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The Green Eye of the Yellow God -- J Milton Hayes

This week's theme - immortal narrative poems
(Poem #1124) The Green Eye of the 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.

 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 hastened 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.
-- J Milton Hayes
        (1911, music by Cuthbert Clarke)

This is one of those vivid, exaggerated poems that some critics would dismiss
as 'lowbrow', but which enjoy a tremendous popularity for all of that. There
is a certain combination of elements that indefinably but unmistakably lends
a narrative poem the stamp of immortality - Kipling's 'Gunga Din' had it, as
did Service's 'Dan McGrew', and so, in full measure does today's poem.

It's hard to pin down just what sets it apart from so many other poems. A
sine qua non is, of course, a good story to tell, and almost as essentially,
a larger-than-life protagonist to tell it about. A strong rhythm and good
rhymes are likewise a must - anything that breaks the flow of the poem will
at best distract and at worst jar upon the reader. And finally, there should
be something extravagant about the imagery - this is no place for delicate
subtlety. This extravagance should hold, too, for the plot - the reader
expects larger-than-life situations to accompany the larger-than-life
characters, and they go a long way towards making the poem memorable.

It is unsurprising that so many of these poems seem to be set along
frontiers, pooling in the constant clash and swirl of wilderness and
civilisation. It is precisely there that a romance-starved populace looks
for its unfettered heroes, and writers are seldom slow to provide them.

Sadly, with popular taste turning away from poetry recitation as a form of
entertainment, poems like today's may well become an endangered species[1] -
Shakespeare and Keats may live on in a hundred thousand classrooms, but
syllabi seldom stress poetry for sheer pleasure. This week's I'll round up a
few of them that haven't been run yet - suggestions and guest poems are as
always welcome.

[1] yes, I know I said 'immortal', but...


Brief biography of Hayes:
  [broken link]

The fine art of poetry recitation:
  [broken link]

Tangential but intriguing:
[broken link]

There are touches of Barbara Allen [Poem #548]
                 and The Glove and the Lions [Poem #275]
in the story

There are several parodies floating about, but they all commit the cardinal
sin of bad scansion; I have therefore linked to none of them.


77 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Davis Martin said...

I'm afraid my note bounced when I tried to send it to the Minstrels
site, so I'll send it to you and append the hope that perhaps Tennyson's
"The Revenge" or Macauley's "How Horatius Held the Bridge" might creep
in this week. When I was 9 or 10 I could recite both of them from
beginning to end. Ripping stuff for poetry! None of your wet, soppy
flower fairy verse! I don't write to you often enough to say just how
much I enjoy the work you all put into the Minstrels; I suspect I'm not
alone, and there's a lot of us getting a lot of pleasure from your

Martin Davis

> Fantastic! Thank you so much for running this. It was almost the
> first poem I learnt off by heart, my grandfather having bought a 78
> rpm record of a recitation by Bransby Williams (I think that was his
> name), having heard him perform it in the music hall. (I'm only 53,
> by the way, in case you think this sounds impossibly ancient!) The
> poem has always stayed with me, because, as Martin says, of its
> extravagant imagery and declamatory style. I really love some of the
> lines, especially "And they chaffed him as they puffed at their
> cigars". Bet there's not many people can read this without memorising
> at least part of it!

WENPUSEY said...

I was taught this poem by a frequent visitor to the West African Electrical &
Mechanical Engineers Serjeants Mess in Yaba,Lagos,Nigeria when I was
stationed there in 1950 or perhaps a year or so later. I rarely get the
chance to recite it but I must admit,that it is always very well received
when I do. Thanks for the full text as there were a few errors in my
received version,brought about by the fact that in those dim and distant
days,we,both teacher and pupil,were working through a haze brought about by
the consuming of many bottles of local lager during the instruction
Best wishes for the success of your efforts
Bill Pusey

Cathan Shoniker said...

This was the first poem I ever heard.
My father recited it and I memorized but not purposely.
I always thought the first line was "There's a green eyed yellow idol"
I had it wrong.
The poem has stayed with me all my life.
It brings back wonderful memories.
I am glad to see it in print.
Thank you
Cathan Shoniker

mick.martell said...

Hi Bill,

Don't Know if your visitor to the REME? Sergeants Mess was a travelling man. As a young lad in Lagos and later Kaduna I spent an outrageous amount of time in Sergeants Messes with my folks in the mid 50's where I learnt the poem, as I recall the version I was told went "There's a little golden idol to the north of Katmandu" Just wondering if you picked up the same mistakes?

