The Ballad of East and West

Original Text: 
Rudyard Kipling's Verse: Definitive Edition (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1940): 234-38.
1Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
2Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
3But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
4When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!
6And he has lifted the Colonel's mare that is the Colonel's pride:
7He has lifted her out of the stable-door between the dawn and the day,
10"Is there never a man of all my men can say where Kamal hides?"
15So if ye gallop to Fort Bukloh as fast as a bird can fly,
17But if he be past the Tongue of Jagai, right swiftly turn ye then,
18For the length and the breadth of that grisly plain is sown with Kamal's men.
19There is rock to the left, and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between,
22With the mouth of a bell and the heart of Hell and the head of the gallows-tree.
23The Colonel's son to the Fort has won, they bid him stay to eat--
24Who rides at the tail of a Border thief, he sits not long at his meat.
25He's up and away from Fort Bukloh as fast as he can fly,
26Till he was aware of his father's mare in the gut of the Tongue of Jagai,
27Till he was aware of his father's mare with Kamal upon her back,
28And when he could spy the white of her eye, he made the pistol crack.
29He has fired once, he has fired twice, but the whistling ball went wide.
30"Ye shoot like a soldier," Kamal said. "Show now if ye can ride."
32The dun he fled like a stag of ten, but the mare like a barren doe.
33The dun he leaned against the bit and slugged his head above,
35There was rock to the left and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between,
36And thrice he heard a breech-bolt snick tho' never a man was seen.
37They have ridden the low moon out of the sky, their hoofs drum up the dawn,
38The dun he went like a wounded bull, but the mare like a new-roused fawn.
39The dun he fell at a water-course--in a woful heap fell he,
40And Kamal has turned the red mare back, and pulled the rider free.
41He has knocked the pistol out of his hand--small room was there to strive,
43There was not a rock for twenty mile, there was not a clump of tree,
44But covered a man of my own men with his rifle cocked on his knee.
45If I had raised my bridle-hand, as I have held it low,
46The little jackals that flee so fast were feasting all in a row:
47If I had bowed my head on my breast, as I have held it high,
48The kite that whistles above us now were gorged till she could not fly."
49Lightly answered the Colonel's son: "Do good to bird and beast,
50But count who come for the broken meats before thou makest a feast.
51If there should follow a thousand swords to carry my bones away,
52Belike the price of a jackal's meal were more than a thief could pay.
53They will feed their horse on the standing crop, their men on the garnered grain,
55But if thou thinkest the price be fair,--thy brethren wait to sup,
56The hound is kin to the jackal-spawn,--howl, dog, and call them up!
57And if thou thinkest the price be high, in steer and gear and stack,
58Give me my father's mare again, and I'll fight my own way back!"
59Kamal has gripped him by the hand and set him upon his feet.
60"No talk shall be of dogs," said he, "when wolf and gray wolf meet.
61May I eat dirt if thou hast hurt of me in deed or breath;
63Lightly answered the Colonel's son: "I hold by the blood of my clan:
64Take up the mare for my father's gift--by God, she has carried a man!"
65The red mare ran to the Colonel's son, and nuzzled against his breast;
66"We be two strong men," said Kamal then, "but she loveth the younger best.
68My 'broidered saddle and saddle-cloth, and silver stirrups twain."
69The Colonel's son a pistol drew and held it muzzle-end,
70"Ye have taken the one from a foe," said he. "Will ye take the mate from a friend?"
71"A gift for a gift," said Kamal straight; "a limb for the risk of a limb.
72Thy father has sent his son to me, I'll send my son to him!"
73With that he whistled his only son, that dropped from a mountain-crest--
75"Now here is thy master," Kamal said, "who leads a troop of the Guides,
76And thou must ride at his left side as shield on shoulder rides.
77Till Death or I cut loose the tie, at camp and board and bed,
78Thy life is his--thy fate it is to guard him with thy head.
