Barrack-Room Ballads

The Barrack-Room Ballads are a series of songs and poems by Rudyard Kipling, dealing with the late-Victorian British Army and mostly written in a vernacular dialect. The series contains some of Kipling's most well-known work, including the poems "Gunga Din", "Tommy", "Mandalay", and "Danny Deever", helping consolidate his early fame as a poet.

The first poems were published in the Scots Observer in the first half of 1890, and collected in Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses in 1892. Kipling later returned to the theme in a group of poems collected in The Seven Seas under the same title. A third group of vernacular Army poems from the Boer War, titled "Service Songs" and published in The Five Nations (1903), can be considered part of the Ballads, as can a number of other uncollected pieces.

First (1892) edition of Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses (publ. Methuen)


While two volumes of Kipling's poems are clearly labelled as "Barrack-Room Ballads", identifying which poems should be grouped in this way can be complex.

The main collection of the Ballads was published in the 1890s, in two volumes: Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses (1892, the first major publishing success for Methuen) and The Seven Seas (1896), sometimes published as The Seven Seas and Further Barrack-Room Ballads. In both books, they were collected into a specific section set aside from the other poems, and can be easily identified. (Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses has an introductory poem ("To T.A.") in Kipling's own voice, which is strictly not part of the set but is often collected with them.)

A third group of poems, published in 1903 in The Five Nations, continued the theme of military vernacular ballads; while they were titled "Service Songs", they fit well with the themes of the earlier ballads and are clearly connected.

Charles Carrington produced the first comprehensive volume of the Ballads in 1973, mainly drawn from these three collections but including five additional pieces not previously collected under the title. Three of these date from the same period: an untitled vernacular poem ("My girl she gave me the go onst") taken from a short story, The Courting of Dinah Shadd, in Life's Handicap (1891); Bobs (1892 or 1898), a poem praising Lord Roberts; and The Absent-Minded Beggar (1899), a poem written to raise funds for the families of soldiers called up for the Boer War.

The remaining two date from the First World War; Carrington considered Epitaphs of the War, written in a first-person style, and Gethsemane, also in a soldier's voice, to meet his definition. Both were published in The Years Between (1919). Kipling wrote profusely on military themes during the war, but often from a more detached perspective than the first-person vernacular he had previously adopted.

Finally, there are some confusingly captioned pieces. Many of Kipling's short stories were introduced with a short fragment of poetry, sometimes from an existing poem and sometimes an incidental new piece. These were often identified "A Barrack-Room Ballad", though not all the poems they were taken from would otherwise be collected or classed this way. This includes pieces such as the introductory poem to My Lord the Elephant (from Many Inventions, 1899), later collected in Songs from Books but not identified as a Ballad. It is not clear if these were deliberately omitted by Carrington or if he explicitly chose not to include them.


From Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses
From The Seven Seas
  • "Back to the Army Again"
  • "Birds of Prey" March
  • "Soldier an' Sailor Too"
  • "Sappers"
  • "That Day"
  • "The Men That Fought at Minden"
  • "Cholera Camp"
  • "The Ladies"
  • "Bill 'Awkins"
  • "The Mother Lodge"
  • "Follow Me 'Ome"
  • "The Sergeant's Weddin'"
  • "The Jacket"
  • "The 'Eathen"
  • "The Shut-Eye Sentry"
  • "Mary, Pity Women!"
  • "For to Admire"
  • Bobs
  • "My girl she gave me the go onst..."


T.S. Eliot, in his essay on Kipling for his 1941 anthology of Kipling's verse,[1] writes that many writers have written verse without writing poetry, but that Kipling was unusual in that he did write poetry without setting out to do so.[2] In Eliot's view, this makes Kipling a 'ballad-writer', and that was already, he thought, more difficult in 1941 than in Kipling's time, as people no longer had the music hall to inspire them.[3] Eliot thought Kipling's ballads unusual, also, in that Kipling had been careful to make it possible to absorb each ballad's message on a single hearing. But, wrote Eliot, Kipling had more to offer than that: he had "a consummate gift of word, phrase, and rhythm", never repeated himself, and used short, simple stanzas and rhyming schemes. What is more

The variety of form which Kipling manages to devise for his ballads is remarkable: each is distinct, and perfectly fitted to the content and the mood which the poem has to convey. Nor is the versification too regular...

