To the City of Bombay

(notes by Alastair Wilson)

Publication History

This (naturally) first appeared in The Seven Seas, published simultaneously in London and the USA on 30 October 1896: London, Methuen & Co.
New York, D. Appleton & Co.

The Seven Seas was itself collected in the successive editions of Rudyard Kipling’s Inclusive Verse (1918, 1926, 1932) and Definitive Verse (1940): also in the Sussex Edition (vol. xxxv) and the Burwash Edition (vol. xxviii).

Theme and Background

The City of Bombay (we will continue to use that name, rather than the modern Mumbai) was Kipling’s birthplace (30 December 1865), and his childhood was spent in the city, where his father was in charge of the Art School. In the opening pages of Something of Myself, his personal memoir, published posthumously in 1937, he describes how his ayah would take him, and later his sister, Trix, to the fruit market in the morning, and to walk by the sea in the evening. Bombay was in his blood as a child, and later when he returned to India after his stay in Southsea in the ‘House of Desolation’ and his school-days, it was through the port of Bombay that he returned.

For all Anglo-Indians, Bombay was the Gateway to India. Calcutta was the seat of Government, and the other major trading entrepôt in India, but it was primarily through Bombay that India’s trade with Great Britain, Europe and Africa flowed.

Notes on the Text

[Verses 1 and 2]

Each city is proud of its history, amenities, and trading prosperity, and is prepared to maintain its superiority over all others. (P.G. Wodehouse poked fun at such civic pride in the tale “Jeeves and the Hardboiled Egg” and the ‘Boost for Birdsburg’ convention, from My Man Jeeves, Newnes, London, 1919).

[Verses 3, 4 and 5]

Men from each city, when they’re conducting business anywhere else, hold fast to their own city’s reputation, feeling, as they do, lost in any other city. They tend to brag about their own city, sometimes beyond what is reasonable, and they make their very citizenship a guarantee of their word. (“If a Quebec-er says he’ll do something, then you can be sure he’ll do it”.)

[Verse 3, line 2]

traffic: trade.

[Verses 6 and 7]

I thank my God that I was born somewhere that counted – my metropolis (in the original sense of Mother City) gives me a sense of pride – a sense of belonging. See Paul (Acts 21,39) ‘I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city … ‘

[Verse 8]

I have paid no fee, no membership subscription, to be a citizen: I am hers by right of birth, having been born right by the sea where the steamers which ply to and from the ends of the earth load and unload their cargoes.

Daniel Hadas notes: Neither by service nor fee: is feudal vocabulary.  I think feudal relief is in Kipling’s mind, and to be contrasted with the following lines on tribute, which he owes after coming into his inheritance, but doesn’t exactly pay. [D.H.]

[Verses 9 and 10]

For her protection, I pay tribute, which she will accept and remit to me: tribute from the profits I have made in my deep-sea wanderings and trading in all lands. I do this, as a sign that I recognise that my privileges as a citizen are held from her, and not from any other source.

[Verse 10, line 1]

And she shall touch and remit/After the manner of kings: Homage (formal recognition of the authority of the British Crown) was paid by the Indian princes by the offer of gold mohurs (an Indian coin) which the Viceroy or his representative merely touched as a sign that he accepted the spirit of the tribute. [Durand]. See “The Head of the District” in (Life’s Handicap) p. 129 line 15).


©Alastair Wilson 2011 All rights reserved