Saturday, September 28, 2013

Poem of the Week - 'Gunga Din' by Rudyard Kipling

Hi there. As a new contributor to this blog (broken in, as it were, by Steam/real-life friend Comrade_Bazarov) I thought that my first action should be to compose an entry in its most reliable segment, the intermittent Poem of the Week, and make my addition to this misleading sobriquet. In doing so I will doubtlessly earn your Internet trust.

Like many poems that matter, at least to me, this one comes with a story. Maybe several stories.  I bought the anthology of Kipling's collected verse, a fairly cheap, commonplace edition, at an upscale establishment called the Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles, buying the Kipling, a collection of Shaw's plays, and the Barenaked Ladies album Gordon as spoken-word artists performed in the building's central enclosure (pretentious, like all spoken-word/slam poetry, but not unentertaining at times - and who am I to scoff at the notion that people might want to hear the stream-of-consciousness detritus of a stranger's brain) while enjoying an odd excursion out with my ex-girlfriend of the time. It was in a weird moment where we were transitioning explicitly out of relationship mode and into friendship, and not cleanly. Snappishness on both sides.

The anthology sat on my end table, as I took one or two poems a night before going to sleep. But, as you might not know, Kipling was horrendously prolific, and I slowed several hundred pages into the 700-page behemoth. That's what happens with writing on a set schedule.

Anyway, in one of the darker moments of my life, I didn't pass my first oral examination, and the possibility of that happening became apparent mid-exam. I'd been reading "Gunga Din" off and on while studying, trying to commit it to memory, and as I waited in the hallway, interminably, as I waited for my committee's decision, knowing that it lay in great doubt, being nervous and in great despair, I recited the poem to myself as a tool to eat time and ward off anxiety.

Several months later, waiting in that hallway again, during a much shorter wait, I recited the poem correctly, end-to-end, for the first time.


You may talk o' gin and beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere
And you're sent in penny-fights and Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
Now in Injia's sunny clime
Where I used to spend my time
A'servin' of 'er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them blackfaced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.
     He was "Din! Din! Din!
  You limpin' lump o' brick-dust, Gunga Din!
     "Hi, slippy hitherao!
     Water, get it! Panee lao,
  You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din."

The uniform 'e wore
Was nothing much before
An' rather less than 'alf of that behind.
For a piece o' twisty rag
An' a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field equipment 'e could find.
When the sweatin' troop-train lay
In a sidin' through the day,
Where the 'eat would make your bloomin' eyebrows crawl,
We shouted "Harry by!"
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped 'im 'cause 'e couldn't serve us all. 
     It was "Din! Din! Din!
  You 'eathen, where the mischief 'ave you been?
     You put some juldee in it,
     Or I'll marrow you this minute
  If you don't fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!"

'E would do t an' carry one
Till the longest day was done;
An' 'e didn't seem to know the use o' fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin' nut,
'E'd be waitin' fifty paces right flank rear.
With 'is mussick on his back,
'E would skip with our attack,
An' watch us till the bugles made "Retire",
An' for all 'is dirty 'ide
'E was white, clear white, inside
When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire.
     It was "Din! Din! Din!
With the bullets kickin' dust-spots on the green.
     When the cartridges ran out,
     You could here the front-ranks shout,
"Hi, ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!"

I shan't forgit the night
When I dropped behind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should 'a' been.
I was chokin' mad with thirst
An' the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin', gruntin' Gunga Din.
'E lifted up my 'ead,
An' he plugged me where I bled,
An' 'e guv me 'arf-a-pint o' water green.
It was crawlin' an' it stunk,
But of all the drinks I've drunk,
I'm gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
     It was "Din! Din! Din!
  'Ere's a beggar with a bullet through 'is spleen;
    'E's chawing on the ground,
    an' 'e's kickin' all around,
  For Fawd's sake git the water, Gunga Din!"

'E carried me away,
To where a dooli lay,
An' a bullet come an' drilled the beggar clean.
'E put me safe inside,
An' just before 'e died,
"I 'ope you liked your drink," sez Gunga Din.
So I'll meet 'im later on,
At the place where 'e is gone-
Where it's always double drill and no canteen.
'E'll be squattin' on the coals,
Givin' drink to poor damned souls,
An' I'll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
      Yes, Din! Din! Din!
  You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
     Though I've belted you and flayed you,
     By the livin' Gawd that made you,
  You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

No comments:

Post a Comment