Why is poetry used in The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling?

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ejharvey eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poetry—or more properly, song—is used in The Jungle Book primarily to let the jungle animals speak for themselves. The prose stories are all narrated from a third-person point of view, but the songs give the perspective of the animals themselves. Some of the songs, such as the “Hunting Song of the Second Pack” and the “Road-Song of the Bandar-Log" give a glimpse into the lives, habits, and customs of different animals, in these cases wolves and monkeys. Here the songs are similar to traditional working or traveling songs in human society, such as those sung by soldiers on march.

Other songs, such as “Mowgli’s Song that He Sang on the Council Rock when He Danced on the Hide of Shere Khan,” retell parts of the story from a character’s point of view. In this song Mowgli brags that he killed and skinned the tiger, Shere Khan, but he also mourns his expulsion from the wolf pack and human society. He expresses his divided mind, his desire to be part of both the jungle and the village, and his uncertainty about the future:

I dance on the hide of Shere Khan, but my heart is very heavy. My mouth is cut and wounded with the stones from the village, but my heart is very light, because I have come back to the jungle. Why?

These two things fight together in me as the snakes fight in the spring. The water comes out of my eyes; yet I laugh while it falls. Why?

I am two Mowglis, but the hide of Shere Khan is under my feet.

In all of these cases, the songs are also examples of characterization. The songs develop the reader’s understanding of the characters by expressing their own viewpoints. The “Hunting Song of the Second Pack” shows that wolves are strong and proud hunters who are loyal to their own and protective of their young. The “Road-Song of the Bandar-Log” depicts the monkeys as frivolous and care-free. “Mowgli’s Song” shows his two natures and his deep confusion over his identity as an animal and a man.