»  Milton Hayes' The Green Eye of the Yellow God

 

The Green Eye of the Yellow God

by J. Milton Hayes (1884-1940)

 

•  Background

Here we are firmly in the world of the Edwardian English music-hall (=vaudeville). The range of tastes that had to be satisfied was quite wide, from the crudest kind of slapstick to operatic favorites and scenes from Shakespeare and Dickens. Bransby Williams (1870-1961) worked the top half of that range, treading the boards for half a century, 1896-1946, with his character sketches, impersonations, and dramatic monologues, and continuing on through the 1950s on radio and TV.

This was Williams' most famous dramatic monologue. It was written for him by Milton Hayes, an obscure English actor and poet. It is quintessential "parlor poetry" (and of course appears in Michael Turner's classic anthology with that name). I doubt if there was any adult in mid-20th-century England who did not recognize the first line, and some high proportion of the population could recite the whole thing. (Though a much higher proportion believed it was written by Kipling.) It was relentlessly parodied.

YouTube has a scratchy 1914 recording of Bransby Williams himself declaiming the poem, but here I have offered my own interpretation.


•  Notes

"Khatmandu" — (nowadays "Kathmandu") the capital of Nepal. I'm not sure what a unit of H.M. armed forces is doing in Edwardian Nepal. The country was never a part of British India. Following a brief war 100 years previously Nepal had lost some territory to the British, but retained her independence. There was however a British Resident at Kathmandu until the 1920s, and he may have been permitted a military establishment … though mention of the Colonel implies a full regiment, which seems to me unlikely. Perhaps Hayes was just using Kathmandu for metric and atmospheric reasons and making up the rest.

"subs" — subalterns (i.e. junior army officers, rank below captain).

"hotter" — bolder, wilder (with some color of salacity)

"that still and tropic night" — only an Englishman would think Kathmandu's climate tropical.

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•  Play the reading

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•  Text of the poem

The Green Eye of the Yellow God

by J. Milton Hayes

There's a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu,
There's a little marble cross below the town;
There's a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

He was known as "Mad Carew" by the subs at Khatmandu,
He was hotter than they felt inclined to tell;
But for all his foolish pranks, he was worshipped in the ranks,
And the Colonel's daughter smiled on him as well.

He had loved her all along, with a passion of the strong,
The fact that she loved him was plain to all.
She was nearly twenty-one and arrangements had begun
To celebrate her birthday with a ball.

He wrote to ask what present she would like from Mad Carew;
They met next day as he dismissed a squad;
And jestingly she told him then that nothing else would do
But the green eye of the little Yellow God.

On the night before the dance, Mad Carew seemed in a trance,
And they chaffed him as they puffed at their cigars:
But for once he failed to smile, and he sat alone awhile,
Then went out into the night beneath the stars.

He returned before the dawn, with his shirt and tunic torn,
And a gash across his temple dripping red;
He was patched up right away, and he slept through all the day,
And the Colonel's daughter watched beside his bed.

He woke at last and asked if they could send his tunic through;
She brought it, and he thanked her with a nod;
He bade her search the pocket saying "That's from Mad Carew,"
And she found the little green eye of the god.

She upbraided poor Carew in the way that women do,
Though both her eyes were strangely hot and wet;
But she wouldn't take the stone and Mad Carew was left alone
With the jewel that he'd chanced his life to get.

When the ball was at its height, on that still and tropic night,
She thought of him and hurried to his room;
As she crossed the barrack square she could hear the dreamy air
Of a waltz tune softly stealing thro' the gloom.

His door was open wide, with silver moonlight shining through;
The place was wet and slipp'ry where she trod;
An ugly knife lay buried in the heart of Mad Carew,
'Twas the "Vengeance of the Little Yellow God."

There's a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu,
There's a little marble cross below the town;
There's a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.