The Ballad of East and West

by Rudyard Kipling


       Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
       Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
       But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
       When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the
             ends of the earth!

Kamal is out with twenty men to raise
    the Border side,
And he has lifted the Colonel's mare
    that is the Colonel's pride:
He has lifted her out of the stable-door
    between the dawn and the day,
And turned the calkins upon her feet,
    and ridden her far away.
Then up and spoke the Colonel's son
    that led a troop of the Guides:
"Is there never a man of all my men
    can say where Kamal hides?"
Then up and spoke Mohammed Khan,
    the son of the Ressaldar,
"If ye know the track of the morning-
    mist, ye know where his pickets are.
"At dusk he harries the Abazai—at
    dawn he is into Bonair,
"But he must go by Fort Bukloh to his
    own place to fare,
"So if ye gallop to Fort Bukloh as fast
    as a bird can fly,
"By the favor of God ye may cut him
    off ere he win to the Tongue of
"But if he be past the Tongue of
    Jagai, right swiftly turn ye then,
"For the length and the breadth of that
    grisly plain is sown with Kamal's
"There is rock to the left, and rock to
    the right, and low lean thorn be-
"And ye may hear a breech-bolt snick
    where never a man is seen."
The Colonel's son has taken a horse,
    and a raw rough dun was he,
With the mouth of a bell and the heart
    of Hell, and the head of the gallows-
The Colonel's son to the Fort has won,
    they bid him stay to eat—
Who rides at the tail of a Border thief,
    he sits not long at his meat.
He's up and away from Fort Bukloh as
    fast as he can fly,
Till he was aware of his father's mare
    in the gut of the Tongue of Jagai,
Till he was aware of his father's mare
    with Kamal upon her back,
And when he could spy the white of her
    eye, he made the pistol crack.
He has fired once, he has fired twice,
    but the whistling ball went wide.
"Ye shoot like a soldier," Kamal said.
    "Show now if ye can ride."
It's up and over the Tongue of Jagai,
    as blown dust-devils go,
The dun he fled like a stag of ten, but
    the mare like a barren doe.
The dun he leaned against the bit and
    slugged his head above,
But the red mare played with the
    snaffle-bars, as a maiden plays with
    a glove.
There was rock to the left and rock to
    the right, and low lean thorn
And thrice he heard a breech-bolt snick
    tho' never a man was seen.
They have ridden the low moon out of
    the sky, their hoofs drum up the
The dun he went like a wounded bull,
    but the mare like a new-roused fawn.
The dun he fell at a water-course—in
    a woful heap tell he,
And Kamal has turned the red mare
    back, and pulled the rider free.
He has knocked the pistol out of his
    hand—small room was there to
"'Twas only by favour of mine," quoth
    he, "ye rode so long alive:
"There was not a rock for twenty mile,
    there was not a clump of tree,
"But covered a man of my own men
    with his rifle cocked on his knee.
"If I had raised my bridle-hand, as I
    have held it low,
"The little jackals that flee so fast, were
    feasting all in a row:
"If I had bowed my head on my breast,
    as I have held it high,
"The kite that whistles above us now
    were gorged till she could not fly."
Lightly answered the Colonel's son:
    "Do good to bird and beast,
"But count who come for the broken
    meats before thou makest a feast.
"If there should follow a thousand
    swords to carry my bones away,
"Belike the price of a jackal's meal
    were more than a thief could pay.
"They will feed their horse on the
    standing crop, their men on the
    garnered grain,
"The thatch of the byres will serve
    their fires when all the cattle are
"But if thou thinkest the price be fair,
    —thy brethren wait to sup,
"The hound is kin to the jackal-spawn,
    —howl, dog, and call them up!
"And if thou thinkest the price be high,
    in steer and gear and stack,
"Give me my father's mare again, and
    I'll fight my own way back!"
Kamal has gripped him by the hand and
    set him upon his feet.
"No talk shall be of dogs," said he,
    "when wolf and grey wolf meet.
"May I eat dirt if thou hast hurt of me
    in deed or breath;
"What dam of lances brought thee forth
    to jest at the dawn with Death?"
Lightly answered the Colonel's son: "I
    hold by the blood of my clan:
"Take up the mare for my father's gift
    —by God, she has carried a man!"
The red mare ran to the Colonel's son,
    and nuzzled against his breast,
"We be two strong men," said Kamal
    then, "but she loveth the younger
"So she shall go with a lifter's dower,
    my turquoise-studded rein,
"My broidered saddle and saddle-cloth,
    and silver stirrups twain."
The Colonel's son a pistol drew and held
    it muzzle-end,
"Ye have taken the one from a foe,"
    said he; "will ye take the mate from
    a friend?"
"A gift for a gift," said Kamal straight;
    "a limb for the risk of a limb.
"Thy father has sent his son to me, I'll
    send my son to him!"
With that he whistled his only son,
    that dropped from a mountain-
He trod the ling like a buck in spring,
    and he looked like a lance in rest.
"Now here is thy master," Kamal said,
    "who leads a troop of the Guides,
"And thou must ride at his left side as
    shield on shoulder rides.
"Till Death or I cut loose the tie, at
    camp and board and bed,
"Thy life is his—thy fate it is to guard
    him with thy head.
"So thou must eat the White Queen's
    meat, and all her foes are thine,
"And thou must harry thy father's hold
    for the peace of the Border-line,
"And thou must make a trooper tough
    and hack thy way to power—
"Belike they will raise thee to Res-
    saldar when I am hanged in Pesh-
They have looked each other between
    the eyes, and there they found no
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-
    in-Blood on leavened bread and
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-
    in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber
    knife, and the Wondrous Names
    of God.
The Colonel's son he rides the mare and
    Kamal's boy the dun,
And two have come back to Fort Bukloh
    where there went forth but one.
And when they drew to the Quarter-
    Guard, full twenty swords flew
There was not a man but carried his
    feud with the blood of the mount-
"Ha' done! ha' done!" said the Colonel's
    son. "Put up the steel at your
Last night ye had struck at a Border
    thief—to-night 'tis a man of the

