The Rowers

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 haul 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!"

Choose another poem