(notes by Roger Ayers)
| the poem
notes on the text
“The variety of form which Kipling manages to devise for his ballads is remarkable: each is distinct, and perfectly fitted to the content and mood which the poem has to convey.”Nowhere is this better displayed than in "Tommy" and "Oonts", where a minor structural difference and an overdone accent completely change the mood. The juxtaposition of these two poems, one following the other in the Scots Observer, is unlikely to have been accidental.
“Out of twenty-one there are, perhaps, not more than seven that one cares about reading again, but these seven are "Mandalay", "Danny Deever", "Fuzzy-Wuzzy", "Tommy", "Oonts", "Gunga Din" and "Soldier, Soldier".A judgement, however, that puts ‘Oonts’ in distinguished company.
(Rudyard Kipling, A Criticism by Richard Le Gallienne', John Lane: The Bodley Head, London, 1900).
“After rain, in clay soil or over rocks or stony places, they split up and they are consequently useless there. … They are extremely delicate in constitution and liable to diseases little understood. When suffering from overwork they do not recover with rest like horse or mule: they pine and die away. They require a long time to feed, at least six hours; owing to their great height they suffer severely from ill-balanced loads.”Wolseley ends with the simple statement: “The camel used in India is a vicious brute”.
“An' when 'e comes to greasy ground 'e splits 'isself in two.” [Line 28] which is also less than exact.There are other hints that Wolseley was Kipling’s source. At the end of the Jungle Book is the story "Her Majesty’s Servants" with its attendant verses "Parade Song of the Camp Animals", and in both story and verses there are close parallels between the characteristics of the camp animals as given by Wolseley and those attributed to them by Kipling. An example is Wolseley’s statement that bullocks ‘stand fire better than any other animals’ and Kipling’s pair of gun-bullocks who graze alongside the guns in action and do not understand why the gun elephant refuses to go within range of the enemy. Kipling published this just 4 years after writing ‘Oonts’.
"When suffering from overwork they do not recover …: they pine and die away."In the poem "The Bee-Boy’s Song", which accompanies "Dymchurch Flit" in Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906), there are two lines which appear to be a direct throwback to the final phrase:
In the first verse:Quite a complex way of getting in ‘pine and die away’ but Kipling seems to have been so keen to do it that he has invented a word in order to get it to fit, though not for the first time – he also did it in the first line of "Oonts".
Fly away - die away - Dwindle down and leave you!
And in the last:
Pine away - dwine away - Anything to leave you!