Today’s Kipling – Song of Diego Valdez

(Note: Diego Valdez appears to be a fictional creation of Kipling. He seems real, but I cannot find any Spanish admiral from the Great Age of Sail with that name. It is another example of Rudyard Kipling bringing a character to life through the power of his words. This poem is one of my favorites. It speaks of the burdens of success.)

Song of Diego Valdez


Rudyard Kipling

The God of Fair Beginnings
Hath prospered here my hand —
The cargoes of my lading,
And the keels of my command.
For out of many ventures
That sailed with hope as high,
My own have made the better trade,
And Admiral am I.

To me my King’s much honour,
To me my people’s love —
To me the pride of Princes
And power all pride above;
To me the shouting cities,
To me the mob’s refrain: —
“Who knows not noble Valdez
“Hath never heard of Spain.”

But I remember comrades —
Old playmates on new seas —
Whenas we traded orpiment
Among the savages —
A thousand leagues to south’ard
And thirty years removed —
They knew nor noble Valdez,
But me they knew and loved.

Then they that found good liquor,
They drank it not alone,
And they that found fair plunder,
They told us every one,
About our chosen islands
Or secret shoals between,
When, weary from far voyage,
We gathered to careen.

There burned our breaming-fagots
All pale along the shore:
There rose our worn pavilions —
A sail above an oar:
As flashed each yeaming anchor
Through mellow seas afire,
So swift our careless captains
Rowed each to his desire.

Where lay our loosened harness?
Where turned our naked feet?
Whose tavern ‘mid the palm-trees?
What quenchings of what heat?
Oh, fountain in the desert!
Oh, cistern in the waste!
Oh, bread we ate in secret!
Oh, cup we spilled in haste!

The youth new-taught of longing,
The widow curbed and wan,
The goodwife proud at season,
And the maid aware of man —
All souls unslaked, consuming,
Defrauded in delays,
Desire not more their quittance
Than I those forfeit days!

I dreamed to wait my pleasure
Unchanged my spring would bide:
Wherefore, to wait my pleasure,
I put my spring aside
Till, first in face of Fortune,
And last in mazed disdain,
I made Diego Valdez
High Admiral of Spain.

Then walked no wind ‘neath Heaven
Nor surge that did not aid —
I dared extreme occasion,
Nor ever one betrayed.
They wrought a deeper treason —
(Led seas that served my needs!)
They sold Diego Valdez
To bondage of great deeds.

The tempest flung me seaward,
And pinned and bade me hold
The course I might not alter —
And men esteemed me bold!
The calms embayed my quarry,
The fog-wreath sealed his eyes;
The dawn-wind brought my topsails —
And men esteemed me wise!

Yet, ‘spite my tyrant triumphs,
Bewildered, dispossessed —
My dream held I beore me
My vision of my rest;
But, crowned by Fleet and People,
And bound by King and Pope —
Stands here Diego Valdez
To rob me of my hope.

No prayer of mine shall move him.
No word of his set free
The Lord of Sixty Pennants
And the Steward of the Sea.
His will can loose ten thousand
To seek their loves again —
But not Diego Valdez,
High Admiral of Spain.

There walks no wind ‘neath Heaven
Nor wave that shall restore
The old careening riot
And the clamorous, crowded shore —
The fountain in the desert,
The cistern in the waste,
The bread we ate in secret,
The cup we spilled in haste.

Now call I to my Captains —
For council fly the sign —
Now leap their zealous galleys,
Twelve-oared, across the brine.
To me the straiter prison,
To me the heavier chain —
To me Diego Valdez,
High Admiral of Spain!

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Today’s Kipling – Mulholland’s Contract

Mulholland’s Contract

Rudyard Kipling

The fear was on the cattle, for the gale was on the sea,
An’ the pens broke up on the lower deck an’ let the creatures free —
An’ the lights went out on the lower deck, an’ no one near but me.

I had been singin’ to them to keep ’em quiet there,
For the lower deck is the dangerousest, requirin’ constant care,
An’ give to me as the strongest man, though used to drink and swear.

I see my chance was certain of bein’ horned or trod,
For the lower deck was packed with steers thicker’n peas in a pod,
An’ more pens broke at every roll — so I made a Contract with God.

An’ by the terms of the Contract, as I have read the same,
If He got me to port alive I would exalt His Name,
An’ praise His Holy Majesty till further orders came.

He saved me from the cattle an’ He saved me from the sea,
For they found me ‘tween two drownded ones where the roll had landed me —
An’ a four-inch crack on top of my head, as crazy as could be.

But that were done by a stanchion, an’ not by a bullock at all,
An’ I lay still for seven weeks convalessing of the fall,
An’ readin’ the shiny Scripture texts in the Seaman’s Hospital.

An’ I spoke to God of our Contract, an’ He says to my prayer:
“I never puts on My ministers no more than they can bear.
So back you go to the cattle-boats an’ preach My Gospel there.

