The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Rudyard Kipling, selected poems

“The Ballad of East and West”

  1. How would you describe the poem’s rhythms? What are some features of its language? How do these differ from other poetry we have read, such as “Childe Roland” or “The Blessed Damozel”?
  2. What does the poet mean by “East” and “West”? What is meant by the claim that these can never meet? Under what circumstances does the poem claim an exception can be made?
  3. What effect is created by starting the poem with a series of general statements and a refrain?
  4. What happens in the poem? Where do these incidents take place? Who is Kamal and what does it mean to say that he is out “to raise the Border side”? Who are the Guides?
  5. With what type of figures is the reader expected to have immediate sympathy?
  6. Are the Tongue of Jagai, Fort Bukloh, and Bonair real places? If not, why might Kipling have chosen to invent names? Are any names in the poem recognizable?
  7. This poem was written in 1889, 8 years after the conclusion of the second Anglo-Afghan War in which Britain had attempted to take control of the government of Afghanistan at the cost of 2500 dead British soldiers. Though the British “secured” the Khyber Pass, they were forced to leave Afghanistan, though they returned in the 90s and beyond to make further efforts.

    In this context, what do you make of the ending? Is it politically plausible? Would it have pleased Kipling’s readers?
  8. Do you think this poem would have been recited? Which of its features would encourage recitation?
  9. What are some of the poem’s instances of metaphorical or rhetorical language?

    Are we supposed to respect the protogonists, and if so, on what grounds? What assumptions about family loyalty and fathers and sons are encoded in the plot’s sentiment?
  10. Can this poem be subjected to the charge that (in Edward Said’s terms) it is “orientalist”? Is the poem imperialist?

“Recessional,” written on the Queen’s Jubilee, 1897

This poem was set to music by Edward Elgar and is even now sometimes sung at public meetings in Britain.

  1. What are implications of the poem’s title?
    Who is the poem’s speaker? What effect is created by the fact that the poem is a prayer?
  2. To what “verities” and past historical events does the poem allude in the first stanza? What relationship does the “Lord of Hosts” have to the British empire?
  3. What does the speaker predict will be the fate of the British empire? What does he fear will be forgotten?
  4. In stanza 4, what dread fate does the speaker fear will overtake the British? In this context, who are the “Gentiles,” and “lesser breeds without the Law”? Is this law political or religious?
  5. What are the “reeking tube and iron shard”? For what do the speaker’s people require mercy?
  6. Who are the “People” of the poem’s final line? What is the poem’s final tone? Its view of the nature and value of the “imperial project”?

“Danny Deever”

  1. What are some features of the poem’s language? The sequence in which it is told?
  2. What is the point of this story? For what alleged crime has Danny Deever been hung? Why does the poet refrain from more details?
  3. With whom are we expected to sympathize in this poem?
  4. What details of the death are especially graphic?
  5. What messages, if any, is the poem intended to convey?
  6. Do the poem’s rhythms and manner of telling contradict or reinforce its content?


  1. What is the significance of the choice of the name “Tommy”? What do we know about him from his speech and his spelling?
  2. Of what discriminations does he complain?
  3. What features of stanza arrangement and language does Tommy use to make his point?
  4. What are some of his main points? Of what does he accuse the British public?
  5. What is the speaker’s chief wish? Does he advocate better conditions for soldiers? How effective is the ending, “you bet that Tommy sees!”
  6. What is this poem’s tone? How would the late-Victorian reader have been expected to react to this poem?


  1. The British had fought several “wars” of conquest in Africa, including a Zulu War in which natives overran a British army with spears. In the 1890s the British--motivated by the desire to control territory near the Suez Canal--authorized an expeditionary force to conquer the Sudan. Britain remained in control of the region until 1956.

    Who is the poem’s speaker? Why would Kipling have chosen him to represent British presence in the Nile region?
  2. The term “Fuzzy-Wuzzy” refers to the Sudanese Hadandoa tribesmen of the upper Nile, who charged into battle with their hair arranged to look as fearsome as possible. What is the effect of the speaker’s use of this term? Of his reference to his enemy in the singular?
  3. What do we know about the speaker from his use of language?
  4. What attitudes are ascribed to the speaker as he says, “We’ll come an’ ‘have romp with ou whenever you’re inclined”? What other attitudes seemingly appropriate for a British soldier does he exhibit?
  5. On what grounds does the speaker respect his enemy? Are the Hadandoa expected to successfully defend their homeland? What are the implications of praising the tribesmen for breaking “a British square”? (a reference to the victory of the Sudanese in the battle of Tamai, 1884)
  6. How do the poem’s stanza form and rhythms convey or complement its meaning?
  7. In reading this poem, what attitude toward the issue of imperialist wars is the Victorian reader expected to take?

“Gunga Din”

  1. Aldershot was the largest military base in Britain at the time. What does it represent to the speaker?
  2. Who was Gunga Din? How had the speaker and other members of the regiment treated him? Does the speaker seem to feel regrets?
  3. How is Gunga Din’s character presented? Under what circumstances does he die? For what is he admired?
  4. What does this poem reveal about conditions in the British army of the time?
  5. On what grounds does the speaker acknowledge that Gunga Din is “a better man than I am”? In your view, is he correct?
  6. Is this an egalitarian poem? An imperialist poem?

“The Widow at Windsor”

  1. Who is the speaker and what are his attitudes toward the queen? Her empire? The British army?
  2. Are these attitudes consistent?
  3. What is the poem’s tone? How does the poem end? Does this reflection “Poor beggars!--they’ll never see ’ome!”) affect the reader’s judgment of the rest of the poem?


  1. Where is Mandalay? Which features of life there does the speaker describe?
  2. To what extent are his memories romanticized?
  3. How do the poem’s meter and language contribute to its meaning?
  4. What is his social position in London? Why cannot he adjust to life in his homeland?
  5. Which aspects of Eastern life have attracted him?
  6. Are there sad aspects to this poem? What points about the psychological effects of empire does it make?

Based on these poems, what qualities do you think made Kipling a popular poet in his day and afterwards?

In your view, are these poems essentially cheerful? Sad? Somewhere in between?

  Copyright © 2010 Florence S Boos, The University of Iowa. All rights reserved.
  Page updated: September 3, 2010 22:56