Rudyard Kipling

(30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936 / Bombay)

The Destroyers


1898


The strength of twice three thousand horse
That seeks the single goal;
The line that holds the rending course,
The hate that swings the whole;
The stripped hulls, slinking through the gloom,
At gaze and gone again --
The Brides of Death that wait the groom --
The Choosers of the Slain!

Offshore where sea and skyline blend
In rain, the daylight dies;
The sullen, shouldering sweels attend
Night and our sacrifice.
Adown the stricken capes no flare --
No mark on spit or bar, --
Birdled and desperate we dare
The blindfold game of war.

Nearer the up-flung beams that spell
The council of our foes;
Clearer the barking guns that tell
Their scattered flank to close.
Sheer to the trap they crowd their way
From ports for this unbarred.
Quiet, and count our laden prey,
The convoy and her guard!

On shoal with carce a foot below,
Where rock and islet throng,
Hidden and hushed we watch them throw
Their anxious lights along.
Not here, not here your danger lies --
(Stare hard, O hooded eyne!)
Save were the dazed rock-pigeons rise
The lit cliffs give no sign.

Therefore -- to break the rest ye seek,
The Narrow Seas to clear --
Hark to the siren's whimpering shriek --
The driven death is here!
Look to your van a league away, --
What midnight terror stays
The bulk that checks against the spray
Her crackling tops ablaze?

Hit, and hard hit! The blow went home,
The muffled, knocking stroke --
The steam that overruns the foam --
The foam that thins to smoke --
The smoke that clokes the deep aboil --
The deep that chokes her throes
Till, streaked with ash and sleeked with oil,
The lukewarm whirlpools close!

A shadow down the sickened wave
Long since her slayer fled:
But hear their chattering quick-fires rave
Astern, abeam, ahead!
Panic that shells the drifting spar --
Loud waste with none to check --
Mad fear that rakes a scornful star
Or sweeps a consort's deck.

Now, while their silly smoke hangs thick,
Now ere their wits they find,
Lay in and lance them to the quick --
Our gallied whales are blind!
Good luck to those that see end end,
Good-bye to those that drown --
For each his chance as chance shall send --
And God for all! Shut down!

The strength of twice three thousand horse
That serve the one command;
The hand that heaves the headlong force,
The hate that backs the hand:
The doom-bolt in the darkness freed,
The mine that splits the main;
The white-hot wake, the 'wildering speed --
The Choosers of the Slain!

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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