“For human life is chancy at any kind of trade,
But most of all, as well you know, when the steers are mad-afraid;
So you go back to the cattle-boats an’ preach ’em as I’ve said.

“They must quit drinkin’ an’ swearin’, they mustn’t knife on a blow,
They must quit gamblin’ their wages, and you must preach it so;
For now those boats are more like Hell than anything else I know.”

I didn’t want to do it, for I knew what I should get,
An’ I wanted to preach Religion, handsome an’ out of the wet,
But the Word of the Lord were lain on me, an’ I done what I was set.

I have been smit an’ bruis’ed, as warned would be the case,
An’ turned my cheek to the smiter exactly as Scripture says;
But following that, I knocked him down an’ led him up to Grace.

An’ we have preaching on Sundays whenever the sea is calm,
An’ I use no knife or pistol an’ I never take no harm,
For the Lord abideth back of me to guide my fighting arm.

An’ I sign for four-pound-ten a month and save the money clear,
An’ I am in charge of the lower deck, an’ I never lose a steer;
An’ I believe in Almighty God an’ preach His Gospel here.

The skippers say I’m crazy, but I can prove ’em wrong,
For I am in charge of the lower deck with all that doth belong —
Which they would not give to a lunatic, and the competition so strong!

Another of his poems of men and the sea, the world as seen through the eyes of a common (or perhaps very uncommon) seaman.

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TOTD 2018-3-9: Robert Frost in Mud Season

A Patch of Old Snow

There’s a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of the day I’ve forgotten –
If I ever read it.


The Great Man here gives us pure snark on a subject that deserves it. For those who live in places where in winter the ground freezes only shallowly, the image of frozen ground to a depth of three feet or more is helpful. As winter gradually gives up, the soil near the surface thaws long before the deeper dirt. Snowmelt and and spring rains in many areas have nowhere to drain, so they sit there and make mud.

Mud season, New England’s Fifth Season, brings further delights: melting snow – dirty old snow shrinking and collapsing –  reveals the winter’s  dead grass, sticks, and bark, as well as litter of other sorts. Just when snowdrops and daffodils come to mind, this squelching intervening reality pops up. Sure, sure, stoicism and a will to patient labor are what we call forth – but it is so sweet to hear some unadulterated annoyance from the master.


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Today’s Kipling: The Ballad of Minepit Shaw

This is one of my favorites – just the right mix of humor and retribution. (Note: a Pharisee is a “fairy” – as in a magical being.)

The Ballad of Minepit Shaw

Rudyard Kipling

“The Tree of Justice” in Rewards and Fairies

About the time that taverns shut
And men can buy no beer,
Two lads went up to the keepers’ hut
To steal Lord Pelham’s deer.

Night and the liquor was in their heads –
They laughed and talked no bounds,
Till they waked the keepers on their beds
And the keepers loosed the hounds.

They had killed a hart, they had killed a hind,
Ready to carry away,
When they heard a whimper down the wind
And they heard a bloodhound bay.

They took and ran across the fern,
Their crossbows in their hand,
Till they met a man with a green lantern
That called and bade ’em stand.

“What are ye doing, O Flesh and Blood,
And what’s your foolish will,
That you must break into Minepit Wood
And wake the Folk of the Hill?”

“Oh, we’ve broke into Lord Pelham’s park,
And killed Lord Pelham’s deer,
And if ever you heard a little dog bark
You’ll know why we come here.

“We ask you let us go our way,
As fast as we can flee,
For if ever you heard a bloodhound bay
You’ll know how pressed we be.”

“Oh, lay your crossbows on the bank
And drop the knives from your hand,
And though the hounds be at your flank
I’ll save you where you stand!”

They laid their crossbows on the bank,
They threw their knives in the wood,
And the ground before them opened and sank
And saved ’em where they stood.

“Oh, what’s the roaring in our ears
That strikes us well-nigh dumb?”
“Oh, that is just how things appears
According as they come.”

“What are the stars before our eyes
That strike us well-nigh blind?”
“Oh, that is just how things arise
According as you find.”

“And why’s our bed so hard to the bones
Excepting where it’s cold?”
“Oh, that’s because it is precious stones
Excepting where ’tis gold.

“Think it over as you stand,
For I tell you without fail,
If you haven’t got into Fairyland
You’re not in Lewes Gaol.”

All night long they thought of it,
And, come the dawn, they saw
They’d tumbled into a great old pit,
At the bottom of Minepit Shaw.

And the keeper’s hound had followed ’em close,
And broke her neck in the fall;
So they picked up their knives and their crossbows
And buried the dog. That’s all.

B ut whether the man was a poacher too
Or a Pharisee so bold –
I reckon there’s more things told than are true.
And more things true than are told.

