Gentlemen-Rankers

Original Text: 
Rudyard Kipling's Verse: Definitive Edition (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1940): 424-25.
2   To my brethren in their sorrow overseas,
5Yes, a trooper of the forces who has run his own six horses,
8   But to-day the Sergeant's something less than kind.
9      We're poor little lambs who've lost our way,
10         Baa! Baa! Baa!
11      We're little black sheep who've gone astray,
12         Baa-aa-aa!
14      Damned from here to Eternity,
15      God ha' mercy on such as we,
16         Baa! Yah! Bah!
17Oh, it's sweet to sweat through stables, sweet to empty kitchen slops,
18   And it's sweet to hear the tales the troopers tell,
24   Who blacks your boots and sometimes calls you 'Sir'.
25If the home we never write to, and the oaths we never keep,
26   And all we know most distant and most dear,
27Across the snoring barrack-room return to break our sleep,
28   Can you blame us if we soak ourselves in beer?
29When the drunken comrade mutters and the great guard-lantern gutters
30   And the horror of our fall is written plain,
31Every secret, self-revealing on the aching whitewashed ceiling,
32   Do you wonder that we drug ourselves from pain?
33We have done with Hope and Honour, we are lost to Love and Truth,
34   We are dropping down the ladder rung by rung,
35And the measure of our torment is the measure of our youth.
36   God help us, for we knew the worst too young!
37Our shame is clean repentance for the crime that brought the sentence,
38   Our pride it is to know no spur of pride,
40   And we die, and none can tell Them where we died.
41      We're poor little lambs who've lost our way,
42         Baa! Baa! Baa!
43      We're little black sheep who've gone astray,
44         Baa-aa-aa!
45      Gentlemen-rankers out on the spree,
46      Damned from here to Eternity,
47      God ha' mercy on such as we,
48         Baa! Yah! Bah!

Notes

1] Gentlemen-Rankers: educated but poor men who have been compelled to enlist to make a living. Also ironical: ranker-officers are honoured for having risen from the ranks of ordinary soldiers. Back to Line
3] machinely crammed: with a mechanical understanding of materials learned for examination. Back to Line
4] Queen Victoria, Empress of India. Back to Line
6] rode as he had to and did so without knowing why. Back to Line
7] ready tin: tin drinking cup. Back to Line
13] on the spree: a drunken binge or bout. Back to Line
19] blowzy: "Dishevelled, frowzy, slatternly" (OED). hops: dances. Back to Line
20] cad: low-life. Back to Line
21] cock-a-hoop: proud and loud in being so. 'Rider': ."expert horseman ... charged with the duty of taming refractory horses." (Ralph Durand, A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914]: 35). Back to Line
22] Perhaps, honoured by wearing a damned heraldic spur, made of woollen (worsted) yarn. Back to Line
23] Tommy: common soldier, named after the standard rations, a brown bread. Back to Line
39] Curse of Reuben: Genesis 49:4. On Jacob's deathbed, he cursed his first-born son Reuben for having sexual relations with Jacob's concubine Bilhah. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2007