R Rudyard Kipling

Boots by Rudyard Kipling

‘Boots’ by Rudyard Kipling is a memorable poem. In it, Kipling uses repetition to emphasize the struggle of soldiers on a forced march. 

Boots by Rudyard Kipling

This poem was first published in 1903 in The Five Nations. It describes the repetitive thoughts of soldiers forced to march in South Africa during the Second Boer War. It was later set to music, maintaining the cadence Kipling intended. ‘Boots’ was also included in T.S. Eliot’s A Choice of Kipling’s Verse

Boots
Rudyard Kipling

We're foot—slog—slog—slog—sloggin’ over Africa!	
Foot—foot—foot—foot—sloggin’ over Africa—	
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!)	
            There’s no discharge in the war!	
 
Seven—six—eleven—five—nine-an’-twenty mile to-day—	        
Four—eleven—seventeen—thirty-two the day before—	
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!)	
            There’s no discharge in the war!	
 
Don’t—don’t—don’t—don’t—look at what’s in front of you.	
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!)	        
Men—men—men—men—men go mad with watchin’ ’em,	
            And there’s no discharge in the war!	
 
Try—try—try—try—to think o’ something different—	
Oh—my—God—keep—me from goin’ lunatic!	
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!)	        
            There’s no discharge in the war!	
 
Count—count—count—count—the bullets in the bandoliers.	
If—your—eyes—drop—they will get atop o’ you	
(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up and down again!)	
            There’s no discharge in the war!	        
 
We—can—stick—out—’unger, thirst, an’ weariness,	
But—not—not—not—not the chronic sight of ’em—	
Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!	
            An’ there’s no discharge in the war!	
 
’Tain’t—so—bad—by—day because o’ company,	        
But—night—brings—long—strings—o’ forty thousand million	
Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again.	
            There’s no discharge in the war!	
 
I—’ave—marched—six—weeks in ’Ell an’ certify	
It—is—not—fire—devils—dark or anything,	        
But boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again,	
            An’ there’s no discharge in the war!	
Boots by Rudyard Kipling


Summary

‘Boots’ by Rudyard Kipling is an unusual poem that focuses on the marching motion of an infantry column.

The poem uses a great deal of repetition in order to emphasize the endless marching a group of soldiers is engaged in. They have nothing to do but look at their boots and march forward. They can deal with the hunger and cold, but it’s the sight of their boots that’s going to drive them insane. 

Structure and Form 

‘Boots’ by Rudyard Kipling is an eight-stanza poem that is divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains do not follow a specific rhyme scheme but, every stanza ends with the same word, “war.” Plus, the poet uses the same structure throughout, repeating words in the first three lines and then repeating some version of “There’s no discharge in the war!” in the fourth line.

Literary Devices 

Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Repetition: occurs when the poet repeats an image, phrase, structure, image, or any other feature of their poetry. In this case, the poet uses a refrain and same structure. 
  • Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. For example, “We—can—stick—out—’unger, thirst, an’ weariness, / But—not—not—not—not the chronic sight of ‘em.”
  • Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Foot” in the second line of the first stanza.  


Detailed Analysis

Stanzas One and Two

We’re foot—slog—slog—slog—sloggin’ over Africa —

Foot—foot—foot—foot—sloggin’ over Africa —

(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!)

                There’s no discharge in the war!

Seven—six—eleven—five—nine-an’-twenty mile to-day —

Four—eleven—seventeen—thirty-two the day before —

(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!)

                There’s no discharge in the war!

In the first two stanzas of ‘Boots,’ Kipling begins by describing the sounds and movements of an infantry column. There is a great deal of repetition in this poem. Words are used multiple times and the same format is repeated in the first three lines of every stanza. The speaker describes their movements over “Africa,” slogging and working, moving their boots up and down. This is something that goes on over and over, for miles throughout the day. 

All of the stanzas end with a similar line, “There’s no discharge in the war!” This is a way of emphasizing, once again, how there is no respite in war. There is no break for the men marching through the country.

Stanzas Three and Four

Don’t—don’t—don’t—don’t—look at what’s in front of you.

(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again);

Men—men—men—men—men go mad with watchin’ em,

                An’ there’s no discharge in the war!

Try—try—try—try—to think o’ something different —

Oh—my—God—keep—me from goin’ lunatic!

(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again!)

                There’s no discharge in the war!

In the third and fourth stanzas, the same kind of lines reappear. The reader learns that the soldiers have nothing to do but keep moving and watch what’s in front of them. This goes on for so long that men “go mad with watchin’” the boots go up and down. The second line of the fourth stanza refers to the speaker specifically. He asks that God keep him from becoming a “lunatic.” Its easy to sense the speaker’s desperation in these lines. 

Stanzas Five and Six 

Count—count—count—count—the bullets in the bandoliers.

If—your—eyes—drop—they will get atop o’ you!

(Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again) —

                There’s no discharge in the war!

We—can—stick—out—’unger, thirst, an’ weariness,

But—not—not—not—not the chronic sight of ’em —

Boot—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again,

                An’ there’s no discharge in the war!

In the next two stanzas, the speaker notes that while marching they “count—the bullets in the bandoliers.” They march through thirst and weariness and there’s nothing they can do to make their situation better.

Stanzas Seven and Eight 

‘Taint—so—bad—by—day because o’ company,

But night—brings—long—strings—o’ forty thousand million

Boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again.

                There’s no discharge in the war!

I—’ave—marched—six—weeks in ‘Ell an’ certify

It—is—not—fire—devils, dark, or anything,

But boots—boots—boots—boots—movin’ up an’ down again,

                An’ there’s no discharge in the war!

In the final two stanzas, the speaker notes that the “company” makes things better during the day. But, the night is far worse. All that’s there is the marching and their dark thoughts to consider. 

FAQs 

What are the themes in ‘Boots?’ 

The themes in this poem are war and suffering. The speaker, who represents a whole group of soldiers, is being forced to march through South Africa. He’s lost in these thoughts, expressing the pain of having nothing to focus on but the movements of his feet.

What is the tone of ‘Boots?’

The tone is desperate. The speaker is lost in the repetitive steps they’re being forced to take. They match their words to the pace of their steps, a way of emphasizing how all-consuming the march is.

What is the purpose of ‘Boots?’

The purpose is to share the pain and repetitive suffering that came along with this kind of forced march. The speaker’s thoughts are fractured, but it’s easy enough to interpret his experience.

Who is the speaker in ‘Boots?’

The speaker is a soldier in the Second Boer War in South Africa. He’s marching, along with his fellow soldiers through the day and night for mile after mile.


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other poems by Rudyard Kipling. For example: 

  • If’ – one of the most inspirational poems ever written. It features a father’s lessons towards his son.
  • Mandalay’ – features the reminiscences of a soldier looking back on his time in Burma alongside a woman he loved.
  • The Undertaker’s Horse’ – a strangely dark poem in which the speaker uses the image of a horse to discuss death and how, no matter where one hides, it’s impossible to escape from it.

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Boots by Rudyard Kipling
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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