This parody of the American poet Walt Whitman, with its prose preamble, was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 6 January 1885, as part of the regular feature “A Week in Lahore”, with the signature “Esau Mull”. Pinney writes of this signature as:
… a pseudonym that RK had used from May, 1884. It is the most frequently-used of his many pseudonyms, for he typically used it to sign his many “Week in Lahore” columns. A ‘Mull’, short for ‘mulligatawny’, is a slang term for a Madras civil servant. ‘Esau’ presumably stands for ‘exile’.
A celebration, in the declamatory free verse of Walt Whitman, of the rich array of Anglo-Indian humanity to be seen in British India at the turn of the year: ‘Civilian, Superior Being’ (very senior member of the I.C.S.) ‘Loafer, Subaltern, Grass-Widow and Grass-Mother. ‘
According to George Beresford (the original of M’Turk in Stalky & Co.), Kipling once claimed in King’s English class that Walt Whitman was the greatest living poet, a claim that King demolished by reading extracts from his works. Their confrontation occupies several pages in Beresford’s Schooldays with Kipling (pp. 135-140).
Jan Montefiore writes:
The poem bears out the story of the teenage Kipling’s enthusiasm for this poet. ‘Gigger’ probably wasn’t only baiting ‘King’ by saying Whitman was the greatest living poet, as reported by Beresford, though no doubt he was doing that too. Kipling couldn’t have ‘done’ Whitman so well without really knowing him.
When Kipling, speaking with Walt’s voice, says: ‘I project myself into your personality—I become an integral part of you’, he claims to comprehend all sorts and conditions of men and women in British India. He certainly did deliver on that claim, even if he didn’t identify with them as Whitman did. [J.M.]
Some critical comments
Ann Weygandt writes (p. 154):
We are led to believe that it was the pre-Raphaelite rage for Whitman that prompted Kipling to enter the lists with his master, and this was doubtless so. The home influence may have had something to do with it, too: his father prefaces Beast and Man in India with Whitman’s “I think I could turn and live with animals” (“Song of Myself” p. 32)
See also “The Runners”.
In a letter to Andrew Macphail (28 October 1907; Letters 3, p. 277) Kipling writes,:
I am going on with the Walt Whitman today—an influence that shook and distraught me when I was very young
Whitman is not one of the poets parodied in Echoes.
Notes on the Text
[Title] Kipling translates this: Dekho! means “Look Here!” in Hindi. The word, as “dekko”, came into Army use and then into general slang, more often meaning simply “a look”, as in “let’s have a dekko”.
Alleghannies a range of mountains in the eastern United States.
colossal, pyramidal, immense cf. “I am large, I contain multitudes” – Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself.”
Civilian member of the Civil Service.
Municipal Committee The outgoing Viceroy, Lord Ripon, had a policy of fostering local self-government through elected Municipal Committees.
joy of wild asses a married woman attractive to predatory males.
See Job 24.5: Behold, as wild asses in the desert they go forth to their work; rising betimes for a prey ;
and Jeremiah 2.24: a wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure, in her occasion who can turn her away? All they that seek her will not weary themselves; in her month they shall find her.
absent in the Soudan Units from the Indian Army were serving in the British campaign to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum.
Sirsa, Jhang or Montgomery districts in the Punjab.
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