The Rowers by 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:--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!"