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A Tale of Two Cities

by Rudyard Kipling, 1919

Where the sober-coloured cultivator smiles
                    On his byles;
Where the cholera, the cyclone, and the crow
                    Come and go;
Where the merchant deals in indigo and tea,
                    Hides and ghi;
Where the Babu drops inflammatory hints
                    In his prints;
Stands a City—Charnock chose it—packed away
                    Near a Bay—
By the sewage rendered fetid, by the sewer
                    Made impure,
By the Sunderbunds unwholesome, by the swamp
                    Moist and damp;
And the City and the Viceroy, as we see,
                    Don’t agree.

Once, two hundred years ago, the trader came
                    Meek and tame.
Where his timid foot first halted, there he stayed,
                    Till mere trade
Grew to Empire, and he sent his armies forth
                    South and North,
Till the country from Peshawar to Ceylon
                    Was his own.
Thus the midday halt of Charnock—more’s the pity!—
                    Grew a City.
As the fungus sprouts chaotic from its bed,
                    So it spread—
Chance-directed, chance-erected, laid and built
                    On the silt—
Palace, byre, hovel—poverty and pride—
                    Side by side;
And, above the packed and pestilential town,
                    Death looked down.

But the Rulers in that City by the Sea
                    Turned to flee—
Fled, with each returning Spring-tide from its ills
                    To the Hills.
From the clammy fogs of morning, from the blaze
                    Of the days,
From the sickness of the noontide, from the heat,
                    Beat retreat;
For the country from Peshawar to Ceylon
                    Was their own.
But the Merchant risked the perils of the Plain
                    For his gain.
Now the resting-place of Charnock, ’neath the palms,
                    Asks an alms,
And the burden of its lamentation is,
                    Briefly, this:—
“Because, for certain months, we boil and stew,
                    “So should you.
“Cast the Viceroy and his Council, to perspire
                    “In our fire!”
And for answer to the argument, in vain
                    We explain
That an amateur Saint Lawrence cannot cry:—
                    “All must fry!”
That the Merchant risks the perils of the Plain
                    For his gain.
Nor can Rulers rule a house that men grow rich in,
                    From its kitchen.

Let the Babu drop inflammatory hints
                    In his prints;
And mature—consistent soul—his plan for stealing
                    To Darjeeling:
Let the Merchant seek, who makes his silver pile,
                    England’s isle;
Let the City Charnock pitched on—evil day!—
                    Go Her way.
Though the argosies of Asia at Her doors
                    Heap their stores,
Though her enterprise and energy secure
                    Income sure,
Though “out-station orders punctually obeyed”
                    Swell Her trade—
Still, for rule, administration, and the rest,
                    Simla’s best!

Published in Rudyard Kipling's Verse: Inclusive Edition, 1885-1918

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