The Legend of Evil

(Notes edited by John McGivering)


ORG Volume 8 records (listed as Verse No. 504) that Part II (‘Twas when the rain fell steady…’) was first published as a heading to John Lockwood Kipling’s Beast and Man in India, Chapter 4, ‘Of Asses’. Part I (‘This is the sorrowful story…’) was not added until the whole was collected.

The two parts were combined in:

  • Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses
  • Inclusive Verse
  • Definitive Verse
  • The Sussex Edition, Volume 32, page 305
  • The Burwash Edition, Volume 25.
  • The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library)


In Chapter 4 p. 78 of Beast and Man in India Lockwood Kipling gives his own version of the legend:

Some Muhammadans have an idea that the donkey
sees the devil when he brays, possibly because of the
belief that it was he who introduced the Father of
Evil into the Ark. When Hazrat Nuh (the worshipful
Noah) was marshalling the animals into the Ark, the
donkey, as is his modest wont, held back. ” Nay then,
go along ! ” said Noah ; but the ass did not move.

Then the Patriarch lost his temper, for the time was
short and the clouds were gathering, and he cried, ” Go
on and may the Devil go with thee ! ” When the door
was shut Noah met the Evil One inside and asked how
he came there. “Surely then,” replied that Wicked
One, ” I came by your honour’s invitation.” If there
is a moral in this absurdity, it is that when holy men
lose their tempers they open the door to sin ; but in
some topsy-turvy way, possible only to Oriental thought,
the obloquy of the anecdote falls on the innocent ass.

See ORG Volume 2 page 1012 for a list of other verse headings to Beast and Man in India. See also “Collar-Wallah and the Poison Stick”.

Notes on the Text


[Verse 3]

millet: the common name of a number of cereal grasses. This is probably Panicum miliaceum, cultivated in India for food.

[Verse 5]

sickles: large curved knives used for harvesting crops by hand.

flails: implements consisting of sticks loosely bound together, for separating wheat and other cereals from the stalk by hand, by beating them vigorously.

[Verse 7]

yoke: in this context, a shaped wooden device to harness two animals, usually oxen, together, to pull a plough, cart, or a heavy gun, as in “Her Majesty’s Servants” (The Jungle Book).


This is a version of the story of the Flood, told in the book of Genesis, Chapter 8, when Noah built his Ark and the animals went in two and two.

Noah is given a powerful Irish accent, perhaps because of the association of the donkey, a familiar beast of burden in Ireland of old, with the Irish. Kipling may also have felt that ‘the Devil go with you !’ sounded more credible as an Irish oath. Noah’s accent here seems even more extreme than that given to Mulvaney in the soldier stories, which has irritated some of his readers.

[Verse 1]

onais:  uneasy. [D.H.]

pitched: in this context painted with tar (pitch) to render it waterproof.

[Verse 2]

salpeen: more commonly spalpeen an Irish dialect word for a good-for-nothing rascal

[Verse 4]

Flusteration: a portmanteau word combining ‘fluster’ and ‘botheration’. A state of unsettled agitation.

forninst: beside, common speech among Irish people.

the windy:  window

[Verse 5]

umbrageous: a feeling of annoyance. To ‘take umbrage’ is to take offence.

tenant-right invasion: Tenant-right’ is stricty a term in common law laying down the right to compensation which a tenant has, either by custom or by law, against his landlord for improvements at the termination of his tenancy. Here it probably simply means the infringement of Noah’s rights on his own craft by the Devil.

[J McG.]

©John McGivering 2009 All rights reserved