Route Marchin’

Notes on the text

(by Roger Ayers)

Since Kipling only inserted the first half line of each chorus for stanzas two to six,
the unprinted lines are omitted from the line count used to index these notes.

[Title] Route Marchin’ Route Marching – troops marching over a designated route. A march of some distance is implied.

[Line 1] … on relief … To relieve another unit by taking over its duties and accommodation.

… Injia’s … ‘India’s’ – Kipling’s use of a soldier’s ‘dialect’ is very light in this poem, limited to a few dropped letters, some mispronounced words and some quaint phrasing, most of which requires no interpretation.

[Line 2] A little front o’ Christmas-time an’ just be’ind the Rains The trooping and marching season, October to the beginning of January.

[Line 3] … bullock-man leading or driving bullocks or a bullock cart.

…’eard the bugle blowed … heard the bugle blown … See the headnote.

[Line 4] … the Grand Trunk Road The English name for one of the world’s great historic highways which runs for over 1,500 miles from Calcutta to Peshawar, built and metalled by the British Raj on foundations that were laid out in the 16th century by the Muslim invader Sher Shah Suri, who took the title of Sher Khan.

A branch of the Road runs from Allahabad to Lucknow and Bareilly. Kipling describes it in Kim (Chapter 3):

… the Great Road which is the backbone of all Hind. For the most part it is shaded, as here, with four lines of trees; the middle road— all hard— takes the quick traffic. In the days before rail-carriages the Sahibs travelled up and down here in hundreds. Now there are only country-carts and such like. Left and right is the rougher road for the heavy carts— grain and cotton and timber, bhoosa, lime and hides… All castes and kinds of men move here. Look! Brahmins and chumars, bankers and tinkers, barbers and bunnias, pilgrims and potters— all the world going and coming.
And truly the Grand Trunk Road is a wonderful spectacle. It runs straight, bearing without crowding India’s traffic for fifteen hundred miles— such a river of life as nowhere lse exists in the world.

[Line 7] … campin’-ground … Camping ground. Prepared grounds for use by the Army at regular intervals along the road, close to a source of water, for rest halts or overnight camping. The preparation and occupation of such a camping ground by a battalion on the march is an integral part of Chapter V of Kim. (See pp. 112-115)

[Line 8] … Big Drum … The bass drum of the regimental band. See headnote.

[Line 9] … ‘rowdy-dowdy-dow!’ The noise of the bass drum.

[Line 10] ‘Kiko kissywarsti don’t you hamsher argy jow?’ A mixture of English and a soldiers attempt at Hindi which Kipling’s own footnote translates as “Why don’t you get on?”. But it is not as simple as that, as Harish Trivedi explains:

Kiko. This is two words, joined together here in a way common to lower-class speakers in and around Bombay. Pronounced ‘kye ko’, it means ‘for what reason, why’.

Kissywaste. Again, this is two words joined together, which should be kis waste, not kissy waste; ‘kis‘ means ‘which’ (or ‘what‘) but ‘kissi’ means ‘whichever.’ ‘Waste’ is pronounced with the -te accented and long (as in ‘ta’ in tape). It means, again,for what reason, The repetition of meaning with a variation of words is of course deliberate, to convey emphasis.

hamsher This is two words again, ham se (se pronounced as in say), meaning ‘than me’. It means: ahead of me. The ‘sh’ for ‘s’ may indicate affected or drunken pronunciation. (It could alternatively be a typo for ‘hamesher’ or ‘hamesha,’ which means ‘always,‘ but the sense does not support it.)

argy Normally spelt ‘aagey’ or ‘agey’, meaning ‘ahead, in front.’

jow Usually spelt ‘jao’, meaning ‘go’ in the imperative.

All together then, with some idiomatic licence: ‘Why on earth don’t you get a move on, and go forward!’

The whole thing is compounded of both Kipling’s mis-knowledge, and his desire to produce an exclamatory, hortatory effect; hence, the two instances at the beginning of two words run together into one. {H.T.]

[Line 13] … rummy silver grass … John Whitehead
identifies this as:‘Plume grass (genus Erianthus, no longer distinguished from Saccharum, the sugar-canes) which has large feathery panicles reaching up to 15 feet.’

[Line 14] … a rifle-sling … A leather strap, one end fixed to the butt and the other to just below the muzzle, which is normally pulled tight under the rifle. When loosened, it can be used to carry the rifle slung over the shoulder.

[Line 16] … Revelly … Reveille, the long, rousing ‘wake-up’ first bugle call of the morning.

… our tents they down must come White tents, which had to be packed up and loaded onto carts before the march restarted.

[Line 19] … the women and the kiddies … On a move of a whole regiment, the soldiers’ wives and children travelled with the baggage carts following the marching troops.

[Line 21] … then it’s open order … This is the point where ‘March at ease’ has been ordered and the soldiers are allowed to march in a relaxed manner, including talking, smoking and singing. See headnote.

[Line 24] … sling the bat Speak the language. See Kipling’s own footnote.

[Line 27] … feather-‘eaded trees Neem trees, (Azadirachta indica) [Whitehead]

[Line 31] … rookies recruits.

[Line 32] … Umballa to Cawnpore Now Ambala to Kanpur. At an average of 20 miles a day six days a week, this would have taken almost a month.

[Line 34] … drop some tallow in your socks … The Soldiers’ Pocket Book recommends soap but the soap of the day contained a high proportion of tallow (rendered animal fat).

[Line 36] … Injia’s coral strand  This is  from   the missionary hymn written by Bishop Heber (1783-1826), Bishop of Calcutta 1823-1826, No. 358 in Hymns, Ancient and Modern and generally known asFrom Greenland’s icy mountains it was immensely popular, particularly in the United States.  Kipling likens the conversion of the raw recruit straight off the streets into a trained soldier to the way in which Missionary Societies then sought to convert the populations of non-Christian countries to Christianity. See also our note on line 1 of “The ‘Eathen”. [D.H.]

[Line 37] Eight ‘undred fightin’ Englishmen … The established strength of an English infantry battalion in India at the time was 915. Most were generally under strength with men away sick and since the move would have taken place at the trooping season, the time expired men would be marching to the port and not taking part in the move. The new drafts would go direct to the new station. See our notes on “Troopin'”.

[Lines 38 – 45] See notes on Lines 3-10 above.


©Roger Ayers 2010 All rights reserved