— T.S. Eliot[4]

See also


  1. ^ Eliot, 1963. pp. 5–36.
  2. ^ Eliot, 1963. pp. 8–9.
  3. ^ Eliot, 1963. pp. 9–10.
  4. ^ Eliot, 1963. p. 11.


  • Eliot, TS (1941). A Choice of Kipling's Verse, made by T. S. Eliot with an essay on Rudyard Kipling. Faber and Faber.
--- (1963) paperback edition, Faber and Faber

External links

Andrew Lycett

Andrew Lycett, FRSL is an English biographer and journalist.

Lycett was educated at Charterhouse School and studied history at Christ Church, Oxford. He then worked for a while for The Times as a correspondent in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. He has written several well-received biographies and he is best known for his biography of Ian Fleming, Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2009 and he is a Fellow in 2014.He currently lives and writes in London.


The cheroot is a filterless cylindrical cigar with both ends clipped during manufacture. Since cheroots do not taper, they are inexpensive to roll mechanically, and their low cost makes them popular.

The word cheroot comes via French cheroute, originally from Tamil curuttu/churuttu/shuruttu (சுருட்டு), roll of tobacco. This word could have been absorbed into the French language from Tamil during the 18th century, when the French were trying to stamp their presence in South India. The word could have then been absorbed into English from French. Cheroot originated in Tamil Nadu in India. Cheroot are longer than another filterless Indian-origin product called beedi.

Conor Mitchell

Conor Mitchell is a Northern Irish composer, librettist and theatre-maker.His play, The Dummy Tree, was commissioned by the Royal National Theatre for their 2009 New Connections series.Conor has been a great supporter of Youth Music Theatre UK and has received several commissions from them including Missing Mel, Goblin Market, Eight, The Dark Tower and Barrack Room Ballads.

He split first place in the Stephen Sondheim Society's Student Performer of the Year Competition for a song he wrote entitled What Kind of Life Is This, Masha?. He split the new song competition prize with Gwenyth Herbert's Lovely London Town.In 2012, he was commissioned by the London Gay Men's Chorus for a piece to mark the choir's 21st anniversary. With book written by Mark Ravenhill, the piece, entitled Shadow Time, explores the evolution of mentalities in respect of homosexuality in the lifetime of the Chorus. The piece will be premiered at the Royal Festival Hall, on 6 May 2012 during the Chorus' summer concert: A Band of Brothers.

Danny Deever

"Danny Deever" is an 1890 poem by Rudyard Kipling, one of the first of the Barrack-Room Ballads. It received wide critical and popular acclaim, and is often regarded as one of the most significant pieces of Kipling's early verse. The poem, a ballad, describes the execution of a British soldier in India for murder. His execution is viewed by his regiment, paraded to watch it, and the poem is composed of the comments they exchange as they see him hanged.


"Fuzzy-Wuzzy" is a poem by the English author and poet Rudyard Kipling, published in 1892 as part of Barrack Room Ballads. It describes the respect of the ordinary British soldier for the bravery of the Hadendoa warriors who fought the British army in the Sudan and Eritrea.

Gentleman ranker

A gentleman ranker is an enlisted soldier who may have been a former officer or a gentleman qualified through education and background to be a commissioned officer.

It suggests that the signer was born to wealth and privilege but he disgraced himself and has enlisted as a common soldier (perhaps at the lowest rank, as a private or corporal) serving far from the society that now scorns him. Cf remittance man, often the black sheep of a "good" family, paid a regular allowance to stay abroad, far from home, where he cannot embarrass the family.

