The Widow's Uniform – Part 8/15:
One of Kipling's best known and best loved works. Bellamy's setting is by no means the first, though some previous efforts have failed to reflect – perhaps to recognise – the strong element of pathos and underlying bitterness.
"Mandalay" was inspired by the reminiscences of participants in the third Burmese War (1885-90), ending with the overthrow of the tyrant King Thibaw. Kipling himself visited Burma in 1889, falling deeply in love (his words) with a girl sitting on the pagoda steps just as he described.
The poem has also been one of many to arouse hostility. Some claim it to be patronising; a claim that simply is not supported by the text – perhaps an instance of critics seeing what they want or expect to see. Far from patronising the East and its people, the singer genuinely craves a return to his "cleaner, greener land". Kipling is describing a clear case of acculturation, before the term was current, but it is the English soldier who is the victim, and it is Burma and the Burmese – or at least one Burmese – that he considers in every way superior to England and its inhabitants.