Queen Victoria (1837-1901)
‘The Overland Mail’ : A tribute to the postal workers of British India, and to the kind of empire they helped to build.
‘The Overland Mail’

Abridged from ‘The Overland Mail’ (1886), at the Kipling Society webpage.

‘The Overland Mail’ is a tribute to the runners who carried letters between England and India during the Raj, and yet more than that. In sharing the title of ‘Empress of India’ between Queen Victoria and the postal service, Kipling reminds us that the British Empire was constituted by trade and services rather than political will.

‘Overland Mail’ (1886)

IN the name of the Empress of India,* make way,
O Lords of the Jungle wherever you roam,
The woods are astir at the close of the day—
We exiles are waiting for letters from Home—
Let the robber retreat; let the tiger turn tail,
In the name of the Empress the Overland-Mail!

With a jingle of bells as the dusk gathers in,
He turns to the foot-path that leads up the hill—
The bags on his back, and a cloth round his chin,
And, tucked in his belt, the Post-Office bill;—
“Despatched on this date, as received by the rail,
Per runner, two bags of the Overland-Mail.”

Is the torrent in spate? He must ford it or swim.
Has the rain wrecked the road? He must climb by the cliff.
Does the tempest cry “Halt”? What are tempests to him?
The service admits not a “but” or an “if”;
While the breath’s in his mouth, he must bear without fail,
In the name of the Empress the Overland-Mail.

There’s a speck on the hillside, a dot on the road—
A jingle of bells on the foot-path below—
There’s a scuffle above in the monkeys’ abode—
The world is awake, and the clouds are aglow—
For the great Sun himself must attend to the hail;—
In the name of the Empress the Overland-Mail.

* The Empress of India at this time was Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, a title granted to her by Parliament at the instigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1876.

Abridged from ‘The Overland Mail’ (1886), at the Kipling Society webpage.

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