79So, thou must eat the White Queen's meat, and all her foes are thine,
80And thou must harry thy father's hold for the peace of the Border-line,
81And thou must make a trooper tough and hack thy way to power--
83They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault.
84They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:
85They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
87The Colonel's son he rides the mare and Kamal's boy the dun,
88And two have come back to Fort Bukloh where there went forth but one.
89And when they drew to the Quarter-Guard, full twenty swords flew clear--
90There was not a man but carried his feud with the blood of the mountaineer.
91"Ha' done! ha' done!" said the Colonel's son. "Put up the steel at your sides!
93Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
94Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
95But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
96When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth!


5] raise: incite to rebellion. Back to Line
8] calkins: "The turned-down ends of a horse-shoe which raise the horse's heels from the ground" (OED). Kamal reverses the horse's shoes to confuse his pursuers (Ralph Durand, A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1914]: 38). Back to Line
9] "The Queen's Own Corps of Guides, located at Mardan, one of the most famous corps in the Indian army. It was raised by Sir Henry Lawrence, who realised the Indian North-West Frontier's need--to protect outlying portions of the frontier, and to keep the tribesmen in check--of a thoroughly mobile force of troops, both horse and foot, composed of individuals able not only to fight but to act quickly and intelligently on their own initiative in times of emergency" (Durand 39). Back to Line
11] Ressaldar: "Native captain in an Indian cavalry regiment" (Durand 39). Back to Line
12] pickets: troops. Back to Line
13] harries: raids and pillages. Abazai .Àæ Bonair: "Two frontier districts of the Punjab near the headquarters of the Corps of Guides. They are about forty miles apart" (Durand 39). Back to Line
14] Fort Bukloh: "a military hill station for Ghurkas" (David Ross, The Land of the Five Rivers and Sindh [London: Chapman and Hall, 1883]: 204). Courtesy of Alan Prendergast. Back to Line
16] Tongue of Jagai: the Jagai is the eastern branch of the Swat River where it "debouches into the plain above Abazái", in the Peshawar district in Pakistan (Captain E. G. G. Hastings, Report of the Regular Settlement of the Peshawar District of the Punjab [Lahore: Central Jail Press, 1878]: 9). Courtesy of Alan Prendergast, who suggests that "the Tongue" may be the land between the Jagai river and its western counterpart, the Khyali River. Back to Line
20] snick: click sharply. Back to Line
21] dun: dull greyish brown horse. Back to Line
31] dust-devils: "sand-spouts or moving columns of sand" (OED, "devil," n., 11). Back to Line
34] snaffle-bars: bridle-bit. Back to Line
42] "The Afghans have the greatest admiration for courage. When the Malakand garrison was surprised (July 1897) two officers, Lieutenants Rattray and Minchin, were playing polo there. It was the duty of these two officers to make the desperate Chakdara, seven miles from the Malakand garrison. On their way there they met, and (as they held steadily on their way) were at the mercy of, the insurgent Afghans, who, admiring their pluck, instead of attacking them wished them Godspeed" (Durand 40). Back to Line
54] byres: sheds. Back to Line
62] dam of lances: mother of lancers. Back to Line
67] lifter: thief. Back to Line
74] ling: heather. Back to Line
82] Peshawur: city in north-west Pakistan near the Khyber Pass, and former "principal military station of the North-West Frontier Province" (Durand 40). Back to Line
86] the Wondrous names of God: "The real name of God is, according to Mohammedan belief, known only to prophets and apostles. Whoever knows it has power to raise the dead and perform other miracles. The Most Great Name of God being a secret, He is known by ninety-nine other epithets which are revealed in the 7th chapter of the Koran. The camel also knows the hundredth secret name of God. It was told him as a compensation for the hardships of his life on earth" (Durand 40). Back to Line
92] "The Corps of Guides has from time to time admitted outlaws to its ranks. The most notable of these was a Khuttuck robber named Dilawar, on whose head was a price of 1,000 rupees" (Durand 40). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: