“The Law for the Wolves” (sometimes called “The Law of the Jungle”) appears in The Second Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling. The poem outlines the rights and responsibilities of wolves in the Seeonee wolf pack, which includes the orphaned boy Mowgli.
 
Now this is the Law of the Jungle—as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
 
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back—
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.
 
Wash daily from nose-tip to tail-tip; drink deeply, but never too deep;
And remember the night is for hunting, and forget not the day is for sleep.
 
The jackal may follow the Tiger, but, Cub, when thy whiskers are grown,
Remember the Wolf is a hunter—go forth and get food of thine own.
 
Keep peace with the Lords of the Jungle—the Tiger, the Panther, the Bear;
And trouble not Hathi the Silent, and mock not the Boar in his lair.
 
When Pack meets with Pack in the Jungle, and neither will go from the trail,
Lie down till the leaders have spoken—it may be fair words shall prevail.
 
When ye fight with a Wolf of the Pack, ye must fight him alone and afar,
Lest others take part in the quarrel, and the Pack be diminished by war.
 
The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge, and where he has made him his home,
Not even the Head Wolf may enter, not even the Council may come.
 
The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge, but where he has digged it too plain,
The Council shall send him a message, and so he shall change it again.
 
If ye kill before midnight, be silent, and wake not the woods with your bay,
Lest ye frighten the deer from the crops, and the brothers go empty away.
 
Ye may kill for yourselves, and your mates, and your cubs as they need, and ye can;
But kill not for pleasure of killing, and seven times never kill Man.
 
If ye plunder his Kill from a weaker, devour not all in thy pride;
Pack-Right is the right of the meanest; so leave him the head and the hide.
 
The Kill of the Pack is the meat of the Pack. Ye must eat where it lies;
And no one may carry away of that meat to his lair, or he dies.
 
The Kill of the Wolf is the meat of the Wolf. He may do what he will,
But, till he has given permission, the Pack may not eat of that Kill.
 
Cub-Right is the right of the Yearling. From all of his Pack he may claim
Full-gorge when the killer has eaten; and none may refuse him the same.
 
Lair-Right is the right of the Mother. From all of her year she may claim
One haunch of each kill for her litter, and none may deny her the same.
 
Cave-Right is the right of the Father—to hunt by himself for his own.
He is freed of all calls to the Pack; he is judged by the Council alone.
 
Because of his age and his cunning, because of his gripe and his paw,
In all that the Law leaveth open, the word of the Head Wolf is Law.
 
Now these are the Laws of the Jungle, and many and mighty are they;
But the head and the hoof of the Law and the haunch and the hump is—Obey!
 
Instructional Ideas
 
Consult Common Core ELA Literacy Standard 9-10.1Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Consult Common Core ELA Literacy Standard 9-10.2Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • Review the distinction between rights and responsibilities. 
    • Rights are certain freedoms that are protected by a community or society. 
    • Responsibilities are the duties that an individual has to a community or society.
  • Discuss how Kipling presents the role of the individual in society in “The Law for the Wolves.”
    • Discussion questions about issues the poem raises about rights and responsibilities, and how the poem may allude to British colonialism, are presented in the Questions tab.
  1. “The Law for the Wolves” is about an individual’s rights and responsibilities in a community. What are some rights and responsibilities in the Seeonee wolf pack regarding food? Shelter? Interaction with wolves and other animals? Can you identify lines in the poem to support your answers?

    • Answer

      Answers will vary! Some answers may include:

      Food: Fairness seems to be a right regarding food in the Seeonee pack (“The Kill of the Wolf is the meat of the Wolf. He may do what he will”). Moderation (“drink deeply, but never too deep”) is a responsibility.

      Shelter: Again, independence is a major individual right (“The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge”). Respect for the safety of the pack (“where he has digged it too plain/The Council shall send him a message, and so he shall change it again”) is a primary responsibility.

      Interactions with Others: Individual wolves may determine their own relationship with other wolves (“When ye fight with a Wolf of the Pack, ye must fight him alone and afar”), but have a responsibility not to involve others (“Lest others take part in the quarrel, and the Pack be diminished by war”). Individuals have less independence in relationships with other members of the jungle community (“Keep peace with the Lords of the Jungle”) and groups of wolves (“Lie down till the leaders have spoken”).

  2. India was the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire for nearly 100 years. Many readers interpret Kipling’s stories as metaphors for the British colonial presence in India. What ideas in “The Law for the Wolves” might be interpreted as colonial attitudes? Can you identify lines in the poem to support your answers?

