A Nightmare of Names

(notes by Philip Holberton amd John Radcliffe, drawing on the research of Thomas Pinney and Andrew Rutherford)


This poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 10 December 1886. It was reprinted in the Pioneer Mail on 15 December. It was unsigned but authenticated by inclusion in Kipling’s Scrapbook 3 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.

It was not collected by Kipling, but to be found in Rutherford (p. 347) and Pinney (p. 1833).

The Poem

The poem describes the difficulties for a journalist and his readers caused by the unfamiliar and often unpronounceable names of Burmese people and places, entirely different from Indian names, in covering the Burma War of 1885 and its aftermath.


The war ended quickly with Britain’s formal annexation of the country on 1 January 1886. See “Kipling’s Burma” by George Webb. However, a vigorous guerrilla resistance continued for several years. News of the frequent fighting between British troops and dacoits would reach the newspapers by telegram, dictated over the telephone, and among Kipling’s duties as Assistant Editor was always, of course, ‘the filing of cables, and woe betide an error then!’ (Something of Myself, p. 48).

See also “The Taking of Lungtungpen” (Plain Tales from the Hills), “A Conference of the Powers” (Many Inventions), and the poems “The Grave of the Hundred Head”, “The Ballad of Boh Dah Thone”, and “Mandalay”.

Notes on the Text

The Nightmare and her ninefold crew A quotation from Shakespeare’s King Lear Act III. scene 4.

Woon the Governor of a province in Burma (now Myanmar).

Maung A Burmese title of respect for a young man.

(we have not attempted to cut a path for our readers through the rest of Kipling’s dense thicket of names: Ed.)



©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved