Carmen Simlaense

(notes edited by John Radcliffe. We are grateful to Alastair Wilson for a number of comments and suggestions)


First published in the Civil and Military Gazette, October 20th 1885, unsigned..

Collected in:

  • Early Verse, Outward Bound Edition vol.17, 1900
  • Early Verse, Edition de Luxe vol. 18, 1900
  • Sussex Edition, vol. 32, p. 106
  • Burwash Edition, vol. 25
  • Early Verse 1879-1889, ed. Andrew Rutherford (1986), p. 292

See David Alan Richards p.142. The poem is listed in ORG (p. 5091) as no.149. The ‘Envoi’ appeared in the original CMG version of the poem, and was omitted thereafter. The CMG version has ‘dibs’ for ‘cash’ in line 5 of the third stanza.

The poem itself was not included in any of the many separate editions of Departmental Ditties and Other Verses. It appears as an Other Verse in the Early Verse sections of the Outward Bound Edition and Edition de Luxe of 1900, and in the Sussex and Burwash editions.

The poem

A weary young man—we assume that he is young—has spent the season between May and September up in Simla away from the heat of the plains. He has had a series of light affairs with ladies, danced the night away, ridden out under the pines, taken refreshment at Peliti’s cafe, and spent rather more money than he can afford. Now he is ‘breaking up’ at the end of the season, and is off down to the plains, musing on whether it was all worth it. The poem is written in Ballade form. See also in this collection:

Notes on the text


Carmen Simlaense A Simla Song. As we have noted of a later poem Carmen Circulare (1919) this is an echo of “Carmen Saeculare” by Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 B.C. to 8 B.C.)—generally known as ‘Horace’ and one of Kipling’s favourite poets—which was written in honour of the Emperor Augustus. Although difficult to translate precisely, “Carmen Saeculare” means a hymn or song in celebration of the age. In this case the nineteen-year old poet is celebrating Simla in world-weary mood.
Rutherford (p.292) notes that newspaper reports from Simla often adopted an elegiac tone as the Season came to an end. Thus in the Civil and Military Gazette for October 14th 1885 a correspomdent writes that:

The signs of the passing of the Simla season of 1885, have saddened me into all sorts of bewildering reflections.


A Ballade of the Break Up A Ballade is a verse form usually of three (rather than four, as here) stanzas of eight lines, and a final verse in the form of an ‘Envoi’ a conclusion addressed to a prince, or in this case a princess. This usually has four lines, but here Kipling has used eight. The same line is used to end each stanza, including the Envoi:

Lord! What was the good of it all?

Kipling was to borrow the term ‘Envoi’ for the concluding poem of several of his verse collections, including the second and later editions of Departmental Ditties and Other Verses.
the Break Up This refers not to the breaking off of a relationship, but to the break-up, or end, of the Simla season. The same expression is used of the end of the term (semester) at a British school.

[Verse 1]

the hours called small after midnight, one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock …

at even In the evening.

for five months roughly from May to September, the ‘hot season’ in the Indian ‘plains’.

long ticks Long-standing debts. To buy something ‘on tick’ is to buy it on credit.

the cost of the shot In Kipling’s day slang for the bill, the reckoning. To ‘stand shot’ was to pay the bill for all.

[Verse 2]

Annandale a wooded glen near Simla, also the site of the racecourse.

on the Mall The main thoroughfare of Simla, where one could see and be seen. See the note on line 10 of “Municipal” in this collection.

Peliti’s the celebrated cafe and confectioner’s in Simla.

the call ‘Calling’ simply meant visiting, but among the Victorian upper and middle classes ‘the Call’ on friends and acquaintances was governed by strict etiquette. A gentleman would carry a supply of ‘calling cards’ with his name and sometimes his credentials. (If he was a member of the Indian Civil Service, he could include I.C.S. after his name.)

Generally upon an initial visit to a home, he would simply leave a card and then depart. If the new acquaintance wished to receive a later visit, he or she would send a card in return. When he returned he would present his card to a servant at the door, who would take it to the mistress of the house on a silver tray. Eventually, if all was in order, he would be admitted …

the pines that moaned the haunting sound of the wind in the pine trees, once heard never forgotten.

deodars Himalayan cedars. (left)

[Verse 3]

bulgy portmanteau An over-full bag. (from the French; porter to carry, and manteau a garment)

in his tent-gloom lay Saul See I Samuel, 16,11. ‘ … the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.’ (Saul’s spirits were later refreshed when David played the harp to him.)

that excellent shroff Bunsee Lal A money-lender. There were always money-lenders in India who would help out an indebted young man—at a suitable rate of interest. See Kim p.160 line 10:

‘… I don’t know Gobind Sahai: or his bank, which may be a hole in the wall’.
‘You’ve never been a subaltern in debt …’

ink of derision and gall   Gall; a bitter substance, implies bitterness and rancour. There is also a pun here, since oak galls, excrescences on the bark of the trees, could be used to make ink.

tonga a light two-wheeled vehicle, sometimes drawn by two ponies, much used on the roads to Simla and other hill-stations—not a luxurious or elegant means of getting about. See “As the Bell Clinks” .

[Verse 4]

tuppenny passions Cheap worthless passions – ‘tuppence’ is short for ‘two pence’ and there were 240 ‘old’ pence to the £ sterling in the days before decimalisation.

Levee a formal reception for visitors. Simla was the seat of the Indian Government in the summertime, and there were many such functions.

from Olympus to Hades I fall From the mountain where for the ancient Greeks the gods lived, down to hell. See also “Lucifer”.


snows fall Simla is at an altitude of over 7000 feet (2,200 metres), and there can be deep snow in mid-winter.

the racket Noise, din, excitement.


©John Radcliffe 2012 All rights reserved