(notes edited by John McGivering)

Publication history

This poem (see ORG vol. 8 (V.I.) page 5078, verse No. 138) was first published in the Pioneer on 13 July 1885 and the Pioneer Mail on the 19th both with two verses (7 and 8 ) not included in the collections. See David Richards p. 12 for further details of publication.

It is collected in:

  • Departmental Ditties and Other Verses (1885)
  • Early Verse (1900)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Volume 32, p. 89
  • Burwash Edition, Volume 25
  • The Worls of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library)


The poet reflects on the men he knew that died, were laid to rest, and forgotten in a couple of weeks. One he recalls as a source of stories of women and racing. These ghosts dance at Benmore after a ball is over, dispersing at dawn.

In various poems and stories Kipling tells how the unhealthy climate of the Indian Plains does not suit Europeans, This is also reflected in Something of Myself Chapter III (p.41) where he records how:

boys….. died from typhoid mostly at the regulation age of twenty-two

See also “The Undertaker’s Horse” and other Departmental Ditties.

Some critical opinions

Andrew Lycett (p. 114.) calls this Kipling’s:

.. wry observation on the fleetingness of life, even in the most priviliged circles, in India … If Rudyard’s poems had a lilting musical beat, this was because he often conceived them as as melodies and sang as he wrote.

Charles Allen (p. 140) says:

… the short ride between Kelvin Grove and Benmore and back again was one that Ruddy made many times over. Returning from late-night revelries at Benmore he had always to pass Simla’s earliest cemetery, the Old Burial Ground which lay just out of sight below a bend in the road.

This became the subject of two early meditations in prose and verse, written within days of each other. The first drew the attention of Ruddy’s Simla readership to the fact that close by a favourite trysting place for lovers was the forgotten cemetery:

‘a short tumble backwards, in fact, from the white railings – you come suddenly upon a relic of old Simla neglected and forgotten, as are most old things in India.’
[“Out of Society” Pioneer Mail, 4 July 1885.]

The idea of Simla’s forgotten dead was then used to chilling effect in the poem “Possibilities.”

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

Ay: usually Aye (as in ‘aye-aye’) meaning ‘yes’.

fortnight: two weeks

Simla: the summer capital of India. See “The Plea of the Simla Dancers” and J I M Stewart Ch. III “Indian Years”.

pine: in this context, an evergreen tree of the genus Pinus. The hills around Simla were – and are – well-wooded.

whist: a game of cards for four players, fashionable from the 17th Century until Bridge appeared in the United Kingdom in about 1880.

[Verse 2]

traps: in this context, personal belongings

rest-house: a building provided by government for the overnight accommodation of travellers – a ‘dak bungalow’. See “My Own True Ghost-Story” in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories.

[Verse 3]

‘rickshaw: an abbreviation of ‘jennyrickshaw’, a light two-wheeled vehicle pulled by man-power and much used in India at the time. See Hobson-Jobson p. 459, and “The Phantom ‘Rickshaw” in Wee Willie Winkie and Other Stories.

[Verse 4]

Benmore: a ballroom at Simla – see “The Plea of the Simla Dancers.”

“Dream Faces”: a waltz we have not identified.

[Verse 5]

Sanjaolie: (the spelling varies.) a small town of Himachal Pradesh, outside Simla just below Jakko Hill.

[The Uncollected verse 7]

Unheard who held us to the dawn
With stories ever strange and fresh –
The change and chance of equine flesh,
And cards when shuffled, cut, or drawn.

cards when shufled: playing-cards mixed up together before beginning a new game, one picked out at random from the pack by lifting up several at once, or one picked up at random from cards face-down on the table

[The Uncollected Verse 8]

And stranger tales of womenkind –
Dark love, a lifetime gathered up:
And mysteries of many a “cup”,
Wherein are mint and ice combined.

“cup”: in this context, a wine cup – a mixture of fruits, juice and alcohol cooled and served from a jug or bowl. The recipe is sometimes a matter of conjecture.

[The Collected Verse 7] ‘In his own place …’

Light o’ Love: sweetheart

[The Collected Verse 8] ‘Yet may he meet …’

“God Save the Queen”: the National Anthem, played at the end of functions.

“extras”: in this context, additional dances not on the programme

[Verse 9]

four: four o’clock in the morning

[Verse 10]

wanly: ‘wan’ means ‘pale’, ‘colourless’, ‘sickly’.


[J McG.]

©John McGivering 2011 All rights reserved