    • Answer

      Answers will vary! The poem presents an utter trust in existing authority (“Lie down till the leaders have spoken—it may be fair words shall prevail”), culminating in that final order: Obey! 

      Kipling also presents stereotypical gender roles (“Cave-Right is the right of the Father” and “Lair-Right is the right of the Mother”), where the males are providers and the females are caregivers.

      These paternalistic attitudes could be interpreted to support the ideas in another, less-allegorical poem of Kipling’s: “The White Man’s Burden.”

The Second Jungle Book takes place in Seoni (which Kipling writes as “Seeonee”), Madhya Pradesh, India. Parts of Seoni are forested, and home to national parks and wildlife preserves. Kipling used many of Seoni’s native animals as characters in The Second Jungle Book. Some of these animals are now endangered, while others are as abundant as when Kipling was writing in the 19th century.
    • Mowgli is a human child raised by the Seeonee wolf pack. (Humans are not an endangered species.)
    • Akela is the “Head Wolf,” the leader of the Seeonee pack. Most wolves in the pack are defined by their relationship to Mowgli—Father Wolf, Brother Grey. Akela, as well as Mowgli’s adopted mother, Raksha, are exceptions. (Indian wolves are not endangered in Seoni, although they are elsewhere in India.)
    • Baloo is a sloth bear and friend to Mowgli. (Sloth bears are a vulnerable species.)
    • Bagheera is a black panther and friend to Mowgli. (Leopards—including black panthers—are not endangered in Seoni, although they are elsewhere in India.)
    • Kaa is an Indian rock python and hesitant friend to Mowgli. (Indian rock pythons are not endangered.)
    • Hathi is an Indian elephant and friend to Mowgli. (Indian elephants are an endangered subspecies of Asian elephant.)
    • Shere Khan is a Bengal tiger, and the primary antagonist of The Second Jungle Book. (Bengal tigers are an endangered subspecies of tiger.)
    • Tabaqui is a golden jackal and antagonist to Mowgli and his friends. (Golden jackals are not endangered.)
    • The Bandar-log are gray langur monkeys who are uneasy allies and sometimes antagonists to Mowgli and his friends. (Gray langur monkeys are not endangered.)
abundant
Adjective

in large amounts.

allegory
Noun

story or image in which the characters and events are used to symbolize deeper or more profound meaning.

antagonist
Noun

enemy or adversary.

bay
Noun

deep, prolonged howl.

cave
Noun

underground chamber that opens to the surface. Cave entrances can be on land or in water.

claim
Verb

to demand as a right.

colonialism
Noun

type of government where a geographic area is ruled by a foreign power.

council
Noun

group of people selected to act in an advisory, administrative, or legislative capacity.

Noun

agricultural produce.

cunning
Noun

skill, usually in manipulation or trickery.

deny
Verb

to refuse or not allow

devour
Verb

to consume.

diminish
Verb

to become smaller or less important.

Noun

organism threatened with extinction.

girdle
Verb

to enclose or encircle.

gorge
Verb

to greedily stuff oneself with food.

gripe
Noun

(poetic) grip or clutch.

haunch
Noun

hindquarter (upper leg and loin) of an animal.

hide
Noun

leather skin of an animal.

hoof
Noun

thick, horny covering of the feet of animals such as horses and cattle.

hunt
Verb

to pursue and kill an animal, usually for food.

jungle
Noun

tropical ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.

lair
Noun

den or resting place of a wild animal.

law
Noun

public rule.

lest
Noun

(conjunction) for fear that.

litter
Noun

group of offspring produced at one birth.

mean
Adjective

low in rank or status.

meat
Noun

animal flesh eaten as food.

metaphor
Noun

word or phrase used to represent something else, or an understanding of one concept in terms of another concept. 

mock
Verb

to ridicule or make fun of.

obey
Verb

to follow rules, ideas, or instructions.

pack
Noun

group of animals, usually arranged in a family-like structure.

paternalistic
Adjective

having to do with the style of management where an authority behaves like a father governing his children, with little independence or respect.

paw
Noun

foot of an animal with claws.

permission
Noun

authorization to do something.

pleasure
Noun

enjoyment or satisfaction.

plunder
Verb

to rob or steal.

prevail
Verb

to succeed or prove superior.

pride
Noun

high opinion of oneself and one's abilities.

prosper
Verb

to be successful.

quarrel
Verb

to dispute or argue.

refuge
Noun

shelter or protection from danger.

thine
Noun

(pronoun) your (second-person singular, possessive).

thy
Noun

(pronoun) your or thine (second person singular, possessive).

war
Noun

large-scale armed conflict.

ye
Plural Noun

(pronoun) you (second person plural).