I also remember that late in the evening another version that began "There's a little gents urinal to the North of Waterloo, There's another for the ladies further down" at which time I was usually whisked away, never did hear the end of that one. :(

BTW My Old man and his lady were Pat and Ally (Brandy) Martell Royal Signals serving with The WWAFF.

Kind regards,


EveStamm said...

Hi, I just typed in "green eyed yellow idol" in the google search because I
always remembered it (wrongly) starting like that.

We had a poetry prize giving session at Carlisle and County High School in
Carlisle , Cumberland every year called the Rawnsley prize - he was an old Canon
of the cathedral -and a friend of mine won the prize in 1963 or 64, I am not
sure any more when, with her recital of this poem. It was a hauntingly sad
poem and I have remembered the first verse (only the first line wrongly) since

Best wishes,
Eve Brook-Stamm

MK said...

Oh yes indeed! I, too, remember the little yellow fellow
which my father used to recite ad laudium. We loved it.
Someone on radio has just asked about it and I know I have a copy of it somewhere.......somewhere my heart will break......etc. etc.

Pleased to say I found it on your site but I would MUCH rather have the OTHER version..........something about the little gents urinal ha ha h ah a....guess I shall have to have a go at a parody of the yellow fellow myself....what fun! If ever I do this, I'll send it on to the site.

Isn't there a copy of the gents place parody available on the net?


Marg Dickens


Just to say that my father taught me the poem and he spent a lot of time in
various messes in Nigeria so guess he picked it up there and learned and loved

Bob Morrison said...

When I cant sleep I recite this poem in my head, by verse four I am usually a sleep. Beats counting sheep

dave said...

I first heard this on a vinyl single by Harry H Corbett (off Steptoe
and Son!)

Never forgot it.


These poems give a real sense of the life of far flung frontiers and should be included in the literature programmes of all schools as examples of the fun that people found in their surroundings.
One song I remember being sung, as late as the 30s, to very young children whilst they were being bounced on shoulders was "The Galloping Major"

David Peckham said...

I remember the poem as part of a theatrical music hall act!

One actor is trying to recite it on stage while two other actors, dressed
as "pukka sahibs" in a box, keep interrupting him with comments & corrections.

One in particular that I remember concerned the pronunciation of "chaffed"
in line 2 of verse 5 "Did he mean his comrades or his underwear?"

David Peckham

Paul Morris said...

Sixty years ago when a child of five, I well remember a then, elderly gentleman giving a monologue at a gathering where all adults were obliged to contribute to the evenings entertainment. The Green Eye of the Yellow God was his choice, which he recited perfectly without recourse to notes. I have never forgotten, since as a small boy hearing those words, and only recently finding them again. TV was not around in those days, thus, there was no distraction from the art of poetry and conversation. How sad to look upon the "progress" we have made, with our youth leaving the education system, some barely able to read or write.

A long time reader and writer of poetry.

jaytee said...

The Green eye of the Yellow God is one of those great pieces of writing that I never tire of reading again.
Others have mentioned Robert Service and Kipling of course and they rate among the greatest.
However have you read anything of Banjo Paterson, the greatest Australian balladeer ever. The rhythm ,cadence and the stories in the poems are brilliant.
I would not know where to start but worth mentioning are Mulga Bill's Bicycle, Saltbush Bill, Clancy of the Overflow,
The Man from Snowy River ( Since made into a full length feature film and T.V. series), and of course Waltzing Matilda, the list is endless.

Have a look!!!!!!!


peterwalsh said...

Just happened by your query to minstrels; to finish the parody---- "For
a penny on deposit, you can hire a water closet, or a season ticket for
a half-a-crown". Now you can relax!

Claire Valvona said...

I love this poem. I remember it since my Grandfather used to recite it when
we were kids... and that is about 35 years ago! It is still a family


Michael Mark said...

My grandfather, born in 1896, was in a poetry-reading club in his teens and
twenties. As long as I've been alive (and prior to his death at 92), and
for my mother's whole life, he recited The Green Eye of the Yellow God - and
Gunga Din and Dan McGrew - for anyone and everyone who would listen. I've
been trying to interest my son in at least Hearing these poems read to him,
but alas, it's not to be.

What a profound gift his recitations were.

I found your page after listening to John Lennon's Nobody Told Me, in which
John misquotes Mr. Hayes, saying "There's a little yellow idol to the north
of Katmandu" in the second verse. I had to find the name of Lennon's song,
and one thing led to another..

Michael Mark

Designed Communications, IncFront RangeMountainsFaxToll-Free

Helen Bodenham said...

