A Song of Bananas

(notes by Philip Holberton)


This poem was first published in the Morning Post (London), on December 7th 1927, and in Liberty (New York) on January 7th 1928, with “The Mountain that Runs”. It is listed in ORG as no 1148.

Collected in:

  • Brazilian Sketches (1940)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Pinney, p. 1416

The poem

Kipling was delighted with Brazil, in a new continent, unknown to him, and full of marvels. This poem compares the glorious colourful fresh bananas he saw in Rio with their pale imitations in fruit markets in English towns.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

Have you no Bananas?: an echo of the music-hall song of 1922 by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn: “Yes, we have no Bananas”.

costers: short for coster-mongers – tradesmen who sold fruit and vegetables from barrows that they wheeled around the streets.

[Verse 2]

Plantains: inferior varieties of banana, used for cooking.

from Canarywards: from the Canary Islands, an archipelago in the Atlantic belonging to Spain.

they fill no steamer’s hold: the best bananas are only available in the countries where they are grown. Varieties for export are selected for shelf life and ease of transport rather than taste.

[Verse 3]

Their stiff fronds … rear against the breezes off the sea: looking back at the end of his life. Kipling said on the second page of Something of Myself{

I have loved the voices of night-winds through palm or banana leaves.

[Verse 4]

Little birds: humming-birds Kipling is right – the smallest species are the size of a bumble bee. They are also Jewelled– some are among the most brightly coloured birds in the world.

opal: a precious stone containing all the colours of the rainbow – a marvellous metaphor for all the varied hues on butterflies’ wings.

malachite and jade: two stones whose names are given to different shades of green.

[Verse 6]

Pharpars and Abanas: symbolising the rivers of England, the townsmen’s home, as against Jordan, standing for distant Brazil. This is one of Kipling’s many Biblical references. Naaman, a Syrian, asked the prophet Elisha to cure him of leprosy. Elisha told him to wash in Jordan seven times:

. But Naaman was wroth, and said, Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all?
[Kings II, 5,12]

See our notes on “Naaman’s Song” verse 5.

©Philip Holberton 2017 All rights reserved