Verse > Rudyard Kipling > Verse: 1885–1918
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Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936).  Verse: 1885–1918.  1922.
 
The Rowers
 
1902

(When Germany proposed that England should help her in a naval demonstration to collect debts from Venezuela.)

THE BANKED oars fell an hundred strong,
  And backed and threshed and ground,
But bitter was the rowers’ song
  As they brought the war-boat round.
 
They had no heart for the rally and roar        5
  That makes the whale-bath smoke—
When the great blades cleave and hold and leave
  As one on the racing stroke.
 
They sang:—“What reckoning do you keep,
  And steer her by what star,        10
If we come unscathed from the Southern deep
  To be wrecked on a Baltic bar?
 
“Last night you swore our voyage was done,
  But seaward still we go.
And you tell us now of a secret vow        15
  You have made with an open foe!
 
“That we must lie off a lightless coast
  And haul and back and veer,
At the will of the breed that have wronged us most
  For a year and a year and a year!        20
 
“There was never a shame in Christendie
  They laid not to our door—
And you say we must take the winter sea
  And sail with them once more?
 
“Look South! The gale is scarce o’erpast        25
  That stripped and laid us down,
When we stood forth but they stood fast
  And prayed to see us drown.
 
“Our dead they mocked are scarcely cold,
  Our wounds are bleeding yet—        30
And you tell us now that our strength is sold
  To help them press for a debt!
 
“’Neath all the flags of all mankind
  That use upon the seas,
Was there no other fleet to find        35
  That you strike hands with these?
 
“Of evil times that men can choose
  On evil fate to fall,
What brooding Judgment let you loose
  To pick the worst of all?        40
 
“In sight of peace—from the Narrow Seas
  O’er half the world to run—
With a cheated crew, to league anew
  With the Goth and the shameless Hun!”
 
 
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