When I was eight years old (1954) my form teacher at Lee Street junior
school Kidderminster, Worcestershire England. A Mr Perritt used to recite
this poem aloud incessantly throughout the class.

It has stayed with me for over fifty years, (probably trauma). I was
delighted to find it here and renew the content as I had forgotten most of
the words.

Bill Bodenham.

Levana Taylor said...

I might add, that this isn't really an adventure poem -- the protagonist
isn't Mad Carew but rather the colonel's daughter. Her actions and emotions
are described throughout, his actions little and his emotions not at all.
That might be one key to the poem's enduring popularity; as one commenter
pointed out, it can have a sad effect, and is recited by women as well as
men. I think people are kept interested by the tragic question of why she
baited him to do something she knew was both foolhardy and wrong, and which
she knew he might actually do.

David & Rosalie Bews said...

My mother used to recite poems to me instead of tellling bed-time
stories. This (The Green Eye ...) one was sheer delight but very scary.
I used to listen with the bed-clothes pulled up to my chin, in sheer
horror every time, even though I had heard it many times. I am now
turning sixty but I can hear it yet!


CatMoffat said...

This was my favorite poem when I was at school, I love it

Bill Bowling said...

This a great poem .used to recite this in front of class at school in my senior days at Gorringe park school in Mitcham Surrey,in the middle 1940s.still hav it among my collection of poems & old music hall songs,I have some 3,000 items in my collection,the yellow idaol has often been re.enacted on stage

Bill Bowling

Gordon Walker said...

great spoof........can someone tell me where to find the original's not in the Dictionary of quotations for some reason

Jeremy & Julie Walker said...

The version I remember and subsequently have copied involves someone behind
the person reciting, being their arms and generally abusing the performer
tearing their shirt etc and at the climax breaking the "eye" - an egg on the
forehead of the person reciting. A wonderful comic poem!

Mike Howieson said...

Marvellous to read the poem again after all these father was a school teacher in a score of little outback schools around Western Australia immediately following WWII when he, and all the others returned home...he recited it often and it was always a source of wonder to me.
Someone further up the list commented that the style of poem was similar to A.B.(Banjo) Paterson and I agree. Kipling and Service also come to mind as others have mentioned.
The reason I typed 'The Green Eye....' into Google was that I had just received an email from our son who had arrived this morning in Khatmandu prior to leaving with a walking group aiming for the Everest base camp. On his return I will ensure he reads and absorbs the poem that has obviously given so many people so much pleasure over so many years. Mike H.

Jo-An Partridge said...

Currently I am writing the family history, and I remember my father used to
recite the Green Eye of the Yellow God at many Working Men's Clubs and
music halls where it was very popular during his time. However, it used to
frighten me when I heard him rehearsing as he presented it in an extremely
dramatic manner.

Cheers Jo-An

Jo-An M Partridge

PO Box 1053




haydn inglis-orr said...

Surely the poem "There`s a one eyed yellow idol to the north of....." is
by Rudyard Kipling.

Haydn Inglis Orr

Anonymous said...

I first heard this poem when I was around the age of 9. I was raised in Karachi, Pakistan and when us Christians would get together for a party, everyone had to be prepared to perform. There was this one gentleman, a friend of my family, who would recite Yellow God. Now that I am 69, I have finally found the poem, thanks to you, and can now add it to the memorabilia of my childhood. My mistake was thinking that it was from Rudyard Kipling and that the name was Little Yellow Idol. Thanks for setting me right. I loved reading it.

Jennifer Mangum

Anonymous said...

A poem that holds many childhood memories for me. My Mother used to recite the first 4 lines regularly. Until recently I thought that the extract was from Kubla Khan. However my nephew, using the internet on his mobile phone, sourced the true origins of this magnificient poem for me.

Pat Buckley

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Owen Morrissy-murphy said...

I remember my father endevouring to locate a Parody on this poem back in the 50's. He thought that it was originally printed in the "MEATH CHRONICAL" (an Irish local paper). Try as he could he never did find this parody. I think it began:-
"There's a one eyed mangey dog, just north of *******. Does anyone know this or have a copy of same?

Owen Morrissy-Murphy (

Anonymous said...

Again, lots of memories for me. When I was about 5 years old I was given a tape recorder for my birthday. One of the first recordings ever made was by my Grandpa reciting this poem. I recently had to sort through my Grandma's belongings and found Grandpa's hand written version of this poem which is more or less the same as the above.

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Anonymous said...

I remember my Father many years ago saying this poem to us when we were children, we loved hearing it and it has brought back lovely memories.

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My granny used to recite this poem always liked it's imagery

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