Verse > Rudyard Kipling > Verse: 1885–1918
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Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936).  Verse: 1885–1918.  1922.
 
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,        5
  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;        10
The sullen, shouldering swells attend
  Night and our sacrifice.
Adown the stricken capes no flare—
  No mark on spit or bar,—
Girdled and desperate we dare        15
  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.        20
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 scarce a foot below,        25
  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!)        30
Save where 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—        35
  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?        40
 
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—        45
  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:        50
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        55
  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!        60
Good luck to those that see the 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        65
  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;        70
The white-hot wake, the ’wildering speed
  The Choosers of the Slain!
 
 
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