Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"On the Road to Mandalay"

When I think of "Mandalay" my first thought has always been the Mandalay Bay Casino in Vegas....but that is far, far from the real  Mandalay, which is located in north-central Burma.  In the 1890s, a young Rudyard Kipling (you probably remember him as the author of The Jungle Book) was inspired by the region and wrote a poem, which led to the song "On the Road to Mandalay," which in turn is thought to have inspired the Mandalay Bay Casino.  Here are some sights in the real Mandalay:

Sandamuni Paya

Shwenandaw Monastery

Ruyard Kipling hasn't been looked upon completely favorably recently, as he is sometimes considered to have imperialist and racist qualities in his works. Others feel there is evidence in his writings that he has respect for the peoples who came under British control during Imperialism.  Either way you feel, it is impossible to deny that his time in Asia had an enormous impact on him and that his works can give insight into some of the prevailing thought of the day. 

In his poem "Mandalay" he presents the viewpoint of a British soldier who describes his longing for Mandalay upon returning to dreary England. Here is the text of the poem (if you don't feel like reading it, skip down to the video of Frank Sinatra performing the song written for the text - a pretty random combo if you ask me!!!):

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat -- jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o'mud --
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd --
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "~Kulla-lo-lo!~"
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin' my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the ~hathis~ pilin' teak.
Elephints a-pilin' teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

But that's all shove be'ind me -- long ago an' fur away,
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay . . .

I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and --
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be --
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps a worn out British soldier from a completely different era, but Sinatra "swinging" in Burma (more specifically, "on the [presumably dirt] road to Mandalay"???) I think something has been lost in the translation...