Verse > Rudyard Kipling > Verse: 1885–1918
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Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936).  Verse: 1885–1918.  1922.
 
The Exiles’ Line
 
1890

NOW the new year reviving old desires,
The restless soul to open sea aspires,
  Where the Blue Peter flickers from the fore,
And the grimed stoker feeds the engine-fires.
 
Coupons, alas, depart with all their rows,        5
And last year’s sea-met loves where Grindlay knows;
  But still the wild wind wakes off Gardafui,
And hearts turn eastward with the P. and O’s.
 
Twelve knots an hour, be they more or less—
Oh slothful mother of much idleness,        10
  Whom neither rivals spur nor contracts speed!
Nay, bear us gently! Wherefore need we press?
 
The Tragedy of all our East is laid
On those white decks beneath the awning shade—
  Birth, absence, longing, laughter, love and tears,        15
And death unmaking ere the land is made.
 
And midnight madnesses of souls distraught
Whom the cool seas call through the open port,
  So that the table lacks one place next morn,
And for one forenoon men forego their sport.        20
 
The shadow of the rigging to and fro
Sways, shifts, and flickers on the spar-deck’s snow,
  And like a giant trampling in his chains,
The screw-blades gasp and thunder deep below;
 
And, leagued to watch one flying-fish’s wings,        25
Heaven stoops to sea, and sea to Heaven clings;
  While, bent upon the ending of his toil,
The hot sun strides, regarding not these things:
 
For the same wave that meets our stem in spray
Bore Smith of Asia eastward yesterday,        30
  And Delhi Jones and Brown of Midnapore
To-morrow follow on the self-same way.
 
Linked in the chain of Empire one by one,
Flushed with long leave, or tanned with many a sun,
  The Exiles’ Line brings out the exiles’ line        35
And ships them homeward when their work is done.
 
Yea, heedless of the shuttle through the loom,
The flying keels fulfil the web of doom.
  Sorrow or shouting—what is that to them?
Make out the cheque that pays for cabin room!        40
 
And how so many score of times ye flit
With wife and babe and caravan of kit,
  Not all thy travels past shall lower one fare,
Not all thy tears abate one pound of it.
 
And how so high thine earth-born dignity,        45
Honour and state, go sink it in the sea,
  Till that great one upon the quarter deck,
Brow-bound with gold, shall give thee leave to be.
 
Indeed, indeed from that same line we swear
Off for all time, and mean it when we swear;        50
  And then, and then we meet the Quartered Flag,
And, surely for the last time, pay the fare.
 
And Green of Kensington, estrayed to view
In three short months the world he never knew,
  Stares with blind eyes upon the Quartered Flag        55
And sees no more than yellow, red and blue.
 
But we, the gypsies of the East, but we—
Waifs of the land and wastrels of the sea—
  Come nearer home beneath the Quartered Flag
Than ever home shall come to such as we.        60
 
The camp is struck, the bungalow decays,
Dead friends and houses desert mark our ways,
  Till sickness send us down to Prince’s Dock
To meet the changeless use of many days.
 
Bound in the wheel of Empire, one by one,        65
The chain-gangs of the East from sire to son,
  The Exiles’ Line takes out the exiles’ line
And ships them homeward when their work is done.
 
How runs the old indictment? “Dear and slow,”
So much and twice so much. We gird, but go.        70
  For all the soul of our sad East is there,
Beneath the house-flag of the P. and O.
 
 
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