Mandalay cover

Mandalay

By ,


"Mandalay" by Rudyard Kipling was first published in the collection Barrack-Room Ballads, and Other Verses, (the first series), in 1892. The poem expresses the longing of a British Empire soldier for the exotic world of Burma, as compared to the cold and drizzle of life in England.
He was 24 years old when Mandalay was written in March or April 1890 upon his leisurely return journey home to England via steamship from India. Burma, and in particular, her beautiful girls made a strong impression on Kipling. He wrote:
I love the Burman with the blind favouritism born of first impression. When I die I will be a Burman … and I will always walk about with a pretty almond-coloured girl who shall laugh and jest too, as a young maiden ought. She shall not pull a sari over her head when a man looks at her and glare suggestively from behind it, nor shall she tramp behind me when I walk: for these are the customs of India. She shall look all the world between the eyes, in honesty and good fellowship, and I will teach her not to defile her pretty mouth with chopped tobacco in a cabbage leaf, but to inhale good cigarettes of Egypt's best brand.
He claims he was so struck by a Burmese beauty on the steps of the Moulmein pagoda that he paid no attention to the structure itself.
The poem still resonates today, and excerpts from Mandalay have been frequently quoted in popular culture, including in the famous "Courage" speech by the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz: "What makes the dawn come up like THUNDER?! – Courage."





NoteStream NoteStream

NoteStreams are readable online but they’re even better in the free App!

The NoteStream™ app is for learning about things that interest you: from music to history, to classic literature or cocktails. NoteStreams are truly easy to read on your smartphone—so you can learn more about the world around you and start a fresh conversation.

For a list of all authors on NoteStream, click here.




Read the NoteStream below, or download the app and read it on the go!

Save to App


The Kyaik-Than-Lan Paya at Moulmein (Mawlamyaing), taken by Philip Adolphe Klier in the 1890s; probably the setting for 'The Road to Mandalay'

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,

There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;

For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the Temple-bells they say:

"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"

British soldiers disembarking in Mandalay Nov., 1885. Photo by Willoughby Wallace Hooper.

Come you back to Mandalay,

Where the old Flotilla lay:

Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay ?

On the road to Mandalay,

Where the flyin'-fishes play,

An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Photograph of King Thibaw, Queen Supayalat and Princess Supayaji, c.1885. Image courtesy the British Library.

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,

An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat --- jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,

An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,

An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:

Bloomin' idol made o' mud

Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd

Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!

On the road to Mandalay...

Where the flyin'-fishes play,

An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Burmah: elephant working, Bain News Service, via Library of Congress, LC-B22- 509-15 [P&P]

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,

She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "Kulla-lo-lo!

With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin my cheek

We useter watch the steamers an' the hathis pilin' teak.

Elephints a-pilin' teak

In the sludgy, squdgy creek,

Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!

On the road to Mandalay...

Where the flyin'-fishes play,

An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Rice boat on the Irrawaddy heading for Rangoon, March 1895, photo by William Henry Jackson, via Library of Congress LC-W7- 599

But that's all shove be'ind me - long ago an' fur away

An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;

An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:

"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."

No! you won't 'eed nothin' else

But them spicy garlic smells,

An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;

On the road to Mandalay...

Where the flyin'-fishes play,

An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Photograph of three Burmese dancers, taken in Burma (Myanmar) in the 1880s, probably by Philip Adolphe Klier.

I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,

An' the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;

Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,

An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?

Beefy face an' grubby 'and -

Law! wot do they understand?

I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!

On the road to Mandalay...

Where the flyin'-fishes play,

An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Samuel Bourne. 1870. Moulmein from the Great Pagoda

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,

Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;

For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;

On the road to Mandalay,

Where the old Flotilla lay,

With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!

O the road to Mandalay,

Where the flyin'-fishes play,

An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay !

Mandalay

Charles Dance reading Mandalay by Rudyard Kipling, at the memorial to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the country's final victory in WW2.

Video