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Today’s Kipling – Troopin’


(Our Army in the East)

Rudyard Kipling

Troopin’, troopin’, troopin’ to the sea:
‘Ere’s September come again — the six-year men are free.
O leave the dead be’ind us, for they cannot come away
To where the ship’s a-coalin’ up that takes us ‘ome to-day.
We’re goin’ ‘ome, we’re goin’ ‘ome,
Our ship is at the shore,
An’ you must pack your ‘aversack,
For we won’t come back no more.
Ho, don’t you grieve for me,
My lovely Mary-Ann,
For I’ll marry you yit on a fourp’ny bit
As a time-expired man.

The Malabar’s in ‘arbour with the ~Jumner~ at ‘er tail,
An’ the time-expired’s waitin’ of ‘is orders for to sail.
Ho! the weary waitin’ when on Khyber ‘ills we lay,
But the time-expired’s waitin’ of ‘is orders ‘ome to-day.

They’ll turn us out at Portsmouth wharf in cold an’ wet an’ rain,
All wearin’ Injian cotton kit, but we will not complain;
They’ll kill us of pneumonia — for that’s their little way —
But damn the chills and fever, men, we’re goin’ ‘ome to-day!

Troopin’, troopin’, winter’s round again!
See the new draf’s pourin’ in for the old campaign;
Ho, you poor recruities, but you’ve got to earn your pay —
What’s the last from Lunnon, lads? We’re goin’ there to-day.

Troopin’, troopin’, give another cheer —
‘Ere’s to English women an’ a quart of English beer.
The Colonel an’ the regiment an’ all who’ve got to stay,
Gawd’s mercy strike ’em gentle — Whoop! we’re goin’ ‘ome to-day.
We’re goin’ ‘ome, we’re goin’ ‘ome,
Our ship is at the shore,
An’ you must pack your ‘aversack,
For we won’t come back no more.
Ho, don’t you grieve for me,
My lovely Mary-Ann,
For I’ll marry you yit on a fourp’ny bit
As a time-expired man.

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Today’s Kipling – The Mare’s Nest

(Sometimes the course of true love fails to run smoothly. . .)

The Mare’s Nest

Rudyard Kipling

Jane Austen Beecher Stowe de Rouse
Was good beyond all earthly need;
But, on the other hand, her spouse
Was very, very bad indeed.
He smoked cigars, called churches slow,
And raced — but this she did not know.

For Belial Machiavelli kept
The little fact a secret, and,
Though o’er his minor sins she wept,
Jane Austen did not understand
That Lilly — thirteen-two and bay
Absorbed one-half her husband’s pay.

She was so good, she made hime worse;
(Some women are like this, I think;)
He taught her parrot how to curse,
Her Assam monkey how to drink.
He vexed her righteous soul until
She went up, and he went down hill.

Then came the crisis, strange to say,
Which turned a good wife to a better.
A telegraphic peon, one day,
Brought her — now, had it been a letter
For Belial Machiavelli, I
Know Jane would just have let it lie.

But ’twas a telegram instead,
Marked “urgent,” and her duty plain
To open it. Jane Austen read:
“Your Lilly’s got a cough again.
Can’t understand why she is kept
At your expense.” Jane Austen wept.

It was a misdirected wire.
Her husband was at Shaitanpore.
She spread her anger, hot as fire,
Through six thin foreign sheets or more.
Sent off that letter, wrote another
To her solicitor — and mother.

Then Belial Machiavelli saw
Her error and, I trust, his own,
Wired to the minion of the Law,
And traveled wifeward — not alone.
For Lilly — thirteen-two and bay —
Came in a horse-box all the way.

There was a scene — a weep or two —
With many kisses. Austen Jane
Rode Lilly all the season through,
And never opened wires again.
She races now with Belial. This
Is very sad, but so it is.

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Today’s Kipling – The Dawn Wind

(The choice was inspired by the 2018 SOTU speech.)

The Dawn Wind

The Fifteenth Century

Rudyard Kipling

At two o’clock in the morning, if you open your window and listen,
You will hear the feet of the Wind that is going to call the sun.
And the trees in the shadow rustle and the trees in the moonlight glisten,
And though it is deep, dark night, you feel that the night is done.

So do the cows in the field. They graze for an hour and lie down,
Dozing and chewing the cud; or a bird in the ivy wakes,
Chirrups one note and is still, and the restless Wind strays on,
Fidgeting far down the road, till, softly, the darkness breaks.

Back comes the Wind full strength with a blow like an angel’s wing,
Gentle but waking the world, as he shouts: “The Sun! The Sun!”
And the light floods over the fields and the birds begin to sing,
And the Wind dies down in the grass. It is day and his work is done.

So when the world is asleep, and there seems no hope of her waking
Out of some long, bad dream that makes her mutter and moan,
Suddenly, all men arise to the noise of fetters breaking,
And every one smiles at his neighbour and tells him his soul is his own!

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