(to Departmental Ditties)


(notes edited by Roberta Baldi and John Radcliffe)


First published in the Fourth Edition of Departmental Ditties and Other Verses, February 1890, the first edition of this collection to be published in London. Kipling had arrived in London from India the previous October.

Collected in:

  • Later editions of Departmental Ditties and Other Verses
  • Early Verse, Outward Bound Edition vol.17, 1900
  • Early Verse, Edition de Luxe vol. 18, 1900
  • Inclusive Verse 1919
  • Definitive Verse 1940
  • Sussex Edition, vol. 32, p. 9
  • Burwash Edition, vol. 25

See David Alan Richards pp. 38-9. The poem is listed in ORG (p. 5314) as “I have eaten your bread and salt”, no. 487.


“Prelude” was written as the introduction to the first London edition of Departmental Ditties and Other Verses. This was the first collection of his work to be publiushed in the United Kingdom, and Kipling was clearly concerned about its possible reception in London.
Sandra Kemp and Lisa Lewis (pp. 25-6) note that Kipling wrote two unpublished ‘prefaces’ for this edition in January 1890, the first affectionately. to his Anglo-Indian readers, the second, ironically, to the British, full of what Kipling saw as the cliches about India commonly believed in Britain.

Draft Preface (I)

To my Anglo-Indian Public

Dear Folk,

They have put these verses into a fourth edition; but you knew and
were good to them when they were a brown paper docket, a limp-back
pink, and a hard-board blue. I have added some more verses, and now we
are quite respectable and fat in the sides. Also the English public are
buying us, and trying to find out what in the world it means. They still
believe that all white men in India sleep for three or four hours in the
middle of the day and spend most of their waking moments in ‘kicking the
poor dear native downstairs’. They are quite certain that the Indian
administrator is much too near to affairs to be able to form impartial judgements,
and every gentleman and every other lady who has bought curiosities in
the verandah of Watson’s Hotel knows exactly how India ought to be
governed. This has nothing to do with the verses; but it is interesting on
general grounds.

You, however, can read between the lines I have written and know
exactly how far the ditties tell truth, and by how much they err in
describing the frivolous, gilded, idle, irresponsible life. Over here, they insist upon
regarding my sermons and moralities as the diversions of an Oriental
jester. Therefore I want your sympathy, and now and again just one small
sign across the seas – a wink would do – to show that you understand. You
can put it into any of the Indian newspapers.

Draft Preface (II)

This is a book of verses on Anglo-Indian subjects. An Anglo-Indian subject
is a person who was once an Englishman, but who through the effects of
climate, overfeeding and underwork becomes something quite different.
His duties are to live luxuriously on the money wrung from the teeming
millions of India, who are all very highly educated, peaceful, and open-
minded folk, more than capable of administering a government of their
own. The Anglo-Indian is vastly inferior to the real Englishman in
physique, endurance and mental power. He drinks brandy-panee, which
is a rare Oriental beverage, also wrung from the teeming millions, travels
in a palanquin, lolls under a punkah while nautch-girls sing to him, and is
never seen in public without a kuga – the silver and jewelled water-pipe of
the East.

I dare not hope that you will take any interest in an effete product of the
tropics, who only exists by the forbearance of your statesmanlike,
far-seeing, and dispassionate Houses of Parliament.


However, he decided that neither was satisfactory. In a letter to his publishers, Thacker Spink, in January 1890, he wrote:

I’ve taken Eminent Advice about those prefaces. No. They won’t do, so I’ve cut ‘em out and I think I’m on the safe side. No use telling the public you think ‘em a damned ass.
[Kemp and Lewis p. 169 note 15].

Kipling then wrote “Prelude” as an introduction to the collection, making clear to English readers that the poems had originally been written for the Anglo-Indians he knew so well. This served as an introduction to the many later editions of the collection, “General Summary” becoming the first “Ditty”.

He also made a number of textual changes in individual poems as F A Underwood notes in KJ 188 (p. 6) “The Expansion of Departmental Ditties”:

… as was usual with Kipling’s revisions for the English public, a number of Anglo-Indian
words were changed. For example, ‘verdant doabs brown’ became
‘budding roses brown’, carriage replaced gharri and horses replaced
jhampan; monkey was substituted for hooluk and dam for bund … however, a substantial number of Anglo-Indian words remained in this and subsequent editions, and these certainly add an exotic flavour to the verses.

“Prelude” makes it clear—affectionately, modestly, and without irony—to English readers, that the poems were originally written for the Anglo-Indian community, to which the young Kipling had belonged for seven years.

Notes on the Text

[Line 1] I have eaten your bread and salt: In Indian, Islamic, Russian, and Jewish traditions, among others, the sharing of bread and salt at the table formalises a bond of friendship and alliance.

[Line 2] I have drunk your water and wine: recalls the Canaan episode in John 2: 1-11 in which Jesus miraculously turns water into wine at a marriage feast.

[Line 10] for a sheltered people’s mirth: for the British at home, sheltered from the realities of life in the Empire overseas.

©Roberta Baldi and John Radcliffe 2012 All rights reserved