The Ballad of East and West

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"The Ballad of East and West" is a poem by Rudyard Kipling. It was first published in 1889, and has been much collected and anthologised since.

The poem[edit]

Kamal is a tribal chieftain in the North-West Frontier, which was, at the time the poem was written, on the boundary of the British Raj, but is now in Pakistan,[1] Kamal steals the British Colonel's prize mare.

The Colonel's son, who commands a troop of the Guides, asks if any of his men know where Kamal might be. One does, and tells him, but warns him of the dangers of entering Kamal's territory which is guarded by tribesmen concealed among the rocks and scrub. The Colonel's son sets off on a dun horse in pursuit.

He fires his pistol at Kamal when he catches up with to him at the edge his territory. Kamal challenges him to a riding contest, and they gallop until dawn. After 20 miles, the dun falls. Kamal turns and knocks the pistol out of the son's hand, telling him that it was only by his permission that the son had ridden unharmed through his territory.

The son counters that his death would cost Kamal's tribesmen the high price of feeding and quartering a large punitive expedition. He demands that Kamal return the mare, and proposes to make his own way back to his territory. Kamal says the theft of the mare, which didn't belong to him, shouldn't make him place his life at risk.

The Colonel's son repeats his demand for the horse, at which point the mare returns to him on her own accord. Kamal respects the mare's choice. He give her to him with the fine tack, with which Kamal has equipped her.

The son offers a pistol to Kamal, which Kamal accepts. Kamal then commands his only son go with the Colonel's son and to protect and serve him. Kamal foretells his own death by hanging, and the promotion of his son to a high rank in the cavalry.

The Colonel's son and Kamal's son swear blood brotherhood. The two young men ride back to the British fort, where Kamal's son is greeted with hostility by the guards. The Colonel's son admonishes them that his companion is now no longer a border thief, but a fellow soldier.

Critical analysis[edit]

Its first line is often quoted sometimes to ascribe racism to Kipling, particularly in regard to his views on Asians.[2] Those who quote it thus often completely miss the third and fourth lines. The full refrain, with which the poem opens and closes, includes a contradiction of the opening line.

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth![3]

— lines 1-4

This may be read as saying that 'it is indisputable that geographic points of the compass will never meet in this life, but that when two strong men [or equals] meet, the accidents of birth, whether of nationality, race, or family, do not matter at all—the mutual respect such individuals have, each for the character, prowess, and integrity of the other, are their only criteria for judging and accepting one another. Any differences in ethnicity between such individuals are never even considered.

The poem is written in the style of a border ballad. It is printed as rhyming heptameters, two of which are equivalent to a ballad stanza,Some texts print these in groups of four lines.

The vocabulary, stock phrases and rhythms are reminiscent of the old ballads, and the culture described is not unlike that of the Border Reivers. The first line of the actual story, for example, is "Kamal is out with twenty men to raise the Border-side" to mean that a raid is in progress to cause trouble in the Border. In this poem the border is the North West Frontier, and but it harks back to the English/Scottish Border). The second line contains 'lifted', a Scots term for "stolen," and the fourth to "calkin," a technical term of horseshoes. In the poem it is used to describe a trick of horse-mounted brigands, reversing the horseshoes to leave misleading tracks. The second quatrain (line 9) has the stock phrase, "Then up and spoke the Colonel's son that led a troop of the Guides", which is also found in Sir Patrick Spens. Such echoes are to be heard throughout the poem.

There is a couplet that is repeated with slight variations several times:

There is rock to the left, and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between,
And ye may hear a breech-bolt snick where never a man is seen. (lines 19-20)

There was rock to the left and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between,
And thrice he heard a breech-bolt snick tho' never a man was seen. (lines 35-36)

There was not a rock for twenty mile, there was not a clump of tree,
But covered a man of my own men with his rifle cocked on his knee. (lines 43-44)[3]

T. S. Eliot included the poem in his 1941 collection A Choice of Kipling's Verse.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The poem mentions Abazai and Peshawur, which fix the location.
  2. ^ John McGivering (June 27, 2010). "Notes on "The Ballad of East and West"". The New Readers' Guide to the works of Rudyard Kipling. The Kipling Society. Retrieved June 24, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Kipling, Rudyard (1940). Rudyard Kipling's Verse (Definitive ed.). Garden City, NY: Doubleday. pp. 233–236. OCLC 225762741.