Rudyard Kipling (far right) in South Africa around the time he wrote “Boots.”

Kay Swift was 14 years old when she composed “Boots” using Rudyard Kipling’s poem as her lyrics. She was very bold with her dissonant harmonies which she used to evoke the mood of the poem. You can hear that mood as expressed by Rudyard Kipling himself in this YouTube video. Swift was not mistaken that this poem would make a compelling song, because in 1928 Peter Dawson (J.P. McCall) wrote music to it, and it became one of his biggest hits! You can hear it here.

Kipling may have written the poem based on his experience as a correspondent for a newspaper out of Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1900, as 60,000 British soldiers marched from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Earlier, as a reporter in India, Kipling was so fascinated by the spectacle of the marching multitudes that he wrote of “an infinity of booted feet coming down and taking up, with the exactness of a machine.”

Download the fake-book style sheet music PDF of “Boots” here: Boots


Lyrics to “Boots” by Rudyard Kipling

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!

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!

‘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!


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