Cruisers





AS our mother the Frigate, bepainted and fine,
Made play for her bully the Ship of the Line;
So we, her bold daughters by iron and fire,
Accost and decoy to our masters' desire.

Now, pray you, consider what toils we endure,
Night-walking wet sea-lanes, a guard and a lure;
Since half of our trade is that same pretty sort
As mettlesome wenches do practise in port.

For this is our office — to spy and make room,
As hiding yet guiding the foe to their doom;
Surrounding, confounding, we bait and betray
And tempt them to battle the seas' width away.

The pot-bellied merchant foreboding no wrong
With headlight and sidelight he lieth along,
Till, lightless and lightfoot and lurking, leap we
To force him discover his business by sea.

And when we have wakened the lust of a foe,
To draw him by flight toward our bullies we go,
Till, 'ware of strange smoke stealing nearer, he flies
Ere our bullies close in for to make him good prize.

So, when we have spied on the path of their host,
One flieth to carry that word to the coast;
And, lest by false doublings they turn and go free,
One lieth behind them to follow and see.

Anon we return, being gathered again,
Across the sad valleys all drabbled with rain —
Across the grey ridges all crisped and curled —
To join the long dance round the curve of the world.

The bitter salt spindrift, the sun-glare likewise,
The moon-track a-tremble, bewilders our eyes,
Where, linking and lifting, our sisters we hail
'Twixt wrench of cross-surges or plunge of head-gale.

As maidens awaiting the bride to come forth
Make play with light jestings and wit of no worth,
So, widdershins circling the bride-bed of death,
Each fleereth her neighbour and signeth and saith: —

"What see ye? Their signals, or levin afar?
"What hear ye? God's thunder, or guns of our war?
"What mark ye? Their smoke, or the cloud-rack outblown?
"What chase ye? Their lights, or the Daystar low down?"

So, times past all number deceived by false shows,
Deceiving we cumber the road of our foes,
For this is our virtue: to track and betray;
Preparing great battles a sea's width away.

Now peace is at end and our peoples take heart,
For the laws are clean gone that restrained our art;
Up and down the near headlands and against the far wind
We are loosed (O be swift!) to the work of our kind!





An earlier version of the poem

E.W. Martindell was an early collector and bibliographer of Kipling’s works,
and in “A Bibliography of the Works of Rudyard Kipling, 1881-1923” (Bodley Head, 1923),
he records the differences between the proof version of these verses, and the final
version as first printed in America and in the Morning Post. The proof version is
printed below, with the changes which Kipling made between proof and print underlined.
These give an indication of how thorough Kipling was – there is not a verse to which
some amendment has not been made.


AS our mother the Frigate, bepainted and fine,
Made play for her bully the Ship of the Line;
So we, her bold daughters by iron and fire,
Accost and destroy to our masters' desire.

(Verses 2 & 3 are transposed)

For this is our virtue — to spy and make room,
Abiding as hiding yet guiding to doom.
Surrounding, confounding, we bait and betray
And drive all to battle a seas' width away.

Now, pray you, consider what toils we endure,
Night-walking wet sea-lanes, a guard and a lure;
Where half of our trade is that same merry sort
As mettlesome wenches do practise in port.

The poor silly trader attending no wrong
With headlight and sidelights he lieth along,
Then, lightless and lightfoot and lurking, leap we
To force him discover his business on sea.

And when we have wakened the lust of the foe,
To draw him by flight to our bullies we go,
Yet never so hasty that he is out run,
And never so halting that we are undone.

(A completely different verse 6)

Then lurching and lunging, he followeth far,
With hail of long-pieces our beauty to mar,
Till ‘ware of fresh smoke stealing nearer, he flies—
And our bullies close in for to make him good prize.


Anon we return, being gathered again,
Across the grey ridges all drabbled with rain —
Across the keen ridges all crisped and curled —
To join the long dance round the curve of the world.

The bitter salt spindrift, the sun-glare likewise,
The moon on white waters, bewilders our eyes,
Where, linking and lifting, our sisters we hail
'Twixt roll of beam-surges or wrench or headgale.

(Verse 9 is not in the original proof version.)

"What see ye? Their signals, or levin afar?
"What hear ye? God's thunder, or guns of our war?
"What make ye? Their smoke, or a fog-bank outblown?
"What chase ye? Their lights, or the Daystar low down?"

So, times without number deceived by false shows,
Deceiving we cumber the track of our foes,
For this is our office: to veil and betray;
Preparing great battles a sea's width away.

Now peace is at end and our people take heart,
For the laws are clean gone that restrained their art;
All about the near headlands and adown the far wind
We are loosed (O be swift!) to the sport of our kind!




Two further minor changes were made between the Morning Post version and the collected version:

Verse 8, line 2
  • Proof copy: “The moon on white waters …” (as above)
  • Morning Post: “The moon-track a-quiver …”
  • Collected editions: “The moon-track a-tremble …”

Verse 9, line 3
  • Proof copy: “or a fog-bank outblown,” (as above)

Verse 10, line 3
  • Morning Post: “or the cloud-bank outblown,”(as above)
  • Collected: “or the cloud-rack outblown.”