The Naulahka – I

Notes on the text

by Sharad Keskar

[Heading] These lines, first collected in Songs from Books [1912] are attributed to “Auchinleck’s Ride”. “Auchinleck” was in all probability an imaginary person. The use of baith for both gives a Scottish ‘young Lochinvar’ rhythm to the verse.

Philip Holberton adds: In the version collected in Songs from Books and later collections
(Inclusive Verse, Definitive Verse, and the Sussex amd Burwash editions) the Scottish spellings (“canna” and “baith”) and the abbreviations o’ and wi’ have been “corrected” to standard English.

[Page 2, line 1] grassless such country needs irrigation, but a small ditch for such water carries little traffic and its bridges need no rails.

[Page 2, line 4] Kate Sheriff is a girl of the wild west but, like Joan of Arc, she hears voices that press upon her a sense of duty to liberate of the women of India. Tarvin tells her, see page 4, lines 5-12, that this sense of duty is ‘a woman’s sphere’ and what ‘that meddling missionary called… ‘carrying the light to them that sit in darkness.’ ‘ (also page 8, lines 11-13): ‘I am called!’ she cried. ‘I am called. I can’t get away from it. I can’t help listening. I can’t help going.’

[Page 2, line 16] saloon What would be called a public house or inn in Britain, where drink is sold and drunk on the premises.

[Page 2, line 17] section-house An American railroad is organised for administration and maintenance first into “divisions”, administered by a Division Superintendent. The Division is sub-divided into sections—stretches of track varying in length, probably from 10 to 20 miles. Routine maintenance work is done by a small gang under a Section Foreman. In the sparsely settled region where towns or villages are few, the gang is housed in a long, low, narrow building at a convenient point on its stretch of track. Along the desert divisions of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway one passes several of these lonely section houses built of stone; each with a shack for the handcars and sometimes a water tower.

[Page 2, line 29] loose ends a common expression for the completion of all little duties and tasks undertaken.

[Page 3, line 14] inward-looking soulful, in the light of the phrase: ‘on whom the mantle of the spirit has descended’, which immediately follows.

[Page 3, line 30] angel of the Lord a power beyond her. There are many passages with this phrase in the Bible from Genesis to the Acts of the Apostles. The next line: ‘She obeyed joyfully’, conjures up an “Annunciation” scene, where the Angel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that she will bear a child, and Mary tells the Angel: ‘Be it unto me according to thy word..

[Page 4, line 12] freeze-out a poker term. In a game of “freeze-out poker”, one plays until one’s stake is exhausted and then keeps out of the game.

[Page 4, line 30] “Section 10 of the N.P. and Y.” no doubt a fictional railroad—it could hardly have been the New York and Pennsylvania R.R. as has been suggested, for they do not extend West of the Mississippi River. ‘Northern Pacific and Yosemite’ would be more plausible.

[Page 5, line 3] square thing fair or just or right action.

[Page 5, line 20] jump to jump a mining claim after the discoverer has staked it out, means removing his markers; then restaking and filing a competitive claim to the land, usually as a basis for legal action—fraud of a quite special kind.

[Page 5, line 22] go back on fail to keep a promise.

[Page 6, line 4] beating out arguing.

[Page 6, line 24] away off quite wrong or mistaken.

[Page 6, line 30] the size of your contract the obstacles you have to face.

[Page 6, line 32] “Bad Lands” Arid terrain where softer sedimentary rocks and clay-rich soils have been extensively eroded by wind and water.