The Five Nations

White Horses


Rudyard Kipling

WHERE run your colts at pasture?
    There hide your mares to breed?

’Mid bergs about the Ice-cap
    Or wove Sargasso weed;
By chartless reef and channel,
    Or crafty coastwise bars,
But most the ocean-meadows
    All purple to the stars!

Who holds the rein upon you?
    The latest gale let free.
What meat is in your mangers?
    The glut of all the sea.
’Twixt tide and tide’s returning
    Great store of newly dead,—
The bones of those that faced us,
    And the hearts of those that fled.

Afar, off shore and single,
    Some stallion, rearing swift,
Neighs hungry for new fodder,
    And calls us to the drift:
Then down the cloven ridges—
    A million hooves unshod—
Break forth the mad White Horses
    To seek their meat from God!

Girth-deep in hissing water
    Our furious vanguard strains—
Through mist of mighty tramplings
    Roll up the fore-blown manes—
A hundred leagues to leeward,
    Ere yet the deep is stirred,
The groaning rollers carry
    The coming of the herd!

Whose hand may grip your nostrils—
    Your forelock who may hold?

E’en they that use the broads with us—
    The riders bred and bold,
That spy upon our matings,
    That rope us where we run—
They know the strong White Horses
    From father unto son.

We breathe about their cradles,
    We race their babes ashore,
We snuff against their thresholds,
    We nuzzle at their door;
By day with stamping squadrons,
    By night in whinnying droves,
Creep up the wise White Horses,
    To call them from their loves.

And come they for your calling?
    No wit of man may save.
They hear the loosed White Horses
    Above their fathers’ grave;
And, kin of those we crippled,
    And, sons of those we slew,
Spur down the wild white riders
    To school the herds anew.

What service have ye laid them,
    Oh jealous steeds and strong?

Save we that throw their weaklings,
    Is none dare work them wrong;
While thick around the homestead
    Our snow-backed leaders graze—
A guard behind their plunder,
    And a veil before their ways.

With march and countermarchings—
    With weight of wheeling hosts—
Stray mob or bands embattled—
    We ring the chosen coasts:
And, careless of our clamour
    That bids the stranger fly,
At peace within our pickets
    The wild white riders lie.

.     .     .     .     .

Trust ye the curdled hollows—
    Trust ye the neighing wind—
Trust ye the moaning groundswell—
    Our herds are close behind!
To bray your foeman’s armies—
    To chill and snap his sword—
Trust ye the wild White Horses,
    The Horses of the Lord!

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