Mowgli’s Song Against People

(notes edited by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)

Publication history

This poem was first published in the Pall Mall Budget, 13 December 1894, as a heading to the tale “Letting in the Jungle“, later collected in The Second Jungle Book” (November 1895). ORG (Volume 8, p. 5359) lists it as Verse No. 648. It is collected in Songs from Books (1913) and the later verse collections.

  • Songs from Books (1912)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition, vol xii
  • The Burwash Edition, vol xxvii
  • A Choice of Kipling’s Verse made by T S Eliot, (1941)
  • The Works of Rudyard Kipling, Wordsworth Poetry Library, 1994

A rendition of Percy Grainger’s setting is here

Theme and Background

Mowgli, after leaving the wolf-pack, had been adopted by Messua and her husband, and lived in their village for a while before killing Shere Khan, the tiger, and revealing his kinship with the wolves. He overhears Buldeo, the village hunter, telling some charcoal-burners that Messua and her husband are to be killed as witches and their land taken. See our notes on “Letting in the Jungle” in The Second Jungle Book.

After rescuing his foster-parents and sending them to safety he sings of the dreadful revenge he will take on the villagers, with the help of the elephants and other jungle animals, who destroy the houses, and eat the seed-corn and growing crops. There are no killings, but the village is destroyed, the people leave, and all reverts to jungle.

This is one of Kipling’s many stories of retribution. See Chapter 5 of Tompkins, and our database of “Themes in Kipling’s Works” which lists eighty-two stories on this broad theme.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

lines: in this context the ‘streets’ in a military camp or cantonment and here meaning the lanes in the village.

karela: defined on p. 100 line 6 of The Second Jungle Book, as ‘the vine that bears the bitter wild gourd’, (Momordica Charantia). Here it is a symbol of the rank wild plants engulfing an ordered human place.

[Verse 2]

garners: in this context, granaries or other stores.

Bat-folk: Bats are flying mammals (order Chiroptera) like mice with wings; there are about one thousand species. Mang, the bat, delivers an important message in “Letting in the Jungle” (p. 64 line 2, of The Second Jungle Book):

The village of the Man-Pack, where they cast out the Man-cub, hums like a hornet’s nest.

[Verse 3]

cess:  an old word used in Scotland and Ireland, meaning a tax or levy. Here it signifies what is due to Mowgli, in his revenge.

 

[J McG./J.R.]

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2011 All rights reserved