This poem first appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette July 29 and 30, 1895, and McClure’s Magazine, August 1895, following the story “Red Dog”. It is listed in ORG as No 652.
It is collected in:
- The Second Jungle Book (1895>
- Songs from Books (1913)
- Definitive Verse (1940)
- The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
- The Burwash Edition vols xi and xxvii (1941)
- Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 707.
As Kipling explains, this is the song that was sung at the end of the battle in “Red Dog”, between the Seeonee wolf-pack and the dholes, the red dogs. In the end, with Mowgli’s help, the wolves are victorious, and the red dogs are destroyed, but at great cost. Many of the wolves, including Akela, lie dead by the river. Then the kites swoop down to feast.
In “Kaa’s Hunting” (p. 56) Kipling writes of ‘Chil the Kite balancing and wheeling as he kept watch over the Jungle waiting for things to die.’
Each great hawk hovers over his own wide stretch of jungle, and keeps an eye on his neighbouring comrades. When one swoops down, the others will see and follow. (The kite is called “Rann” in some editions).
In his note on the song Kipling writes:
Chil is good friends with everybody, but he is a cold-blooded kind of creature at heart, because he knows that almost everybody in the Jungle comes to him in the long run.
The black kite (Milvus migrans) belongs to the family Accipitridae.. Lockwood Kipling writes in Beast and Man in India:
This beautiful creature is almost as common as the crow, and its shrill thin scream, from which the name chil seems to be derived, is, like the crow’s note, a constant and characteristic Indian sound … Those who delight in the flight of birds … may find less interesting diversions than throwing fragments of food from a high roof when a fleet of swift pirates soon assembles … no morsel is ever allowed to reach the ground. The fierce sweeps and curves are splendid in grace, strength, and skill.
Notes on the Text
vanguards: advance-parties of troops ahead of the main body. the opposite of rear-guards.
quarry: in this context a target, or victim; for a bird of prey something to eat.
sambhur: any of various large deer of the genus Cervus, especially C. unicolor of southern Asia, having a dark brown coat and, in the male, large antlers, usually with three points. They are hunted by wolves, though they are big enough to put up stiff resistance. As the “Hunting Song of the Seonee Pack” has it:
As the dawn was breaking the Sambhur belled—
Once, twice and again!
And a wolf stole back, and a wolf stole back
To carry the word to the waiting pack,
©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved