Rudyard Kipling

Bridge-guard In The Karroo

Sudden the desert changes, The raw glare softens and clings, Till the aching Oudtshoorn ranges Stand up like the thrones of Kings -- Ramparts of slaughter and peril -- Blazing, amazing, aglow -- 'Twixt the sky-line's belting beryl And the wine-dark flats below. Royal the pageant closes, Lit by the last of the sun -- Opal and ash-of-roses, Cinnamon, umber, and dun. The twilight svallows the thicket, The starlight reveals the ridge. The whistle shrills to the picket -- We are changing guard on the bridge. (Few, forgotten and lonely, Where the empty metals shine -- No, not combatants-only Details guarding the line.) We slip through the broken panel Of fence by the ganger's shed; We drop to the waterless channel And the lean track overhead; We stumble on refuse of rations, The beef and the biscuit-tins; We take our appointed stations, And the endless night begins. We hear the Hottentot herders As the sheep click past to the fold -- And the click of the restless girders As the steel contracts in the cold -- Voices of jackals calling And, loud in the hush between A morsel of dry earth falling From the flanks of the scarred ravine. And the solemn firmament marches, And the hosts of heaven rise Framed through the iron arches -- Banded and barred by the ties, Till we feel the far track humming, And we see her headlight plain, And we gather and wait her coming -- The wonderful north-bound train. (Few, forgotten and lonely, Where the white car-windows shine -- No, not combatants-only Details guarding the line.) Quick, ere the gift escape us! Out of the darkness we reach For a handful of week-old papers And a mouthful of human speech. And the monstrous heaven rejoices, And the earth allows again, Meetings, greetings, and voices Of women talking with men.

1901 South African War.
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