The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God
The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God is a 1911 poem by J. Milton Hayes that is a famous example of the genre of "dramatic monologue", which was a music hall staple in the early twentieth century. The piece was written for and performed by actor and monologist Bransby Williams.
The opening lines are still very well known:
- There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu,
- There’s a little marble cross below the town;
- There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
- And the Yellow God forever gazes down.
It is set in Nepal ("to the north of Kathmandu"), during the British Raj and tells the tale of a wild young officer known as "Mad Carew", who steals the "green eye" of a "yellow god" (presumably an emerald in a gold statue) in order to impress his beloved. He is wounded in the course of the robbery, and later murdered, presumably by a devotee of the god for the theft, who returns the jewel to the idol (though the idol is still "one-eyed" after the events of the poem).
In his book My Brother Evelyn and Other Profiles, Alex Waugh gives Hayes's account of the writing of the poem:
- "I wrote The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God in five hours, but I had it all planned out. It isn't poetry and it does not pretend to be, but it does what it sets out to do. It appeals to the imagination from the start: those colours, green and yellow, create an atmosphere. Then India, everyone has his own idea of India. Don't tell the public too much. Strike chords. It is no use describing a house; the reader will fix the scene in some spot he knows himself. All you've got to say is 'India' and a man sees something. Then play on his susceptibilities."
- "His name was Mad Carew. You've got the whole man there. The public will fill in the picture for you. And then the mystery. Leave enough unsaid to make paterfamilias pat himself on the back. 'I've spotted it, he can't fool me. I'm up to that dodge. I know where he went.' No need to explain. Then that final ending where you began. It carries people back. You've got a compact whole. 'A broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew' They'll weave a whole story round that woman's life. Every man's a novelist at heart. We all tell ourselves stories. That's what you've got to play on."
Either Hayes or Waugh was inaccurate in the conflation of Nepal with India. While Britain achieved colonial control of India between 1858 and 1947, it never did so over Nepal. The political and military agreements between the two countries were therefore quite different. Any British officer in Nepal at the time would have been part of the Brigade of Gurkhas rather than part of the British Raj.
In December 2011, the BBC radio programme 'From Our Own Correspondent' broadcast a piece by journalist Joanna Jolly in which she detailed a trip she made to Sankhu, a village to the north-east of Kathmandu. On a hill near the village is a temple in which there is a gold-plated statue of the Tantric goddess Bajra yogini, who is worshipped by Hindus and Buddhists. The statue has silver eyes which are only put in during festivals. Although there is no evidence that J. Milton Hayes ever visited the area, the temple is mentioned in written sources dating back at least 200 years, so it is entirely plausible that he could have heard stories of this statue and the unusual practices regarding its eyes from returning colonial military personnel and wove these elements into his dramatic monologue.
- Kaufman, Sarah (June 27, 1997). "Lending a Hand at the 'Bull & Bush'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 9 November 2009.
- Williams, Bransby Bransby Williams by Himself Hutchinson, London (1954) pg 47
- The Green Tie on the little Yellow Dog by Billy Bennett. Accessed 2011-12-10
- Waugh, Alex (1967) ,'My Brother and Other Profiles', Cassell London
References in popular culture
Charles Laughton and Vivien Leigh recite this poem in the memorable classic film "Sidewalks of London", also known as St. Martins Lane. (1938)
In the episode The Fear of Wages of the long-running radio comedy The Goon Show, characters trying to come up with excuses frequently answer along the lines of: "Well, it's a long story. You see...", and then quoting the opening lines (or variations) of the poem dramatically. In The Shifting Sands of Waziristan, Bloodnok distorts it again, with "There's a little green-eyed idol to the north of Kathmandu... but the wind blew up the chimney just the same".
John Lennon uses the opening line in the posthumously released song "Nobody Told Me" (changing "one-eyed" to "little").
Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine use part of the opening in their song "Perfect Day to Drop the Bomb", which starts "To the north of Kathmandu there's tiny children sniffing glue".
The poem is parodied in Series 2 of Danger Mouse in the episode "Bad Luck Eye of the Little Yellow God."
In an episode of the BBC sitcom Kiss Me Kate, the character Craig Chapman played by Darren Boyd begins reciting the poem with actions, but is prevented from completing it when Chris Langham's Douglas Cameron character refuses to cooperate.
In I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again the spoof serial "Curse of the Flying Wombat" is based on the search for the "Green eye of the little yellow dog" in Katmandu.
In an episode of Duty Free, the British couples enter a talent contest in their hotel. One of their number attempts to recite the poem to the non-English speaking audience, who mistake his earnest performance for a comedy routine. Their laughter is unappreciated, making him retort: "It's not funny! The poor bugger's dead!"
Biggles and the Little Green God (1969) has that great British hero seeking a jade statuette believed by South American Indians to be the god Ata-Hua. The poem is directly referenced at the start of the book and occasionally thereafter.
The poem also has a number of references in the 1986 computer game Dizzy - The Ultimate Cartoon Adventure in which various lines of the poem are displayed in banners, where they serve as cryptic clues as to how to solve certain puzzles.
In "The Adventure of the Six Maledictions" by Kim Newman, Mad Carew flees to England with the emerald, pursued by the yellow god's devotees, and turns to the criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty for protection. The story was first published in Gaslight Arcanum, and was subsequently collected with Newman's other Moriarty crossover stories in Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D'Urbervilles.