The Song of the Dancer


(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the researches of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


This poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 7 September 1886, with the heading:

‘With a form so wasted and worn, a spirit weary and faint,
A maiden danced in ragged robes and patches of powder and paint.’
in C. and M. Gazette—August 30th.

Pinney notes that Kipling wrote ‘Not me’ against this title in his copy of Chandler’s ”Index of First Lines” but he does not repudiate it in his copy of Chandler’s earlier “Summary of the Works of Rudyard Kipling”. There is no signature, but Pinney confirms that the poem is authenticated by inclusion in Kipling’s Scrapbook 3 of his own press cuttings in the Special Collections at the University of Sussex Library.

It was not otherwise collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 328) and Pinney (p. 1817).

The Poem

The poem is a counter-blast to G’s “Song of the Dance” in the CMG which, modelled on “The Song of the Shirt” by Thomas Hood (1799–1845), warned of the danger to health and spirits of the current craze for perpetual waltzing. Hood’s poem tells of a widow stitching shirts all day, every day, to earn enough to live on:

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread.

Notes on the Text

Keler-Bela, Strauss, Waldteufel Famous composers of waltzes. Keler-Bela (1820-82), was Hungarian; Johann Strauss, father and son, Viennese; and Emile Waldteufel (1837-1915) from Alsace. In response to the enthusiasm in Simla for gyrating around the floor, Kipling, though not a natural dancer, had succeeded in learning to waltz. See his “The Plea of the Simla Dancers” published earlier that year.

Simpkin champagne, referring to G’s lines:

With a form so wasted and worn,
She scarce could stand on her legs,
A maiden waltzed in silken rags,
Supported only by “pegs”.

Pegs are drinks, usually whisky or brandy and soda-water, but in “A Legend of the Foreign Office” Kipling’s Rajah Rustum Beg ‘prefers the “simpkin” peg’—champagne.

bonjour lunettes hello to spectacles, hello to the short-sighted old ones (French).

adieu fillettes say farewell to the young girls (French).When dancers need spectacles they are getting past it and should leave ‘The Ball-room for the Young!’

cf. “My Rival”.

jihad holy war as waged by Muslims against the unbelievers.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved