the King's Mercy"
In ... November 1889, the first of two long ballads were acceted by Mowbray Morris, the Editor of Macmillan’s Magazine. It was typical of Kipling that his first step in starting a new career, in a new country, should be under a new name: he would not derive adventitious support from a reputation earned elsewhere. Accordingly, the poem appeared in Macmillan’s under the pseudonym “Yussuf.”Andrew Lycett sees Kipling as being respectful, rather than critical, of Abdur Rahman's brutal regime (p.197):
The first of these two, “The Ballad of he King’s Mercy” has never been regarded as one of his major works; the second of them, “The Ballad of East and West”, which followed in the December issue, at once raised its author into the first rank of contemporary writers. No one ever seems to have doubted that it was written by Kipling. George Saintsbury selected it as one of two examples of contemporary verse worth mentioning by name in his History of English Prosody; and down at Farringford, the aged Tennyson growled to a friend that young Kipling was ‘the only one with the divine fire’.
Rudyard wrote the rollicking “Ballad of the King’s Mercy” which—to confuse anyone who finds his ‘imperialisem’easy to interpret—is studiously respectful of the brutal workings of royal Afghan justice in the Khyber hills. Still wary of putting his head too far above ghe parapet, he signed his poem with the pseudonym ‘Yussuf—not that many readers were deceived, given the subject matter.But was there an element of sarcasm in his apparently respectful tone ?
The impetus ... came from the music-hall. In the 1860s and 1870s the theatre-going public had divided along increasingly sharp lines. New theatres were built to suit the taste of the middle-class with decorous orchestral (sic) stalls replacing the unruly pit of an earlier period. Inevitably the new levels of comfort led to higher charges. Priced out of the legitimate theatre the lower classes were left to find their entertainment in the music-halls. At the height of their popularity during Kipling’s years in London ... Gatti’s, one of the best-known halls, was a few steps from Kipling’s rooms in Villiers Street, and he soon found he preferred the smoke and the roar, and the good fellowship, to dinner with the intelligencia. [Something of Myself, p. 49].See our notes on "The Ballad of the King's Jest" for some coomments from Angus Wilson.
But there was more at issue than his impatience with literary society. The music-hall introduced him to performers whose success was based on an easy rapport with their public. In the give-and-take atmosphere of the halls, Kipling began to imagine a way in which the artist might speak for as well to the audience.
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,[Line 26] Ghilzai a major Pashtun tribe located mainly in south-eastern Afghanistan, between Kandahar and Kabul, extending towards the Suleiman Mountains into Pakistan. They are the second Pashtun tribal confederation after the Durrani.
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.
Ride hard, ride hard to Abazai,[Line 29] the watch was set the watchmen that gusrded the town at night went on duty.
Young Sahib with the yellow hair—
Lie close, lie close as Khattacks lie,
Fat herds below Bonair!