The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Danny Deever” is a description of a military execution: the hanging of a British soldier in India for the murder of another soldier in his own regiment. In a combination of responsorial verse reminiscent of a ballad or a hymn, and the observations of a third party, the structure of the four-stanza poem uses the common speech and points of view of representative members of the nineteenth century British army to express one of the most harsh demands of military life.

Danny Deever is the guilty soldier, but the reader learns of this only after an introductory question-and-answer half-stanza. The opening question, “What are the bugles blowin’ for?” is asked by Files-on-Parade, a single voice that represents all the soldiers being “turned out” (called to formation); they are the files of “rank and file.” Files asks his questions of the Colour-Sergeant, who would have been, in Kipling’s time, a noncommissioned officer promoted for distinguished service, a soldier of significantly more experience than his juniors. The elder’s face is white, and he is afraid of what he must watch. Why, when he has seen more of war than his subordinates? The observer makes the moment clear: Danny is to be hanged. The regiment is formed (“in ’ollow square”), and the prisoner is ritualistically stripped of the signs of his profession: the buttons on his uniform and the insignia of his rank.

Files then asks for explanations of his observance...

(The entire section is 485 words.)