This poem was first published with the story ‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi’ in St. Nicolas Magazine in November 1893. It was published in The Jungle Book with “Rikki Tikki Tavi” and later reprints of that collection, and in Songs from Books (1913) and the later verse collections.
This is the song that Darzee the tailor-bird sings in praise of Rikk-tikki-tavi, the heroic mongoose, who has been victorious in clearing a bungalow and garden of venomous snakes. See our notes on the tale. Earlier in the story, Darzee has sung a sorrowful song because one of his fledglings has fallen out of the nest, and been eaten by Nag, the big cobra. Later in the tale, Darzee’s sensible wife helps Rikki-tikki by distracting the female cobra, Nagaina. The female of the species is more deadly than the male, because of her eggs, but Rikki destroys the eggs before they can hatch. He bravely chases her down her hole, and slays her under the ground.
In Kipling’s List of Names for characters in the Jungle Books, Darzee is pronounced ‘dar-zy’, the heroic mongoose as ‘Rikki-tikky-tar-vi’, and karait as ‘ker-ite’.
A critical comment
Jan Montefiore notes that this poem has strong echoes of “Hertha” by Swinburne. in which the first stanza runs:
I am that which began;
Out of me the years roll;
Out of me God and man;
I am equal and whole;
God changes, and man, and the form of them bodily; I am the soul.
And ‘Death in the garden lies dead’ in stanza 2, is very nearly a quotation from the ending of Swinburne’s ‘The Forsaken Garden’:
Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
Death lies dead.
Daniel Hadas adds: Pinney (p. 1482) also notes that the form of the poem parodies Swinburne, citing ‘The Death of Meleager’. Perhaps the interruption of Darzee’s song is a jest on Swinburne’s unfocussed swirling about without any obvious direction of travel, so that one has little sense of when they it is reaching a climax. ‘Hertha’ could both end at any point, and go on, bird-like, for an indefinite number of further stanzas. The use of Chaunt in the title and the roses in Verse 2 also point to Swinburne. Swinburne had been rather dismissive about some of Kipling’s early poems. [D.H.]
Kipling and Swinburne
Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909) was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. His poems have many common themes, in particular the Ocean, Time, and Death. His verse was much admired by Kipling from an early age, and there are many echoes of it in his works over the years.
Also, Something of Myself pp. 34/5, and Ann Weygandt (pp 124/125).
Notes on the Text
[Title] Darzee’s Chaunt
Darzee: is the common tailorbird (Orthotomus sutorius) a songbird found across tropical Asia. Known for its nest made of leaves “sewn” together, it is a common resident of urban gardens in India.
darzi: means a tailor in Hindi.
Chaunt: is an old spelling of ‘Chant’ meaning to say or sing a phrase continuously.
In his Notes on the story, Alan Underwood believes Kipling used the archaic form to make fun of Darzee’s rather absurd character.
lilt: a pleasant rise and fall of the voice when speaking or singing.
fledglings: baby birds.
dunghill: a manure-heap.
Bowing: a courteous inclination of the body as a mark of respect. It rhymes with ‘ploughing’.
nightingale words: The nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) is well known for its powerful and beautiful song, so can well be associated with pleasant speech.
(Here Rikki-tikki interrupted, and the rest of the song is lost)
Thus, according to Kipling, Darzee is cut short after four verses, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge was interrupted by the ‘Person from Porlock’ while composing Kubla Khan in 1797. Some maintain Coleridge merely ran out of inspiration as the effect of the laudanum wore off, and so invented this imaginary caller. It is not clear why Kipling uses this device here. Perhaps he felt Darzee would have started to repeat himself
©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2018 All rights reserved