Ever since its founding in 1909, the Whiffenpoof Society, Yale’s a capella singing group, has been identified by a signature tune, titled ‘The Whiffenpoof Song’ but recognisable to readers of Kipling as a partial redaction of ‘Gentleman Rankers’. The Yale version contains some minimal sweetening of the original, notably substitutions of ‘gentleman songsters’ for ‘gentleman-rankers’ and lambkin noises (‘Baa! Baa! Baa!’) for cynical snorts (’Baa! Yah! Bah!’). According to Whiffenpoof tradition, an earlier sung version of Kipling’s poem had been circulating in Ivy League musical circles at the turn of the twentieth century, ‘composed (of all things) by a Harvard man … Guy H. H. Skull, Harvard class of 1898’ (Howard, n.d.), but it was not specifically adapted to the Yale group’s needs until one winter evening in 1909 in Mory’s Temple Bar, a private club, when two seniors of the ‘founding Five’, Meade Minniferode and George Pomeroy, unveiled the now-famous introduction:
From the tables down at Mory’s, to the place where Louis dwells,
To the dear old Temple Bar we love so well,
Sing the Whiffenpoofs assembled …
- Imperial Power
- Wolf Pack
- National Anthem
- American Reader
- Black Sheep
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We are poor little lambs
Who have lost our way,
Baa! Baa! Baa!
We are little black sheep
Who have gone astray!
Baa! Baa! Baa!
‘The Whiffenpoof Song’ (lyrics by Meade Minniferode and Rudyard Kipling)
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© 2010 Judith Plotz
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Plotz, J. (2010). How ‘The White Man’s Burden’ Lost its Scare-Quotes; or Kipling and the New American Empire. In: Rooney, C., Nagai, K. (eds) Kipling and Beyond. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230290471_3
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