The term also describes those soldiers who signed on specifically as 'gentleman volunteers' in the British army to serve as private soldiers with the understanding being that they would be given a commission (without purchase) at a later date. These men trained and fought as private soldiers but "messed" (dined, and perhaps socialized) with the officers and were thus afforded a social standing of somewhere in between the two.

Gunga Din

"Gunga Din" is an 1890 poem by Rudyard Kipling, set in British India.

The poem is much-remembered by its final line: "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din", often quoted in the UK in reaction to self-praise.

Learoyd, Mulvaney and Ortheris

Thus Rudyard Kipling introduces, in the story The Three Musketeers (1888) three characters who were to reappear in many stories, and to give their name to his next collection Soldiers Three. Their characters are given in the sentence that follows: "Collectively, I think, but am not certain, they are the worst men in the regiment so far as genial blackguardism goes"—that is, they are 'trouble' to authority, and always on the lookout for petty gain; but Kipling is at pains never to suggest that they are evil or immoral. They are representative of the admiration he has for the British Army—which he never sought to idealise as in any way perfect—as in the poems collected in Barrack-Room Ballads (1892), and also show his interest in, and respect for the 'uneducated' classes. Kipling has great respect for the independence of mind, initiative and common sense of the three—and their cunning.

The three are distinguished by their accents, and by Kipling's skilful use of standard stereotyping. If money is to be discussed, it will be done by Learoyd, the caricature Yorkshireman always careful with "brass"; Mulvaney, the Irishman, is the most talkative; and the cockney Ortheris is the most 'street-wise'. But each is much more than a caricature or mere stereotype: that aspect of their construction is partly a question of the economy Kipling has to use in these short pieces, and partly an aspect of his presentation of himself as an ingenuous young reporter.

Mandalay (poem)

"Mandalay" is a poem by Rudyard Kipling, written and published in 1890, and first collected in Barrack-Room Ballads, and Other Verses in 1892. The poem is set in colonial Burma, then part of British India. The protagonist is a Cockney working-class soldier, back in grey restrictive London, recalling the time he felt free and had a Burmese girlfriend, now unattainably far away.The poem became well known, especially after it was set to music by Oley Speaks in 1907, and was admired by Kipling's contemporaries, though some of them objected to its muddled geography. It has been criticised as a "vehicle for imperial thought", but more recently has been defended by Kipling's biographer David Gilmour and others. Other critics have identified a variety of themes in the poem, including exotic erotica, Victorian prudishness, romanticism, class, power, and gender.The song, with Speaks's music, was sung by Frank Sinatra with alterations to the text such as "broad" for "girl" which were disliked by Kipling's family. Bertolt Brecht's Mandalay Song, set to music by Kurt Weill, alludes to the poem.

Peter Bellamy

Peter Franklyn Bellamy (8 September 1944 – 24 September 1991) was an English folk singer. He was a founding member of The Young Tradition but also had a long solo career, recording numerous albums and touring folk clubs and concert halls. He committed suicide in 1991.

Rudyard Kipling bibliography

This is a bibliography of works by Rudyard Kipling, including books, short stories, poems, and collections of his works.

Shut up

"Shut up" is a direct command with a meaning very similar to "be quiet", but which is commonly perceived as a more forceful command to stop making noise or otherwise communicating, such as talking. The phrase is probably a shortened form of "shut up your mouth" or "shut your mouth up". Its use is generally considered rude and impolite, and may also considered a form of profanity by some.


Skimbleshanks is a cat character in T. S. Eliot's book of poetry Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats.

The T. S Eliot poem begins as a parody of Rudyard Kipling's poem "l'Envoi" (also known as "The Long Trail") from Barrack-Room Ballads and Other Verses. Compare the first few lines of Kipling's

There's a whisper down the field where the year has shot her yield,

And the ricks stand grey to the sun,

Singing:--'Over then, come over, for the bee has quit the clover,

And your English summer's done.'You have heard the beat of the off-shore wind,

And the thresh of the deep-sea rain;

You have heard the song--how long! how long?

