Tuesday 11 December 2018

Gunga Din.

Most schoolboys know this poem. It was taught to us as an example of British colonial rule, our courageous English soldiers, and the ultimate bravery of a servant. It was also a timely reminder never to forget that the underdog who you admonished on a daily basis, might well be the one who eventually saves your life.

Kipling was the ultimate hero to us boys. Nowadays if his bust appeared in an Oxford college niche, there would probably be riots. Sadly any reference these days to the Empire is frowned upon; regardless of how one views it.

Here is his beautiful poem in praise of  'Gunga Din'.

You may talk o' gin and beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere,
An' you're sent to penny-fights an' 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 black-faced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.
He was "Din! Din! Din!
You limping lump o' brick-dust, Gunga Din!
Hi! slippery hitherao!
Water, get it! Panee lao!
You squigy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din."

The uniform 'e wore
Was nothin' much before,
An' rather less than 'arf o' that be'ind,
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 dot 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 'is 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 hear the front-files shout,
"Hi! ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!"

I sha'n't forgit the night
When I dropped be'ind 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' and 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 chawin' up the ground,
An' 'e's kickin' all around:
For Gawd'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 living Gawd that made you,
You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.


  1. He also wrote that lovely poem about loving a dog
    Power of the dog

  2. My father, born in 1930 and a veteran of the Korean War, used to say that last line "You're a better man than I am Gunga Din" to us often. I had no clue what he meant. Now I do. Thanks so much for this, going back now for a second read.

    1. You'll have to do a bit of translation work, there's a lot of colloquialisms in there; but understandable.

  3. In 1915 Kipling's son was killed at the Battle of Loos, in Picardy, France. He wrote a poem about it. It's called Garden of Gethsemane (1914 - 1918). It's posted on my poetry blog Poet in Residence. Just enter 'Rudyard Kipling' in the blog search box.

    1. Thanks for that. What a strange and moving little poem. Almost child-like in places. I rather like that side of his writing; nothing pompous.

  4. I expect If is Theresa May's favourite at the moment.

    1. I think it would be more likely to be 'If' by the same author.

      'If you can keep your head, whilst all around are losing theirs, and blaming it on you...'

    2. That's what I meant. Sorry if it wasn't clear. I assumed you would know.

    3. I thought 'if' was a spelling mistake for 'it'. Woops.

  5. I haven't read that in a long time. Thanks. I can still recite " The Cremation of Sam Mcgee" by Robert Service. I think every Canadian can.

    1. I'm afraid reciting poems from memory is a thing of the past for me. I remember certain lines; but whole poems, no.

  6. Oddly I have a draft post on Kipling lurking in my dashboard. I wrote it after 'If' was removed from the Students Union. The fact that he wrote 'of the day' does not in any way, I would argue, diminish the validity of many of his works including, 'If'.

    1. PS I have used the saying "You are a better man than I am, Gunga Din" for most of my life.

    2. There's a lot of common sense in 'If'. Some of those students could do a lot worse than live by it. I too use that last line quite often.

  7. Another of my father's favourites Cro. Not sure I had any ideas about colonialism at the time that I learnt it from him.

    1. I don't think any of us did, we were told what to think by the 'snowflake' generation.

  8. My mother also used the last line of the poem often when we were kids... I didn't know where it came from until now. Thanks for putting it up in its entire form.

    Jo in Auckland

  9. I'm afraid I've heard the phrase, "You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din," a bit too often. Rather like "tick VG", it seems to have been a touch overused in British television during a certain period. I can still recite a stanza from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem about a forest primeval 'bearded in moss and in garments green' which I learned decades ago. It's odd the things that stick in one's mind.

    1. I used to be able to quote entire poems in Latin, but sadly...


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