Call of Poetry

Because Poetry is Meant to be Read Aloud

Tag: soldiers

Tommy

This Kipling poem is one that I’ve memorized off and on, and one of the first I tumbled into (I think “The ‘Eathen” was the first)  in the process of discovering Kipling as a poet. It too would have been fitting for Memorial day, and no, I wasn’t going to wait for veterans day.

The accent is horrible, but trying to read it as actually written pushes you halfway there anyway. Might as well go with it.

TOMMY

Rudyard Kipling

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
  O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
  But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
  The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
  O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
  For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
  But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
  The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
  O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.

  Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
  But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
  The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
  O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;

  While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that,
     an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
  But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”,
     when there’s trouble in the wind,
  There’s trouble in the wind, my boys,
     there’s trouble in the wind,
  O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”,
     when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.

  For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
  But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
  An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
  An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool—you bet that Tommy sees

Cells

I first ran into this poem while reading an early, collected version of Pournelle’s “Falkenberg” mercenary stories set in a future “CoDominium”. This is much earlier in the same timeline as the classic first contact science fiction novel “Mote in Gods Eye”.

Needless to say – Kipling was well aware that soldiers were hardly saints. 

Cells

by Rudyard Kipling

I’ve a head like a concertina: I’ve a tongue like a button-stick:
I’ve a mouth like an old potato, and I’m more than a little sick,
But I’ve had my fun o’ the Corp’ral’s Guard: I’ve made the cinders fly,
And I’m here in the Clink for a thundering drink
and blacking the Corporal’s eye.
With a second-hand overcoat under my head,
And a beautiful view of the yard,
O it’s pack-drill for me and a fortnight’s C.B.
For “drunk and resisting the Guard!”
Mad drunk and resisting the Guard —
‘Strewth, but I socked it them hard!
So it’s pack-drill for me and a fortnight’s C.B.
For “drunk and resisting the Guard.”

I started o’ canteen porter, I finished o’ canteen beer,
But a dose o’ gin that a mate slipped in, it was that that brought me here.
‘Twas that and an extry double Guard that rubbed my nose in the dirt;
But I fell away with the Corp’ral’s stock
and the best of the Corp’ral’s shirt.

I left my cap in a public-house, my boots in the public road,
And Lord knows where, and I don’t care, my belt and my tunic goed;
They’ll stop my pay, they’ll cut away the stripes I used to wear,
But I left my mark on the Corp’ral’s face, and I think he’ll keep it there!

My wife she cries on the barrack-gate, my kid in the barrack-yard,
It ain’t that I mind the Ord’ly room — it’s ~that~ that cuts so hard.
I’ll take my oath before them both that I will sure abstain,
But as soon as I’m in with a mate and gin, I know I’ll do it again!
With a second-hand overcoat under my head,
And a beautiful view of the yard,
Yes, it’s pack-drill for me and a fortnight’s C.B.
For “drunk and resisting the Guard!”
Mad drunk and resisting the Guard —
‘Strewth, but I socked it them hard!
So it’s pack-drill for me and a fortnight’s C.B.
For “drunk and resisting the Guard.”

Dedication from “Barrack-Room Ballads”

This touches on religious themes, as many poems from the past do. Nevertheless, the imagery, to me, owes almost as much to Valhalla and astronomy. A fitting introduction to the stories of those who served, and often died.

Dedication from “Barrack-Room Ballads”

by Rudyard Kipling

BEYOND the path of the outmost sun through utter darkness hurled-
Farther than ever comet flared or vagrant star-dust swirled-
Live such as fought and sailed and ruled and loved and made our world.

They are purged of pride because they died; they know the worth of their bays;
They sit at wine with the Maidens Nine and the Gods of the Elder Days-
It is their will to serve or be still as fitteth Our Father’s praise.

‘Tis theirs to sweep through the ringing deep where Azrael’s outposts are,
Or buffet a path through the Pit’s red wrath when God goes out to war,
Or hang with the reckless Seraphim on the rein of a red-maned star.

They take their mirth in the joy of the Earth-they dare not grieve for her pain;
They know of toil and the end of toil; they know God’s Law is plain;
So they whistle the Devil to make them sport who know that Sin is vain.

And oft-times cometh our wise Lord God, master of every trade,
And tells them tales of His daily toil, of Edens newly made;
And they rise to their feet as He passes by, gentlemen unafraid.

To these who are cleansed of base Desire, Sorrow and Lust and Shame-
Gods for they knew the hearts of men, men for they stooped to Fame-
Borne on the breath that men call Death, my brother’s spirit came.

He scarce had need to doff his pride or slough the dross of Earth –
E’en as he trod that day to God so walked he from his birth,
In simpleness and gentleness and honour and clean mirth.

So cup to lip in fellowship they gave him welcome high
And made him place at the banquet board-the Strong Men ranged thereby,
Who had done his work and held his peace and had no fear to die

Beyond the loom of the last lone star, through open darkness hurled,
Further than rebel comet dared or hiving star-swarm swirled,
Sits he with those that praise our God for that they served His world.

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