Bridge Guard in the Karroo – Rudyard Kipling

prince albert0051Photographs by Chris Marais

Sudden the desert changes,

The raw glare softens and clings,beaufort (16)

Till the aching Oudtshoorn ranges

Stand up like the thrones of Kings —

 

Ramparts of slaughter and peril –lowkip0003

Blazing, amazing, aglow —

‘Twixt the sky-line’s belting beryl

And the wine-dark flats below.

 

Royal the pageant closes,lowkip0008

Lit by the last of the sun —

Opal and ash-of-roses,

Cinnamon, umber, and dun.leeu 10

 

The twilight swallows the thicket,

The starlight reveals the ridge.

The whistle shrills to the picket —

We are changing guard on the bridge.

 

Few, forgotten and lonely,lowkendrew0001

Where the empty metals shine —

No, not combatants-only

Details guarding the line.

 

We slip through the broken panel

Of fence by the ganger’s shed;

We drop to the waterless channel

And the lean track overhead;lowkip0010

 

We stumble on refuse of rations,

The beef and the biscuit-tins;

We take our appointed stations,

And the endless night begins.

 

We hear the Hottentot herdersspringfontein0011

As the sheep click past to the fold —

And the click of the restless girders

As the steel contracts in the cold —

 

Voices of jackals calling

And, loud in the hush between,

A morsel of dry earth falling

From the flanks of the scarred ravine.prince albert0026

 

And the solemn firmament marches,

And the hosts of heaven rise

Framed through the iron arches —

Banded and barred by the ties,

 

Till we feel the far track humming,lowkip0001

And we see her headlight plain,

And we gather and wait her coming —

The wonderful north-bound train.

 

Few, forgotten and lonely,

Where the white car-windows shine —

No, not combatants-only

Details guarding the line.springfontein0001

 

Quick, ere the gift escape us!

Out of the darkness we reach

For a handful of week-old papers

And a mouthful of human speech.

 

And the monstrous heaven rejoices,lowblock0013

And the earth allows again,

Meetings, greetings, and voices

Of women talking with men.

 

So we return to our places,

As out on the bridge she rolls;

And the darkness covers our faces,

And the darkness re-enters our souls.lowkip0012

 

More than a little lonely

Where the lessening tail-lights shine.

No – not combatants – only

Details guarding the line!lowblock0015

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One Response to Bridge Guard in the Karroo – Rudyard Kipling

  1. robert pringle July 17, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    A lovely presentation of one of Kipling’s greatest Boer War poems, indeed one of his best period, and it truly captures the feel of the countryside, even today.

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