in ‘Departmental Ditties’, still a year in the future, have already taken form here. [T.P.]

The Article

It is seldom that an American poet condescends to interest himself in so remote a land as India; and I am proportionately glad, therefore, to be able to record this week a great kindness on the part of no less distinguished a singer than Walt Whitman. Once upon a time, indeed, the bard was styled — not by his admirers
— the ‘Inspired Auctioneer of the Universe’, but he has long outlived the reproach which the elaborate detail of his workmanship drew upon him; and the swing of his half rhythmic, half declamatory, wholly musical lines has now drawn round him a delighted and admiring school of followers. What the great poet’s views of an Indian New Year are may be seen from the following reply to a modest request for ‘something seasonable’: —

‘Dekkol Look here!’
From the pines of the Alleghanies I, Walt Whitman — colossal, pyramidal, immense — send salutation.

I project myself into your personality — I become an integral part of you.
I am the Junior Civilian horribly dikked by the Superior Being, and squabbling with a tactless, factious Municipal Committee; and I too pray for a happy new year.
I am also the Superior Being, Impassive, and waltzing on the toes of all within reach. I too pray, without prejudice for a happy new year.
I am the European loafer, drunk in the bazar on country spirits with blue lips and a green rat crawling down my neck. I too, out of the gutter pray for a happy new year.
I am the gay, the joyous subaltern, with six ponies in my stables and a shroff in the back ground. And I too pray for a happy new year.
I am the ‘joy of wild asses’ with my husband absent in the Soudan and a ten-strong following at my high silk heels. And I too pray for a happy new Year.
I am in Sirsa, Jhang, or Montgomery, separated from Dickie, Emmy or Baby, living in a tent with my husband who is seedy and overworked. I read the smudgy round-hand-home-letters, and I too pray for a happy new year.
Oh! Civilian, Superior Being, Loafer, Subaltern, Grass-Widow and Grass-Mother of many conflicting domesticities, I salute you.

In the name of our great ruler Humanity I too wish you all individually and collectively, some — how or anyhow — a Happy New Year.