Oh, East is East, and West is West,
    and never the two shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at
    God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West,
    Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to
    face, tho' they come from the ends
    of the earth!

· · · · · ·

References and Notes

- Source: "The One Volume KIPLING Authorized," Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York, 1928 -- Kipling wrote in the Preface of the book: "A collection of my earlier work, written before the United States had a Copyright Law, has recently been put on the market, without my consent or supervision, under the misleading title of 'The Works of Rudyard Kipling.'

I have therefore arranged with my publishers, Mssrs. Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., to issue a duly authorized volume, which, in addition to all the material contained in the unauthorized one, includes three tales which have not before appeared in book form."

[We are reproducing the poem in its original format and indentation as it was originally published in the above mention volume, but in one column instead of two. ed.]

- Note from Milo Clark: "The cliché part about never the two (not twain) shall meet is commonly known (at least to some).

The whole poem is about a horse theft by an Afghan chief who is chased by the son of a British regiment colonel. The son misses when shooting at Kamal, the chief, who then challenges him to a horse race across the rocky scrub of countryside. Eventually, the son's horse stumbles. Instead of killing the son, as he could easily have done many times, Kamal honors him by giving his son to the British regiment as aide and protector of the colonel's son. A positive story of courage and valor rather than of conflict and separation. The two indeed meet and the affair becomes one of courage and honor. East and West can meet on a common ground, in other words. That common ground is not one of bullshit and rhetoric but one of equals knowing each other.

The concluding stanza, if read carefully and with comprehension, does make the point -- east and west can meet on common grounds."

- Kipling: a Brief Biography - by David Cody, Associate Professor of English, Hartwick College

- A 1986 study of "The Ballad of East and West" (Otsuma Women's University Faculty of Literature Annual Report, Vol. XVIII) - by Janusz Buda, Professor of English, Waseda University School of Commerce, Tokyo, Japan


Rudyard Kipling, (1865-1936), was a British poet and storyteller who was a leading supporter of the British Empire; born in India, he became the 1907 Nobel Laureate in Literature in consideration of the power of observation, originality of imagination, virility of ideas and remarkable talent for narration which characterize the creations of this world-famous author.

Published under the provision of U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107.
· · · · · ·

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Published September 23, 2002
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