The Rowers


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

Rudyard Kipling

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:—And steer her 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 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!

“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 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?

“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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