O Baal, Hear Us!

(notes edited by John McGivering)

Publication history

ORG (Volume 8, page 5215) lists this poem as Verse No. 328 B.

Andrew Rutherford (Early Verse by Rudtard Kipling, OUP 1986. p. 408) records that it was published in the Pioneer on 19 July 1888, over the signature `R.K.’, subtitled “A Metrical Forecast”, with the heading:

An attempt should be made to prepare a moral text-book based upon the fundamental principles of natural religion, such as may be taught in all Government and non-Government colleges—Vide Resolution in this week’s G-tte of I–a.

The poem was reprinted in the Pioneer Mail on 22 July 1888, and the Civil amd Military Gazette on 23 July. It is collected, with some passages deleted (printed here within red brackets) in:

  • Edition de Luxe vol. XVIII (Early Verse), Macmillan 1900
  • Outward Bound Edition vol. XVII (Early Verse) Scribner’s 1900
  • Sussex Edition vol. XXXII p. 75 (Departmental Ditties: Barrack-Room Ballads) Macmillan 1938
  • Burwash Edition vol. XXV (Departmental Ditties: Barrack-Room Ballads) Doubleday, Doran, 1941

A passage (‘We be the Gods of the East…’) from the ‘Chorus of the Indian Pantheon’, with an additional verse, was used as a heading to chapter xix of The Naulahka (1892), published in a collection of Rhymed Chapter Headings for The Naulahka, in the same year, collected in Songs from Books (1912), and included (under ‘Chapter headings’) in the successive Inclusive and Definitive Editions of Kipling’s verse.


Rutherford notes:

There had been a good deal of press comment in the course of the year on the report of an Indian Commission, which had commented inter alia on problems of discipline in Indian schools and colleges and on the fact that education there concentrated on the acquisition of knowledge to the neglect of moral training. Its proposals included the suggestion that a textbook of ethics of a non-sectarian nature should be prepared for use in schools.

‘And who’, asked the CMG on 15 June 1888, ‘is to write or compile all these guides for morals ? The founders of Christianity, and Mahomedanism, (sic.) and Buddhism, and Hinduism, have all in their own grand ways set their hands to “moral text-books”, yet none of these will quite meet the general view in this land.

A Resolution of the Indian Government published in The Gazette of India for 14 July provoked Kipling to the comment, in a letter to Mrs. Hill:

‘Ah me ! here comes a thundering Govt. resolution about education. I must wire an abstract to the Pioneer and write a skit on it afterwards…’
[Kipling Papers, University of Sussex, 16/3]

Kipling’s abstract, a full-length article on ‘The Education Policy of the Indian Government’, appeared on 17 July, and includes:

…On the subject of moral education it is remarked:– ‘Attention has again been called to the proposal by the Education Commission that an attempt should be made to prepare a moral text-book, based upon the fundamental principles of natural religion, such as may be taught in all Government and non-Government colleges. The Government of India and the Secretary of State entertained doubts as to the wisdom of this recommendation at the time … but circumstances have since occurred … which have suggested to both authorities the desirability of making the attempt.


Rutherford explains in a footnote that these ‘circumstances’ had included a much-publicised riot at the Madras Christian College, during which Brahmin students had assaulted and insulted their Professors. The poem is, of course, Kipling’s ‘skit’ in which he ridicules the attempt to write such a ‘moral textbook’ for general use. If the accumulated wisdom of thinkers through the ages could not achieve such a thing it was not likely to be within the powers of the Indian Government in the year 1888. It was a cry to a false god.

Like “The Masque of Plenty” (October 1888), though on a slightly lighter note, this collection of verse in various metres can be sung to the music of the light operas by Gilbert and Sullivan, which were well known at the time and highly popular with Kipling’s readers. See also our notes on “The Bronckhorst Divorce-Case” in Plain Tales from the Hills. p. 246 line 1.

Notes on the Text


Baal Baal was the god of the Phoenicians and other Semitic peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean, but a false god to the People of Israel.


a palace in Cloudland This must refer to Nephelococcygia or ‘Cloud-Cuckoo-Land’, an unrealistically idealistic state where everything is perfect, in “The Birds” by the ancient Greek comic dramatist Aristophanes (448-330 BC). It may also have an echo of ’The Clouds”, in which he satirizes new fashions in philosophy.

Kants with a K Immanuel Kant (1724-1804); Professor of Philosophy at Königsberg, in Prussia, researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology.

Cants with a C a word of many meanings, mainly of a derogatory nature. In this context to use language whose meaning has evaporated from continued repetition, or to speak in a hypocritical manner.

Hodmadod A snail in its shell.

The Pit In this context, Hell.

Comte Auguste Comte (1798-1857.) French philosopher who rejected metaphysics and revealed religion in favour of a ‘religion of humanity’.
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that deals with first principles, especially ‘being’ and ‘knowing’, and is concerned with the ultimate nature of of reality. It has been maintained that no certain knowledge of metaphysical questions is possible. [Ed.]

Confidentialissimo A word coined by Kipling meaning very very confidentially.

gum-pot and shear paste and scissors for cutting out items from a newspaper, etc. and pasting into a scrapbook or draft of a document. Kipling writes of this as the first task he expects as a young journalist, in “The Last Term” in The Complete Stalky & Co., p. 392.


Solo a song or musical item for one performer.

tremolo a wavering musical effect.

Afric’s sunny climes ‘Afric’ meaning Africa. An echo of Bishop Heber’s famous hymn:

From Greenland’s icy mountains, from India’s coral strand;
Where Afric’s sunny fountains roll down their golden sand.
From many an ancient river, from many a palmy plain,
They call us to deliver their land from error’s chain.

Assuages softens or mitigates.

fetich An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers, especially one associated with animistic or shamanistic religious practices

Ber-etheren Brethren, brothers.

