"Mandalay" is a poem by Rudyard Kipling that was first published in the collection Barrack-Room Ballads, and Other Verses, the first series, published in 1892. The poem colourfully illustrates the nostalgia and longing of a soldier of the British Empire for Asia's exoticism, and generally for the countries and cultures located "East of Suez", as compared to the cold, damp and foggy climates and to the social disciplines and conventions of the UK and Northern Europe.



The Mandalay referred to in this poem was the sometime capital city of Burma, which was part of British India from 1886 to 1937, and a separate British colony from 1937 to 1948. It mentions the "old Moulmein pagoda", Moulmein being the Anglicised version of present-day Mawlamyine, in South eastern Burma, on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Martaban.

The British troops stationed in Burma were taken up (or down) the Irrawaddy River by paddle steamers run by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (IFC). Rangoon to Mandalay was a 700 km trip each way. During the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885 9,000 British and Indian soldiers had been transported by a fleet of paddle steamers ("the old flotilla" of the poem) and other boats from Rangoon to Mandalay. Guerrilla warfare followed the occupation of Mandalay and British regiments remained in Burma for several years.

"Where the old flotilla lay". British soldiers disembarking from paddle steamers in Mandalay on 28 November 1885 during the Third Anglo-Burmese War.


Rudyard Kipling's poem "Mandalay" was written in March or April 1890, when the British poet was 24 years old. He had arrived in England in October the previous year, after seven years in India. He had taken an eastward route home, travelling by steamship from Calcutta to Japan, then to San Francisco, then across the United States, in company with his friends Alex and "Ted" (Edmonia) Hill. Rangoon had been the first port of call after Calcutta; then there was an unscheduled stop at Moulmein. It is plain that Kipling was struck by the beauty of the Burmese girls. He wrote at the time:

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.[1]

Kipling claimed that when in Moulmein, he had paid no attention to the pagoda his poem later made famous, because he was so struck by a Burmese beauty on the steps. Many Westerners of the era remarked on the beauty of Burmese women.[2]


T. S. Eliot included the poem in his 1941 collection A Choice of Kipling's Verse.

In other media


Sheet music of "On the Road to Mandalay", 1907

Kipling's text was adapted by Oley Speaks[3] for what became his best-known song "On the Road to Mandalay" and popularised by Peter Dawson.[4] Arranged and conducted by Billy May it appears in Frank Sinatra's album Come Fly with Me with only first, second and last verse of the poem, with the chorus; although singers sometimes omit the second verse. Kipling's daughter and heiress objected to this version, which had altered Kipling's Burma girl into a Burma broad, the man, who east of Suez can raise a thirst, into a cat and the following temple-bells into crazy bells.[4] Sinatra sang the song in Australia, in 1959, and relayed the story of the Kipling family's objections to the song.[5] In 2008, in the Family Guy episode Tales of a Third Grade Nothing, Frank Sinatra Jr. and Seth MacFarlane spoofed the song.[4]

Bertolt Brecht referred to Kipling′s poem in his Mandalay Song, which was set to music by Kurt Weill for Happy End and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.[6][7] Peter Bellamy set the poem to the tune of Ten Thousand Miles Away for his album "Barrack Room Ballads".[8] A Danish translation by Kai Friis Møller  (Da) became popular in Denmark in 1961 where it was performed by the quartet Four Jacks.[9]


The poem is quoted in the 1992 movie The Last of His Tribe. During a campfire, Dr. Saxton Pope, played by David Ogden Stiers, gives expression to most of the poem in dramatic fashion.[10]

In The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion quotes Mandalay during his famous "Courage" speech. "What makes the dawn come up like THUNDER?! – Courage." [11]


In Noël Coward's 1950 musical Ace of Clubs, Harry, a sailor knowing every world's port, confesses in his song, I like America, that he'd "exploded the myth / Of those Flying Fith / On the Road to Mandalay." [12]


A sung rendition of the poem is performed in an episode of Rumpole of the Bailey, "Rumpole and the Show Folk".[13]


Two parodic quotes ("it takes a heap of loving" and "on the road to where the flying fishes play") appear in a nonsense poem, "A Few Lines", written by Groucho Marx for Animal Crackers. [14]

See also


  1. ^ From Sea to Sea (1899) Volume 2 Chapter 2 telelib.com
  2. ^ Selth, Andrew (2016-11-03). Burma, Kipling and Western Music: The Riff from Mandalay. Taylor & Francis. p. 24. ISBN 9781317298908. Retrieved 30 September 2017. 
  3. ^ "On the Road to Mandalay (Speaks, Oley)". IMSLP Petrucci Music Library. Retrieved 21 November 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c Selth, Andrew (2016). Burma, Kipling and Western Music: The Riff from Mandalay. Taylor & Francis. pp. 112 and whole book. ISBN 978-1-317-29889-2. 
  5. ^ http://www.steynonline.com/6870/on-the-road-to-mandalay
  6. ^ "Mandalay". The Kipling Society. Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  7. ^ Selth, Andrew (2016). Burma, Kipling and Western Music: The Riff from Mandalay. Taylor & Francis. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-317-29890-8. 
  8. ^ Selth, Andrew (2016). Burma, Kipling and Western Music: The Riff from Mandalay. Taylor & Francis. p. 79. ISBN 978-1-317-29889-2. 
  9. ^ "Four Jacks Mandalay". 45Cat. Retrieved 17 March 2018. 
  10. ^ The Last of His Tribe - 1992, The poem is given dramatic representation for 1 minute 10 seconds from 51:10 to 52:20 into the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqVArigvh_Q.
  11. ^ American Rhetoric: Movie Speech "The Wizard of Oz" (1939), The Cowardly Lion On Courage.
  12. ^ According to the Noël Coward Society, this song originated in 1949, and went into Ace Of Clubs the following year. ('Songfacts' webpage contains published lyrics.)
  13. ^ > under ALLUSIONS tab > Rumpole quotes from Rudyard Kipling's poem Mandalay.
  14. ^ "A Few Lines", by Groucho Marx; within full page of information on "Animal Crackers".

External links