The last verse of this poem was first used as a heading to “A Friend’s Friend” in the Civil and Military Gazette on May 2nd 1887. It is listed as no. 259 in ORG.
The complete poem is collected in :
- Songs from Books (1912)
- Inclusive Verse (1919)
- Definitive Verse (1940)
- Sussex Edition Vol. 1 p. 351 and Vol. 34 p. 55
- Burwash Edition Vols 1 and 27
- Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 711
Kipling used the last verse as the heading to “A Friend’s Friend” in Plain Tales from the Hills. which is about a stranger who behaves shamefully badly. There, the first sentence is a question to the main speaker: “Wherefore slew you the stranger?”. As collected, this is very slightly changed. The whole poem is spoken by one voice, who questions himself: “Wherefore slew I that stranger?”
In the story, the narrator and his friends take their revenge upon the visiting “stranger”, who is last seen wrapped up in sixty feet of red cloth, in a bullock-cart. ‘Perhaps he died and was thrown into the river’. But the narrator still wants to get even with the man who passed the stranger on to him: ‘I want Tranter of the Bombay side, dead or alive. But dead for preference’.
Notes on the Text
Hadramauti: means an inhabitant of the Hadramaut, on the south coast of Arabia, now part of Yemen. The speaker has the fierce outlook of an Arab from the desert, and his personal honour is vital to him. He is a Muslim and cannot understand “the Christian.”
he enters all places booted: everyone should take off their shoes on entering a mosque
bareheaded: The Wordsworth edition notes: “Arab decorum requires that one remove one’s shoes and keep one’s headwear on”.
the household whom we reckon nameless: an Arab would not talk about family members hidden in purdah.
The Avenger of Blood on his track: the stranger is involved in a blood feud.
Eblis: the Devil in Islam.
saddled my mare, Bijli: Bijli is an Urdu word, which here means ‘Lightning’. [D.H.]
I gave him rice and goat’s flesh: normally sharing food makes a bond between host and guest. The stranger’s behaviour is so disgraceful that the speaker’s need to avenge the dishonour is stronger than the bond – though he does wait till the stranger has left his house before he kills him.
© Philip Holberton 2017 All rights reserved