Pull out on the trail again! with Eliot's

There's a whisper down the line at 11.39

When the Night Mail's ready to depart,

Saying `Skimble where is Skimble has he gone to hunt the thimble?

We must find him or the train can't start.'

All the guards and all the porters and the stationmaster's daughters

They are searching high and low,

Saying `Skimble where is Skimble for unless he's very nimble

Then the Night Mail just can't go.'

Skimbleshanks is described as living on the Night Mail overnight express train that travels on the British West Coast Main Line (WCML) between London Euston and Glasgow Central. He is however not exclusively based on the WCML, as he has visited Dumfries on the Glasgow South Western Line, then terminating at Glasgow St Enoch; but he spends most of his time on the WCML, allowing him to visit stations such as Crewe, Carlisle, and Gallowgate, all of which are on this line. In the musical, but not in the poem, he is also the third one to touch and accept Grizabella back into the tribe.

In the musical Cats, Skimbleshanks is depicted as an bright tabby cat. He is a figure of great importance in the train's operation; it will not leave without him, and he frequently looks in on the passengers and crew to ensure that everything is running smoothly. He is seen on the stage throughout the musical without his railway outfit until his song. When it is time for his number, he wears a brown waistcoat with a pocketwatch chain.

The role of Skimbleshanks was originated in London by Kenn Wells and on Broadway by Reed Jones. Geoffrey Garratt plays him in the 1998 video version of the musical. Jonathan Cerullo played the part in the USA on the National 3 Company. Felix Hess played the part in the Worldwide Tour from 2007-2008. In the worldwide tour at the moment he is played by Louie Napoleon. In the 2013 TIGS production he was played by Ethan Butson.

In the 2016 Broadway revival he is played by Jeremy Davis.

Soldier, Soldier (poem)

Soldier, Soldier is a poem by Rudyard Kipling from Barrack-Room Ballads. The lyrics of the poem are not directly related to the traditional ballad "Soldier, soldier won't you marry me" and instead begin "Soldier, soldier come from the wars, Why don't you march with my true love?"

The Taking of Lungtungpen

"The Taking of Lungtungpen" is a short story by Rudyard Kipling which was first published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 11 April 1887. In book form, the story appeared in the first Indian edition of Plain Tales from the Hills in 1888, and in subsequent editions of that collection.

The Widow at Windsor

"The Widow at Windsor" is a poem by Rudyard Kipling, part of the first set of the Barrack-Room Ballads, published in 1892.

The eponymous "widow" is Queen Victoria. This poem talks about Queen Victoria and how the Empire she rules is so powerful because of the sacrifices that her soldiers make.

T. S. Eliot included the poem in his 1941 collection A Choice of Kipling's Verse.

Tommy (Kipling poem)

"Tommy" is an 1890 poem by Rudyard Kipling, reprinted in his 1892 Barrack-Room Ballads. The poem addresses the ordinary British soldier of Kipling's time in a sympathetic manner. It is written from the point of view of such a soldier, and contrasts the treatment they receive from the general public during peace and during war.

William Ward-Higgs

William Ward-Higgs (1866–1936) was an English lawyer and songwriter who wrote "Sussex by the Sea": the unofficial anthem of that county, a regimental march of the Royal Sussex Regiment, and the official song of Brighton & Hove Albion F.C.

He was born in Birkenhead in 1866. For much of his life, he worked in London as a solicitor. From 1902–08, he lived at Hollywood House in Bersted, West Sussex. He wrote "Sussex by the Sea" when his favourite sister-in-law became engaged to Captain Waithman of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment. He may have been inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s poem Sussex, which ends with the line "Yea, Sussex by the sea!" – he had previously set to music several of Kipling's Barrack-Room Ballads. The song was published in 1907. Subsequently, he moved back to London. He suffered from epilepsy in his later years, and took his own life at Roehampton in 1936. He is buried in Bersted churchyard.

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