»  Rudyard Kipling's "The Sergeant's Weddin'"


The Sergeant's Weddin'

by Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936


•  Background

From Andrew Lycett's biography of Kipling:

[I]n October 1888, after Departmental Ditties had received renewed coverage in Britain, Rudyard could not resist asking Thacker Spink [i.e. Thacker Spink & Co., a book publisher in Calcutta], "How much by the way did you make on your Rs 500 purchase [of that book]?" Although Rudyard had told Ted Hill [i.e. Mrs. Edmonia Hill, an American lady he was in love with at about this time — she is the one who described young Rudyard, in his affections for women, as "the most susceptible person I ever knew"] that he did not like the company's production of the latest, third edition, he cannot have been too unhappy because he now offered the Calcutta publisher "for outright sale a volume of verse — mostly ballads of incident and action, entirely or almost entirely Anglo-Indian, and certain to take with the public if they haven't changed their minds. Also it is a likely volume for home consumption as it would introduce the Englishman to a life that he knows very little about." What he was soon calling "my Barrack Room Ballads and other Poems which includes 2 soldiers songs and a variety of Anglo-Indian sentimental and descriptive work" were offered outright for 2000 rupees, later raised to 2500 rupees, or just £187.50. This shows that Rudyard was already working on his Barrack-Room Ballads, well before they began to appear in Macmillan's Magazine towards the end of the following year.

Kipling was not quite 23 in October 1888, just going into the seventh of his "seven years' hard" [i.e. hard labor] as a hack journalist working for Anglo-Indian newspapers. The Barrack-Room Ballads appeared in various forms from 1889 onwards, and were collected under that title more than once. The definitive collection was published by Methuen in 1892. It was one of the most successful books of poetry ever written, selling 7,000 copies in its first year, and a running average of 9,000 a year up to the outbreak of World War One. That war only boosted sales:  Barrack-Room Ballads had its best year ever in 1915, with 29,000 copies sold.

Barrack-Room Ballads included such favorites as "Danny Deever," "Tommy," "Fuzzy-Wuzzy," "Gunga Din," "The Young British Soldier," "Mandalay," "Gentemen Rankers," "Route Marchin'," and many more. "The Sergeant's Weddin'" is a favorite of mine, for the cold eye it casts on human relations, and also of course for the pitch-perfect diction. Kipling had one of the best ears a poet ever had for the rhythms of ordinary speech, even low-class speech. He had the opposite of a tin ear — he had a golden ear.

I tackled Kipling at some length here.

•  Notes

"lando" = soldier's pronunciation of "landau," a stylish type of horse-drawn carriage:  "a four-wheel covered carriage with a roof divided into two parts (front and back) that can be let down separately" (Merriam-Webster's).

"keeps canteen" = runs the soldiers' canteen (=mess hall), skimming off some profits for himself.

"keep your side-arms quiet" = here someone (presumably the speaker, an NCO) is telling his men, who are in dress uniforms, not to disturb the wedding service by letting their equipment rattle.

"dressin'" = forming a line on some fixed mark, in this case the position of the regimental band.

"Voice that breathed o'er Eden" = a wedding hymn, this one.

"laylock" = the OED gives this as a dialect form of "lilac" (i.e. the color, presumably).

"kerridge" = soldiers' pronunciation of "carriage," i.e. the landau.


•  Play the reading


•  Text of the poem

'E was warned agin' 'er —
That's what made 'im look:
She was warned agin' 'im —
That is why she took.
'Wouldn't 'ear no reason,
'Went an' done it blind;
We know all about 'em,
They've got all to find!

        Cheer for the Sergeant's weddin' —
        Give 'em one cheer more!
        Grey gun-'orses in the lando,
        An' a rogue is married to, etc.

What's the use o' tellin'
'Arf the lot she's been?
'E's a bloomin' robber,
An'  'e keeps canteen.
'Ow did 'e get 'is buggy?
Gawd, you needn't ask!
'Made 'is forty gallon
Out of every cask!

Watch 'im, with 'is 'air cut,
Count us filin' by —
Won't the Colonel praise 'is
We 'ave scores to settle —
Scores for more than beer;
She's the girl to pay 'em —
That is why we're 'ere!

See the chaplain thinkin'?
See the women smile?
Twig the married winkin'
As they take the aisle?
Keep your side-arms quiet,
Dressin' by the Band.
Ho! You 'oly beggars,
Cough be'ind your 'and!

Now it's done an' over,
'Ear the organ squeak,
"Voice that breathed o'er Eden" —
Ain't she got the cheek!
White an' laylock ribbons,
Think yourself so fine!
I'd pray Gawd to take yer
'Fore I made yer mine!

Escort to the kerridge,
Wish 'im luck, the brute!
Chuck the slippers after —
(Pity 'tain't a boot!)
Bowin' like a lady,
Blushin' like a lad —
'Oo would say to see 'em
Both is rotten bad?

        Cheer for the Sergeant's weddin' —
        Give 'em one cheer more!
        Grey gun-'orses in the lando,
        An' a rogue is married to, etc.