This is an 1892 poem by Rudyard Kipling that got a new life when they turned it into a song in the 1950s. Frank Sinatra sang it. I’ve never heard the song, or read the poem until recently, but I’ve read quotes from it. The poem makes no sense whatsoever, but i can’t find anyone who mentions this.
the opening verse is:
(from here, which has the entire thing: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Mandalay
1.) “Moulmein” is the then-current form of Mawlamyine, currently the third largest city in Burma/Myanmar, way down on the Salween/Thanlwin River. It does have a big, famous pagoda, and it does seem you can look out over the Indian Ocean to the West. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mawlamyine
2.) Mandalay is the second-largest city in Burma/Myanmar, and is some 450 miles up the Irawaddy River. So why is a girl in Moulmein asking a soldier to “come back” to a city 500 miles from where she is? Maybe she hates him.
3.) Considering that Mandalay is 450 miles inland and 200 feet above sea level, I have no idea what a flotilla would be doing there. It also seems highly unlikely that flying fish would be playing there, or doing much of anything else. This is the bit I heard the most, and it gave me the impression that Mandalay was on the sea somewhere. I do realize that it says “on the Road to Mandalay”, but you’d have to be pretty far from Mandalay on that road to see flying fishes playing. You might as well talk about seeing flying fishes playing on the road to Kansas City. And it still doesn’t explain why the flotilla is said to be at Mandalay.
4.) You certainly ought to “hear the paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay”. Rangoon/Yangun is 450 miles downstream. At least this part makes sense.
5.) I don’t know what the dawn “comin’ up like thunder” means, but it sounds poetic and dramatic, so I won’t argue. I will argue, though., about it comin’ up “outer China crost the Bay”. China isn’t acrost the Bay, which faces southwest towards India – and not from Mandalay, which, as I’ve said, is inland. Presumably the geography could refer to Moulmein, where the lady is sitting, or even Rangoon. But in either case, you can’t see China – it’s in the other direction, with a peninsula in the way. And you can’t see the sun come up over the Bay, because you’re facing West, and the sun, even in Myanmar/Burma, comes up in the East.
Is there a point to this? Kipling was in India, and the soldier in the poem was, too, and they ought to know basic geography. It’s not like he was stringing together names just for the effect, because he occasionally gets things right – the Moulmein pagoda, for instance. And it all is "east of Suez*. But the rest is as bad as “Krakatoa East of Java”.