Verse > Rudyard Kipling > Verse: 1885–1918
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Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936).  Verse: 1885–1918.  1922.
 
The Spies’ March
 
1913

   (“The outbreak is in full swing and our death-rate would sicken Napoleon…. Dr. M—— died last week, and C—— on Monday, but some more medicines are coming…. We don’t seem to be able to check it at all…. Villages panicking badly…. In some places not a living soul…. But at any rate the experience gained may come in useful, so I am keeping my notes written up to date in case of accidents…. Death is a queer chap to live with for steady company.”—Extract from a private letter from Manchuria!)

THERE are no leaders to lead us to honour, and yet without leaders we sally,
Each man reporting for duty alone, out of sight, out of reach, of his fellow.
There are no bugles to call the battalions, and yet without bugle we rally
From the ends of the earth to the ends of the earth, to follow the Standard of Yellow!
            Fall in! O fail in! O fall in!        5
 
Not where the squadrons mass,
  Not where the bayonets shine,
Not where the big shell shout as they pass
  Over the firing-line;
Not where the wounded are,        10
  Not where the nations die,
Killed in the cleanly game of war—
  That is no place for a spy!
O Princes, Thrones and Powers, your work is less than ours—
  Here is no place for a spy!        15
 
Trained to another use,
  We march with colours furled,
Only concerned when Death breaks loose
  On a front of half a world.
Only for General Death        20
  The Yellow Flag may fly,
While we take post beneath—
  That is the place for a spy.
Where Plague has spread his pinions over Nations and Dominions—
Then will be work for a spy!        25
 
The dropping shots begin,
  The single funerals pass,
Our skirmishers run in,
  The corpses dot the grass!
The howling towns stampede,        30
  The tainted hamlets die.
Now it is war indeed—
  Now there is room for a spy!
O Peoples, Kings and Lands, we are waiting your commands—
What is the work for a spy?        35
      (Drums)—Fear is upon us, spy!
 
“Go where his pickets hide—
  Unmask the shape they take,
Whether a gnat from the waterside,
  Or a stinging fly in the brake,        40
Or filth of the crowded street,
  Or a sick rat limping by,
Or a smear of spittle dried in the heat—
  That is the work of a spy!
      (Drums)—Death is upon us, spy!        45
 
“What does he next prepare?
  Whence will he move to attack?—
By water, earth or air?—
  How can we head him back?
Shall we starve him out if we burn        50
  Or bury his food-supply?
Slip through his lines and learn—
  That is work for a spy!
      (Drums)—Get to your business, spy!
 
“Does he feint or strike in force?        55
  Will he charge or ambuscade?
What is it checks his course?
  Is he beaten or only delayed?
How long will the lull endure?
  Is he retreating? Why?        60
Crawl to his camp and make sure—
  That is the work for a spy!
      (Drums)—Fetch us our answer, spy!
 
“Ride with him girth to girth
  Wherever the Pale Horse wheels        65
Wait on his councils, ear to earth,
  And say what the dust reveals.
For the smoke of our torment rolls
  Where the burning thousands lie;
What do we care for men’s bodies or souls?        70
  Bring us deliverance, spy!”
 
 
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