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Kipling and the P&O

I came across an  interesting story on the BBC News site today. It’s about some poems by Kipling that have only just been discovered, in a house in Manhattan. Among them is one that starts like this:-

“It was a ship of the P&O
Put forth to sail the sea,
The children played on the rotten deck
A monthly growing band
Of sea-bred sin born innocents
That never knew the land.”

Well – I’ve read some criticisms of P&O voyages on Cruise Critic and other places, but never one quite as serious and bitter as that! Clearly the captain was remiss in ensuring the ship’s maintenance, and it sounds as if the behaviour of the passengers left something to be desired in the morality department. A bit like our last cruise on Ventura, then…. I joke, honestly.

Then I looked for other references to P&O in Kipling’s poetry, and I found this one: The Exile’s Line. Here’s a link to a page with the poem, and here’s a link to another containing a commentary.

There’s a lot of confused imagery in there, but it’s still impressive. Obviously there were issues about P&O’s fare policy even then:

And how so many score of times ye flit
With wife and babe and caravan of kit,
Not all thy travels past shall lower one fare,
Not all thy tears abate one pound of it.

And I particularly liked this verse as well:

But we, the gypsies of the East, but we—
Waifs of the land and wastrels of the sea—
Come nearer home beneath the Quartered Flag
Than ever home shall come to such as we.

I have known some people on P&O cruises who have clearly felt, like Kipling, more at home when at sea than at any other time.

Of course, the big difference between our voyages and those of his time is that we do them for leisure; he and his fellow passengers were travelling for more serious purposes. For many, a voyage to India or ‘The Straits’ was the presage to an extended time away from England, many years in some cases; and quite a few never returned. To get on a ship and not know if you will ever make the return trip must have been quite an experience.

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