The Shut-Eye Sentry

(notes by John McGivering)


First collected in The Seven Seas (1896).

Later collected in

  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Vol. 33
  • Burwash Edition Vol. 26
  • Wordsworth Edition Poems of Rudyard Kipling (2001)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013 Ed. Pinney) p. 456

The poem

A short story in verse: the Orderly Officer over-indulges himself at dinner and, although drunk, is looked after by his men on guard, who pretend not to notice and save him from a possible court-martial and disgrace. It shows in a light-hearted manner the importance of an officer being on good terms with his men without going out of his way to seek popularity. Kipling must have heard of such an incident, though this is probably a highly embroidered version, written in Vermont, some seven years after he had left India.

See “With the Main Guard” (Soldiers Three).

Notes on the Text


Shut-Eye: sleep – in this case closing the eyes so that at a possible court-martial he could honestly say he saw nothing wrong in the conduct of the officer.

sentry: a soldier posted to guard the entrance of a military establishment, fort or camp etc. to keep out intruders. He would pay due respect to inspecting officers.

[Verse 1]

Orderly Sergeant: the non-commissioned officer assisting the Orderly Officer who represents the Commanding Officer and is usually on duty for twenty-four hours. He is responsible for the security and daily routine of the unit and the barracks, camp etc. He inspects the sentries at intervals, accompanied by the Orderly Sergeant. For the Orderly Officer, drunkeness would be a serious offence, which could lead to a court-martial and the end of his career.

hokee-mut: very drunk.

sentry-box: a tall usually wooden open-fronted hut to keep the sentry dry.

[Verse 2]

“Rounds, what Rounds?”: The sentry challenges anybody who approaches his post with the classic shout “Halt, who goes there?” To which the officer replies ” Rounds” . The sentry replies ” Rounds, what Rounds ?” which is answered by “Visiting Rounds”. There is further dialogue finishing with “All’s well” which is quoted in a footnote in some editions; there is no guidance about the procedure if a non-English speaker approaches.

sash: a strip of usually red or scarlet cloth worn over the left shoulder and across the body. It is here worn by the Duty Sergeant.

tight: in this context, drunk

affidavit: a written statement confirmed by oath or affirmation to be used as evidence in court.

by-’an-by soon.

[Verse 3]

barricks:  barracks

[Verse 4]

Ho shun the foamin’ cup: from a traditional song in favour of temperance which we have not traced.

[Verse 5]

stock: a stiff leather collar, fastened by two buckles at the back was part of the uniform with a two-fold purpose – (1) to make the wearer stand erect and keep his head up, (2) to protect the neck from sword-cuts. It was very uncomfortable and most unpopular.

Bombardier: the Royal Artillery’s equivalent rank to a corporal n the infantry.

[Verse 7]

trusties: reliable men of long service and good conduct.

done it on their ‘ed: (head) carried it out automatically.

[Verse 8]

Right flank etc.:  mistakes in various drill movements

marker: in this context usually the right-hand man of the front rank on whom the rest of the squad falls in.

[Verse 9]

two-‘an-thirty sergeants: thirty-two; a breakdown of the ranks of the whole battalion

rank ‘an file: rank and file: the main body of the battalion

 ‘ot ‘an ‘aughty: hot and haughty – high and mighty

[Verse 16]

Privit Thomas A: Private Thomas Atkins, the archetypical soldier, See “To T.A.,” , and “Tommy” with notes by Roger Ayers.

[Verse 10]

‘elp ‘im for ‘is mother: an echo of Freemasonry. See “The Man who Would be King” (Wee Willie Winkie p. 203, line 14).


[J McG]

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