The Plea of the Simla Dancers

(notes edited by John McGivering)

Publication history

This poem was first published the Civil and Military Gazette on 16 April 1886 . See ORG Volume 8, page 5112. See also David Alan Richards, who records it as ‘unsigned.’ (p. 521).

It is collected in:

  • Departmental Ditties and Other Verses (1885)
  • Early Verse (1900)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Volume 32, p. 108
  • Burwash Edition, Volume 25
  • The Works of Rudyard Kipling, Wordsworth Poetry Library

Theme and Background

Kipling took an active part in the lively social life of Simla, which not only provided him with ample “copy” of which he took full advantage, but also produced a ready supply of girls with whom he could fall in love. See our Notes on “The Lovers’ Litany.”

When, much to the regret of his friends and of Kipling himself, a ballroom in Simla was taken over as government offices, he curses those who work there, promising that they will always be distracted by echoes and memories of dance and romance.

For a ball, see “Three—and an Extra” and “A Friend’s Friend”, both in Plain Tales from the Hills.


We have not found any comment by the critics on this particular poem, but see also our Notes on “L’Envoi” to Departmental Ditties” and “The Mare’s Nest”.

Some further reading

Raja Bhasin; Simla The Summer Capital of British India, (Penguin, 1994.) Chapter 5, “Rudyard Kipling’s Simla.”

Notes on the Text


swept and garnished: See Kipling’s implacable story of the same name in A Diversity of Creatures, about German atrocities in Belgium in 1914. Also Luke 11,25: ‘And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished’.

[Verse 1]

Benmore :Herr Felix Von Goldstein was a professional musician and Bandmaster to the Viceroy. In 1869 he purchased ‘Benmore’, a well-known Simla residence, added a ballroom and skating-rink, and made it for years a centre of social activity in Simla. When a new Town Hall was built in 1885, incorporating a ballroom and other facilities, Goldstein sold ‘ Benmore’ to the Punjab Government for use as office accommodation. (Rutherford, p. 277)

docket:  a word of many meanings – here probably a file of papers, or some official documents.

duftar: defined in a footnote as ‘office’.

Babus: In this context English-speaking Bengali clerks, but used more widely as a term of respect for an educated Bengali. See Hobson-Jobson (p. 44) under ‘Baboo’. Also Roberta Baldi’s notes on Kipling’s poem “What Happened”. Also Kim, Chapter XII, for Hurree Chunder Mookerjee, who plays an important part in the story. There is another Babu in “The Ballad of Boh Da Thone”.

teak:a tropical hardwood that makes excellent dance-floors.

Strawberry Hill:  a house in Chota (Little) Simla, named after Horace Walpole’s gothic house
in Twickenham in southwest London.

[Verse 2]

deodars: Cedrus deodara, a species of cedar native to the western Himalayas; a familiar tree to Anglo-Indians in Simla.

Kipling gives a group of tales within Wee Willie Winkie about the loves of men and women, and their consequences, the subtitle Under the Deodars.

wan: (pronounced to rhyme with ‘on’) colourless, pale, sickly.

[Verse 3]

Nay: a word of several meanings but here an archaic form of ‘no’.

foredone: doomed or condemned beforehand.

meet:  in this context, appropriate or suitable.

galop: a lively dance in ¾ time

verandahs: open pillared galleries around a house or bungalow providing shade and whatever breeze there may be. An essential feature of tropical countries, they appear in much of the Indian prose and verse. See Hobson-Jobson (p. 964).


soft replies: the verandah may have been arranged for sitting out – see our notes on “Mrs Hauksbee Sits Out”.

[Verse 4]

wildered: short for ‘bewildered’ – meaning ‘confused’ or ‘perplexed’.

indite: a word of several meanings – here signifying to write

Provincial millions: the revenue raised by taxation.

figures: a play on words. In this context ‘figures’ are numbers, and also part of the movements of a cotillion or similar dance.

cotillions: dances with an elaborate series of steps and changes of partner.

[Verse 5]

Yea: an archaic form of yes.

“See-Saw” … “Dream Faces”:  The See-Saw waltz was composed by A G Crowe, and the Dream Faces waltz, based upon William M. Hutchison’s popular song, by Josef Meissler, 1884.

[Verse 6]

mazed: confused, bewildered

swarthy: of dark complexion.

train: in this context, a retinue or collection of followers.

[J McG.]

©John McGivering 2010 All rights reserved