Afrikander Strictly an Afrikaans-speaking South African of European ancestry, but here Kipling seems simply to mean ‘African’. (He probably wanted a rhyme for4 ‘gander’).

the Chief of Married Men Perhapd King Solomon who was said to have had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. See I Kings, 11,3, and “The Butterfly that Stamped” in Just-So Stories.

Sauce for the goose the proverb is ‘Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’, what pleases a woman will also please a man.

Fudge a word of several meanings, here signifying a botched job, a fake.

the land where the deitys breed India, a lamd of many peoples amd many gods.

[Chorus of the Indian Pantheon]

Pantheon a temple of all the gods.

Semi-chorus an item to be sung by half the chorus.

kine cattle.

tulsi basil, a plant considered sacred by Hindus.

husks the dry, thin covering of certain seeds and fruits, sometimes fed to animals. Perhaps an echo of the parable of the Prodical Son, in Luke 15,11-32 who when hr was was hungry:

…he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat.

[Verse 16]

conch The shells of sea snails, which can be made into primitive trumpets, used in temples.


jubilantissimo Another invented word, meaning ‘very joyfully’.

Aryan As Rutherford explains, this is strictly a term applied to the Indo-European group of languages, but one used in the 19th century to refer to users of the original Aryan language or their descendants, and more specifically to the Asiatic portion of these, since Indians and Persians had called themselves Arya (from the Sanskrit, meaning ‘noble’, ‘of good family’). Here it refers to the peoples of North India.


Vedas Sacred writings of the Hindus.

Koran the Holy Book of Islam.

[Part Two]

duet a song or music for two performers.

[Chorus of Committee]

Three – and – thirty million Gods an exaggeration, though many gods are worshipped in India.


patter-song A humourus narrative set to a rapid and catchy melody.

Piccolo a small flute

Rabelais François Rabelais (c. 1494-1553); French humanist and writer of fantastical satires, famous for his grotesque and bawdy humour. He wrote Gargantua and Pantagruel.

Garlic Allium sativum, a plant in the onion genus, much used in cookery, with a strong flavour and pungent smell.

Locke John Locke (1632-1704), English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers.

Bacon Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, and writer.

There was a theory, promoted by the American writer, Delia Bacon (1811-1859) that he was the author of the works of Shakespeare. Few scholars took this seriously. King in “The Propagarion of Knowledge” (Debits and Credits pp. 299-300) describes ir as ‘ … rancid Baconian rot … imbecike and unspeakable girls’ school tripe …’.

Butler Joseph Butler (1692-1752) Bishop of Bristol and then of Durham, moral philosopher and theologian.

Voltaire François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), better known by the pen name Voltaire; French writer, historian and philosopher famous for his wit and for his advocacy of civil liberties, a strong critic of intolerance and religious dogma.

“Precious Fools” “Les Précieuses Ridicules”, a comedy satirizing contemporary follies. This may also be an echo of Letter vi in Henry Fielding’s Shamela (1741) [Ed.]

Molière Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known by his stage name Molière (1622-1673), French playwright and actor, a great master of comedy.

Robert Elsmere A novel by Mrs Humphrey Ward, just published in 1888, which emphasized the social mission of Christianity while rejecting its miraculous elements.

Mallock William H. Mallock (1840-1923) a novelist of ideas, author of The New Republic, or Culture, Faith and Philosophy in an English Country House (1877).

Hume David Hume (1711-1776) , Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist,

Gibbon Edward Gibbon (1737-1794.) English historian, fanous for his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Encore The French for ‘again!’ – a call for a repeat of a musical or other performance.

Ten Commandments A list of religious and moral rules handed down by God to the people of Israel. See Exodus 20,2-17, and Deuteronomy 5,6–21.

Penal Code The Indian Penal Code which came into force in 1862.

[Aerial Chorus of Invisibles] The lines from here to the end are omitted in the collected versions of the poem.

Con Spirito with spirit.

Retard a slackening in tempo, the music is played more slowly.

They laid them down in the clover/ They swelled and they bust and they died.
This is a clear description of bloat, due to a surfeit of clover (Trifolium, or trefoil, a genus of about 300 species of plants) which is not strictly poisonous, and any variety can cause it. Gas builds up in the rumen, the animal cannot belch it up, and in advanced cases the animal dies through compression of the lungs. (In Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd the whole of Chapter XXI concerns bloat in a flock of sheep, and the cure by stabbing them in the left flank with a hollow tube to let the gas out.)

Con. molt. exp. Very expressively.

bis twice.

the Deuce A euphemism for hell or the devil.

Dagon a god of the Philistines, according to the Old Testament; represented as half-man, half-fish. (The newspaper versions read ‘First-Grade’.) See Judges 16,23-24, I Samuel 5, and I Chronicles 10,10.

M. T. B. the Moral Text-Book, the subject of Kipling’s skit.

Aryavarta The land of the Aryans, northern India, but used here to refer to Aryan people.

organ A wind instrument, played from a keyboard, which can be very large and very loud, mainly used in churches and conceret-halls.

plagal cadence progressing from the sub-dominant back to the tonic chord, a conclusion, as in the singing of ‘Amen’ at the end of prayers and hymns in Christian churches.

Con Spirito with spirit.

belly ‘body’ in the newspaper versions.

olla podrida A Spanish dish of meat, beans, sausages etc., hence a miscellany or mixture.

Fifth ‘first’ in the newspaper versions.

Kick-dance as the name implies, an imitation of kicking a football used in a dance.

Mor-al-i-tee morality

Blue-Fire probably a stage effect producing blue smoke. Blue Lights were a type of firework used at sea before the introduction of electric flashing lamps. [See The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea , page 90.]


[J McG.]

©John McGivering 2011 All rights reserved