The Kiplings and India: A Collection of Writings from British India, 1870-1900

The Flight of the Bucket (Rudyard Kipling)


Pre-admonisheth the writer:—
"H'm, as a subject it is well enough!—
"Who wrote "Sordello finds no subject tough." 

Well, Jack and Jill—God knows the life they led
(The poet never told us, more's the pity)
Pent up in some damp kennel of their own,
Beneath the hillside; but it once befel
That Jack or Jill, niece, cousin, uncle, aunt
(Some one of all the brood) would wash or scour—
Rinse out a cess-pitl, swab the kennel floor,
And water (liquor vitæ Lawson calls,
But I—hold by whiskey.  Never mind; 
I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, sir,
And missed the scrap of blue at button hole), 
Spring water was the needful at the time, 
So they must climb the hill for't.  Well and good.  
We all climb hills, I take it, on some quest,
Maybe for less than stinking (I forgot, 
I mean than wholesome) water...Ferret out
The rotten bucket from the lumber-shed,
Weave ropes and splice the handle—up they go
To where the cold springs bubble up i' the cleft
And sink the bucket brimful in the spate.  
Then downwards—Hanging back?  (You bet your life
The girl's share fell upon Jack's shoulders.)  Down, 
Down to the bottom—all but—trip, slip, squelch—
And "guggle-guggle" goes the bucket-full
Back to the earth, and Jack's a broken head,
And swears amid the heather does our Jack.  
(A man would swear who watched both blood and bucket
One dripping down his forehead, t'other fled, 
"Clinkety-tinkle," to the stones below
A good half hour's trudge to get it back.) 
Jack, therefore, as I said, exploded straight
In brimstone-flavored language.  You, of course, 
Maintain he bore it calmly—not a bit.
A good bucolic curse that rent the cliffs
And frightened for a moment quaking Jill
Out of the limp, unmeaning girl's "tee hee"
That woman-kind delight in...Here we end
The first verse—there's a deal to study in't.  
         *        *        *       *        *        *
So much for Jack—but there's a Fate above,
A cosmic force that blunders into right, 
Just when the strained sense hints at revolution, 
Because the world's great fly-wheel runs as lant, 
And up go Jill's red kibes (You think I'm wrong;
And Fate was napping at the time.  Perhaps
You're right.  We'll call it Devil's agency
That sent the shrieking sister on her head,
And knocked the tangled locks against the stones.  
Well, down went Jill, but wasn't hurt.  Oh no!
The Devils pads the world to suit his own, 
And packs the cards according.  Down went Jill
Unhurt, and Jack trots off to bed, poor brute, 
First welted into eye-ball, mouth agape
For yelling, your bucolic always yells, 
And out of his domestic pharmacy,
Rips out the cruet-stand, upsets the car, 
And ravages the store-room for his balm—
Eureka!—but he didn't use that word—
A pound of candles, corpse-like, side by side
Wrapped up in his medicament.  Out knife!
Cut string, and strip the shrouding from the lot!
Steep swift and jam it on the gaping cut—
Then bedward—cursing man and fiends alike
Blindly (your true bucolic always swears).
            *        *        *       *        *        *
Now back to Jill—She wasn't hurt I said, 
And all the woman's spite was up in arms.
So Jack's a-bed.  She slips, peeks thro' the door, 
And sees the split head like a luggage label,
Halved, quartered, on the pillow—"Ee-ki-ree,
she giggled thro' the crack, 
Much as the Roman ladies grinned—don't smile—
To see the dabbled bodies in the sand,
Appealing to their benches for a sign.  
Down thumbs, and giggle louder—So did Jill.  
But mark now!  Comes the Mother round the door, 
Red hot from climbing up the hill herself 
And caught the graceless giggler—Whack! flack! whack!
Here's Nemesis whichever way you like!
She didn't stop to argue.  Given a head 
Broken—a woman chuckling at the door,
And here's your circumstantial evidence complete.  
Whack, while Jack sniffs and sniggers from bed. 
I like that horny-handed mother o' Jill. 
The world's best women died, Sir, long ago.
Well, Jack's avenged—as for the other gr-r-r-r-!


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