Treasure Island

Rudyard Kipling

(30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936 / Bombay)

The Undertaker's Horse..


The eldest son bestrides him,
And the pretty daughter rides him,
And I meet him oft o' mornings on the Course;
And there kindles in my bosom
An emotion chill and gruesome
As I canter past the Undertaker's Horse.

Neither shies he nor is restive,
But a hideously suggestive
Trot, professional and placid, he affects;
And the cadence of his hoof-beats
To my mind this grim reproof beats: --
"Mend your pace, my friend, I'm coming. Who's the next?"

Ah! stud-bred of ill-omen,
I have watched the strongest go -- men
Of pith and might and muscle -- at your heels,
Down the plantain-bordered highway,
(Heaven send it ne'er be my way!)
In a lacquered box and jetty upon wheels.

Answer, sombre beast and dreary,
Where is Brown, the young, the cheery,
Smith, the pride of all his friends and half the Force?
You were at that last dread dak
We must cover at a walk,
Bring them back to me, O Undertaker's Horse!

With your mane unhogged and flowing,
And your curious way of going,
And that businesslike black crimping of your tail,
E'en with Beauty on your back, Sir,
Pacing as a lady's hack, Sir,
What wonder when I meet you I turn pale?

It may be you wait your time, Beast,
Till I write my last bad rhyme, Beast --
Quit the sunlight, cut the rhyming, drop the glass --
Follow after with the others,
Where some dusky heathen smothers
Us with marigolds in lieu of English grass.

Or, perchance, in years to follow,
I shall watch your plump sides hollow,
See Carnifex (gone lame) become a corse --
See old age at last o'erpower you,
And the Station Pack devour you,
I shall chuckle then, O Undertaker's Horse!

But to insult, jibe, and quest, I've
Still the hideously suggestive
Trot that hammers out the unrelenting text,
And I hear it hard behind me
In what place soe'er I find me: --
"'Sure to catch you sooner or later. Who's the next?"

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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  • Ripper Moore (4/4/2008 11:56:00 AM)

    This poem is a slap in the face to proponents of 'free verse', who claim that rhyme and meter hinder expression, and I cheer it loudly! Kipling plays with the strictures that free verse poets so abhor like a concert pianist- striking his syllables out like notes and chords with a complex precision that yet so clearly evokes images and emotions. This is one of those poems that is meant to read aloud, with feeling, to the delight of both performer and listener. (Report) Reply

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