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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired in Florida for over two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Kipling's Literary License and the Aroma of Cypress

Making a Liar out of Rudyard Kipling

My favorite poem is Rudyard Kipling’s “On the Road to Mandalay.”  Many years ago I learned it when I was in the service.  It took two full recitations of the poem (to myself of course) for our platoon to march from our barracks to the school I was attending at Fort Devens at the time.  Since then I have used it when I have trouble falling asleep or am sitting in a dentist’s chair while the dentist or even worse, the hygienist, is working on my teeth. You know the poem.  I won’t bother you with all six verses, but here is the first one.

By the old Moulmein pagoda looking eastward to the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a sittin’ and I know she thinks of me,
For the wind is in the palm trees and the temple bells they say,
Come you back, you British soljer, come you back to Mandalay.
Come you back to Mandalay, where the old flotilla lay,
Can’t you hear her paddles clunkin’, from Rangoon to Mandalay,
On the road to Mandalay where the flyin’ fishes play
And the dawn comes up like thunder out of China ‘cross the bay.

Before we get any deeper into this, here is a map of what used to be called Burma but is now Myanmar.

Note where Moulmein is!  On this map, it is labelled "Mawlamyine" (Just to the left and a bit above of the word Thailand on the map.) That's another Burmese spelling of Moulmein.  Take my word for it.  There is no way that anyone in Moulmein or Mawlamyine can look “eastward to the sea” from a pagoda or any structure in that city.  Maybe westward, but never eastward.  Well, that takes care of the poem’s memorable opening line.   

And now, let’s get to wherever it was that those also famous “flyin’ fish” were playing.  Kipling tells us that this occurred “On the Road to Mandalay.”  Well, if fish were playing there, it couldn’t have been a dirt, or even a paved, road.  Taking the broad definition of “road” as a path or way to a particular place, and making it a path through water (as in Hampton Roads, Virginia, named for the water off of Hampton, Virginia), the “Road to Mandalay” has to be the Irriwaddy River, which flows down through Rangoon from way upstream in the middle of the country where Mandalay is found.  That's where the fish were flyin' and the British flotilla, obviously river boats, was probably anchored off of Mandalay in the middle of the Irriwaddy.  Kipling recalls the sound of their paddles “clunking”” as the boats navigated upstream “from Rangoon to Mandalay.”  

Now try to picture that stream on which Mandalay sits, call it a road if you wish, but contrary to the poem, at dawn, no matter how hard you look, you cannot possibly see "the sun come up like thunder out of China," which is many miles away, and certainly not from "‘cross the bay," because around there in the middle of Burma, there ain’t no bays. 

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The Aroma of Cypress

One of the most beautiful love poems ever written, a biblical dialogue between a man and a woman, is the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon).  It includes a line reading, “A cluster of cypress is my beloved to me in the vineyards of En-Gedi.”  I am not a biblical scholar, but a little work on the internet reveals that there have been several interpretations of the plant involved.  Sometimes it is referred to as camphor, sometimes as henna and the fruit of the plant as cypress.  In any event, whatever the case, the plant is very aromatic in a strangely sweet manner.  

I mention this because for those of you who live in South Florida, there is wonderful stand of cypress in the Green Cay Preserve, west of Boynton Beach, which produces a very fragrant aroma as you walk through it.  It is located on the first hammock a walker encounters heading northward, to the left on the one mile boardwalk circuit, as you leave the main building at Green Cay.  This is the aroma of which King Solomon wrote. If you visit there, take a deep breath.

Incidentally, on a trip to Israel, I visited a spa on the shores of the Dead Sea called the En-Gedi Spa which boasted a fertile oasis watered by the nearby mineral springs.  This is the place referred to by Solomon and it is still there.  



                  En-Gedi Oasis (near Dead Sea - Israel)

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1 comment:

Murray said...

I have always enjoyed Kipling and your article encouraged me to remiinisce of my readings of Kipling. Remember his poem "If"?