Rudyard Kipling

The Rowers

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 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 by what star, 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 You have made with an open foe! "That we must lie off a lightless coast And houl and back and veer At the will of the breed that have wrought us most For a year and a year and a year! "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 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-- 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 That you strike bands 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? "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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