There in Mandalay by Kipling, the following stanza is presented:

An’ I’m learnin’ ’ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ’eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ’eed naught else.”

In all known to me translations to Russian, ‘ten-year soldier’ is interpreted as ‘the military man, that has ten years service.’ The context forces me to think, that it might be a reference to the protagonist of this poem, the ten-years-old Asian girl, who implicitly fights against British forces.

I would appreciate any advice of native speakers. Thanks in advance.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Tragicomic, Mitch, JEL, Hellion, Brian Hooper Oct 28 '15 at 17:05

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  • Having read the poem that you link to, I can't find any direct reference to "the protagonist of this poem" being "the ten-years-old Asian girl, who implicitly fights against British forces." In fact the protagonist appears to be a British soldier back in London but longing to return to Burma. The Burmese girl that the narrator mentions in the poem is not identified by age, but I hope she is somewhat older than ten; also, she doesn't seem to be interested in politics in the least, although she does have a strong religious feeling for Buddha and seems to like the British soldier. – Sven Yargs Oct 13 '15 at 6:16
  • @SvenYargs thank you, I appreciate you sharing your impression of the poem. – Aleksei Matiushkin Oct 13 '15 at 6:21
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it asks for a critical interpretation of a literary work. I would recommend a site dealing specifically with Kipling if one exists. – JEL Oct 24 '15 at 2:22

(This should possibly be a comment rather than a direct answer to the question.)

The 'ten years' may denote the length of service for which the soldier originally enlisted; and thereby carry some contemporary meaning as to the nature of the man concerned. It doesn't necessarily mean the time that he has served (although the fact that he's back in London suggests that).

From Military Manpower, Armies and Warfare in South Asia by Kaushik Roy:

Before 1847, British soldiers who served in India enlisted for life. After that date, they enlisted for at least ten years. In 1870, Cardwell stipulated six years of service for British soldiers.

The poem was published in 1892. I'd posit that Kipling is thinking of a regular soldier (rather than a conscript) who enlisted between 1847 and 1870. At the time of writing therefore he was already in late middle age at least, looking back wistfully on his time in uniform. It's quite possible, I reckon, that the contemporary readers would immediately get that inference.

(EDIT to add: No, I don't think this refers to the girl in the poem, and I see nothing to suggest that.)

  • That said, “ten-year soldier” might be treated as “retired,” right? – Aleksei Matiushkin Oct 13 '15 at 7:55
  • I mark this answer as a correct one, because it has the direct indication on what “ten-year soldier” means. – Aleksei Matiushkin Oct 13 '15 at 8:02

The ten-year soldier here in this poem refers to another soldier and not the Asian girl.

The mist was on the rice-fields and the sun was fading into the horizon while she played the banjo and sang. She put her arm on his shoulder and her cheek against his while they watched the steamers on the river and the elephants piling up teak in the creek. She was afraid to speak in such a heavy, drowsy silence.

This is all behind the speaker, though. There are no buses from the Bank to Mandalay, and here in London he is reminded of another soldier's comment that once you have heard the call of the East you will never hear anything else.

Source: http://www.gradesaver.com/rudyard-kipling-poems/study-guide/summary-mandalay

  • I have an access to Google, thank you. I have read what the “common opinion” is; my question is about “might it be referring to the girl herself”, or it can’t be read by native speaker that way? – Aleksei Matiushkin Oct 13 '15 at 6:16
  • Am not a native speaker myself but I would still say this is not about the common opinion rather a common interpretation of his poem by native speakers as shown in the link. – Mamta D Oct 13 '15 at 6:53

Here's the first stanza of the poem:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the Temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"

"Moulmein" is an Anglicized version of Mawlamyine, the city with the pagoda. This city is in the south of the country on the Bay of Martaban, and any Burmese girl of any age resident in "Moulmein" would have been in the wrong place to fight the British, implicitly (whatever that means) or explicitly. In the Third Anglo-Burmese War, the British took three weeks in 1885 to defeat the Burmese, whose country they annexed the following year. The defeated Burmese soldiers returned to their villages in the north and the interior, and when they realized that the British weren't leaving they started an insurrection, which lasted several years. They were eventually no match for a modern imperial force that had no compunction in using collective punishment in the countryside (read: burning down villages suspected of helping the guerillas). In any case, no southern city-girls would have been involved.

  • I understand that; the rebellion in Moulmein makes no sense, while the disobedience is still possible. By “implicitly” I meant the kind of protest. Anyway, thank you for pointing me out to that it is southern Burma. – Aleksei Matiushkin Oct 13 '15 at 8:01

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