117. Boots: Rudyard Kipling

Apparently, this was a song. The site Old Poetry has this to say about it:

A reprint of the original sheet music to Boots for solo voice (also apparently available for male chorus) by Peter Dawson (J.P. McCall) is published by Faber Music Ltd. in England, and is available through FM Distribution LTD at +44 (0) 1279 82 89 89 (trade@fmdistribution.com). A phenomenal recording of Boots by the great American baritone Leonard Warren is included in “Leonard Warren: Opera Arias and Concert Songs” and is available on DVD from Amazon.com.

Here are two different versions of the song. The first is traditional (notice the gramophone):

The second is more…. modern? Dull visual, but hip song. Note what I think is a sitar; it adds that colonialism white-man’s-burden touch that Kipling requires:

Have your students chant along!

If you find yourself really getting sucked into this, listen to \"Boots\" by Grout. I read in a few places that the Navy Seals use Kipling’s own recording of boots in Navy Seal training: they play it over and over and over for (I’ve read) sixteen hours straight to simulate torture.

According to sources, this is about the Africa campaign and the difficulty of fighting a war with no front line. In short, troops were “at war” but it was like nothing they had encountered; they marched and marched, seeing little action but always being ready and being unable to discharge because they were “at war”. Some also discuss the monotony of the military, and how soldiers avoid thinking about the death they have caused. Marching all day leaves nothing but time to think; thus the focus on bandoleers and other distractions as the soldiers slip into insanity.

If you are using this along with a social science lesson in imperialism, check out “Lagaan.” It’s the greatest 19th century cricket movie, mostly-in-Hindi, musical ever. And, at just around four hours, great for class (Actually, I’ve cut it down to a bit over two hours, but the kids stand-and-cheer by the end). No, really, I’m serious. Show it.

Rudyard Kipling


We’re foot—slog—slog—slog—sloggin’ over Africa —
Foot—foot—foot—foot—sloggin’ over Africa —
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!)
There’s no discharge in the war!

Seven—six—eleven—five—nine-an’-twenty mile to-day —
Four—eleven—seventeen—thirty-two the day before —
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!)
There’s no discharge in the war!

Don’t—don’t—don’t—don’t—look at what’s in front of you.
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again);
Men—men—men—men—men go mad with watchin’ em,
An’ there’s no discharge in the war!

Try—try—try—try—to think o’ something different —
Oh—my—God—keep—me from goin’ lunatic!
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!)
There’s no discharge in the war!

Count—count—count—count—the bullets in the bandoliers.
If—your—eyes—drop—they will get atop o’ you!
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again) —
There’s no discharge in the war!

We—can—stick—out—’unger, thirst, an’ weariness,
But—not—not—not—not the chronic sight of ’em —
Boot—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again,
An’ there’s no discharge in the war!

‘Taint—so—bad—by—day because o’ company,
But night—brings—long—strings—o’ forty thousand million
Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again.
There’s no discharge in the war!

I—’ave—marched—six—weeks in ‘Ell an’ certify
It—is—not—fire—devils, dark, or anything,
But boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again,
An’ there’s no discharge in the war!


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