"Gunga Din" is told from the perspective of a soldier who is grateful to the Indian water-carrier who saves his life but is then killed right afterward.
"If-" is a father's message to his son on how to be a man – one must control his actions and feelings, trust oneself but allow for doubt, refuse to lie, take risks but do not brag, and allow triumph and despair to shape and mold oneself.
"The Ballad of East and West", 1889, depicts an encounter between a British soldier, the Colonel's son, and the powerful Kamal, an Eastern chieftain. While Kamal initially displays his military might by stealing the Colonel's horse, he then reveals his tremendous humility and nobility by allowing the Colonel's son to have the animal back. The men pledge their loyalty to one another and acknowledge each other's military prowess and excellent character.
"Boots" presents a picture of many thousands of soldiers marching for hours upon hours. The repetitive, singsong nature of the poem establishes a mood of dull, senseless redundancy.
"Danny Deever" features a conversation between a young soldier and his sergeant. The young soldier asks why the bugles are blowing and everyone is gathered; the sergeant replies that Danny Deever will be hung this morning for shooting a comrade. The young soldier remembers that he and Danny used to drink beer together, and the sergeant responds by saying Deever will now drink alone. Danny is hung and the sergeant says his soul has passed over them.
"Fuzzy-Wuzzy" expresses admiration for a Beja warrior who fought the British in the Sudan in the Mathdist war. Of all the Eastern fighters the solder had faced, Fuzzy-Wuzzy was the most remarkable, especially as he and his companions were able to break the British square in a significant battle. The soldier considers him a poor heathen but admires his fighting skills.
"Gentlemen-Rankers" articulates the difficulties the British soldiers faced. The speaker says it is no wonder that they drink themselves to sleep or drug themselves to stave off the pain; they lack hope or love or truth. They get to know the worst at way too young an age. They are like lambs that have gone astray.
"Mandalay" features a British soldier reminiscing about his pleasurable times in Mandalay. He remembers a Burmese girl who was sweet and played the banjo. He contrasts the beauty and warmth of Mandalay with the cold drizzle of London.
"The Mother-Lodge" features Kipling waxing nostalgic for his Masonic mother lodge, which featured a colorful cast of characters. He is no longer there but hopes he can see them all again.
"My Boy Jack", from 1914-1918, is told from the perspective of a mourning parent, asking for news of their son who is away at war. An answering voice tells the questioner that there is no news at this time, and that he or she should be proud of the son they bore who has sacrificed himself to the wind and the tide.
"Recessional", 1897, composed to celebrate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, warns its readers against pride and arrogance in their imperial ambitions, and counsels them to heed God's immense and immitigable power. They should be careful not to boast or take too much stock in their conquests and monuments because all will fade to ash and dust.
"The Thousandth Man" is a paean to male friendship and masculinity. The speaker says only one in a thousand men will be closer than a brother and support you in everything you do. No matter what the other nine hundred and ninety nine men do, this one is immeasurably valuable.
"Tommy" is told from the perspective of a young British soldier; these soldiers were given the nickname of "Tommy" or "Tommy Atkins". This young soldier expresses derision for the British people who treat him scornfully when there is no war, but clamor for his services and treat him well once their nation is threatened.
"Ulster", 1912, is about the signing of the Ulster Covenant. The document was signed by the men and women of Ulster, Ireland, who were protesting British Home Rule in Dublin. In the poem the speaker details their sacrifices and the persecution they have suffered; he wonders why they are thusly attacked when they have only asked to reap what they have sown. The speaker says that they refuse to fall alone, even if England drives them out.
"When Earth's Last Picture is Painted", from 1892, depicts the end of men on earth, and the satisfaction they feel once they are called home to God. In Heaven they will have a vaster canvas and will work forever without tiring. God will praise them as they are finally able to paint things for what they really are.
"The White Man's Burden", 1899, is addressed to the United States and is ostensibly about that country's desire to take over the Philippines. The poem tells the white man to take up his burden by going into the lands where their dark and sullen peoples reside, and to civilize them. It also admonishes the white men to beware of their pride and to understand that their quest can be beset by obstacles like sloth and folly. They should plow through their weariness and ignore undeserved praise to attain the wisdom of experience.
"The King's Pilgrimage", 1922, depicts King George V's visits to war memorials and cemeteries in France after WWI.
"Edgehill Fight" depicts the Royalists and the Parliamentarians facing each other on the battlefield in 1642 in the English Civil Wars. The men are brothers and comrades and have much in common, but this fight will prove bitterer than death since they must clash.
"The Last of the Light Brigade" tells of the twenty living veterans of that famous charge; they are suffering poverty and starvation and indignity at the hands of the nation who boasts of their achievements. They approach Tennyson, the famed poet who wrote "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and ask him to add a postscript to his poem of their heroics. Incensed by the cruel way they have been treated, Tennyson writes a new verse and shames the English people.