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The English Flag

Rudyard Kipling 1865 (Mumbai) – 1936 (London)



Above the portico a flag-staff, bearing the Union Jack,
  remained fluttering in the flames for some time, but ultimately
  when it fell the crowds rent the air with shouts,
  and seemed to see significance in the incident. -- DAILY PAPERS.
 
 
Winds of the World, give answer! They are whimpering to and fro --
And what should they know of England who only England know? --
The poor little street-bred people that vapour and fume and brag,
They are lifting their heads in the stillness to yelp at the English Flag!
 
Must we borrow a clout from the Boer -- to plaster anew with dirt?
An Irish liar's bandage, or an English coward's shirt?
We may not speak of England; her Flag's to sell or share.
What is the Flag of England? Winds of the World, declare!
 
The North Wind blew: -- "From Bergen my steel-shod vanguards go;
I chase your lazy whalers home from the Disko floe;
By the great North Lights above me I work the will of God,
And the liner splits on the ice-field or the Dogger fills with cod.
 
"I barred my gates with iron, I shuttered my doors with flame,
Because to force my ramparts your nutshell navies came;
I took the sun from their presence, I cut them down with my blast,
And they died, but the Flag of England blew free ere the spirit passed.
 
"The lean white bear hath seen it in the long, long Arctic night,
The musk-ox knows the standard that flouts the Northern Light:
What is the Flag of England? Ye have but my bergs to dare,
Ye have but my drifts to conquer. Go forth, for it is there!"
 
The South Wind sighed: -- "From the Virgins my mid-sea course was ta'en
Over a thousand islands lost in an idle main,
Where the sea-egg flames on the coral and the long-backed breakers croon
Their endless ocean legends to the lazy, locked lagoon.
 
"Strayed amid lonely islets, mazed amid outer keys,
I waked the palms to laughter -- I tossed the scud in the breeze --
Never was isle so little, never was sea so lone,
But over the scud and the palm-trees an English flag was flown.
 
"I have wrenched it free from the halliard to hang for a wisp on the Horn;
I have chased it north to the Lizard -- ribboned and rolled and torn;
I have spread its fold o'er the dying, adrift in a hopeless sea;
I have hurled it swift on the slaver, and seen the slave set free.
 
"My basking sunfish know it, and wheeling albatross,
Where the lone wave fills with fire beneath the Southern Cross.
What is the Flag of England? Ye have but my reefs to dare,
Ye have but my seas to furrow. Go forth, for it is there!"
 
The East Wind roared: -- "From the Kuriles, the Bitter Seas, I come,
And me men call the Home-Wind, for I bring the English home.
Look -- look well to your shipping! By the breath of my mad typhoon
I swept your close-packed Praya and beached your best at Kowloon!
 
"The reeling junks behind me and the racing seas before,
I raped your richest roadstead -- I plundered Singapore!
I set my hand on the Hoogli; as a hooded snake she rose,
And I flung your stoutest steamers to roost with the startled crows.
 
"Never the lotus closes, never the wild-fowl wake,
But a soul goes out on the East Wind that died for England's sake --
Man or woman or suckling, mother or bride or maid --
Because on the bones of the English the English Flag is stayed.
 
"The desert-dust hath dimmed it, the flying wild-ass knows,
The scared white leopard winds it across the taintless snows.
What is the Flag of England? Ye have but my sun to dare,
Ye have but my sands to travel. Go forth, for it is there!"
 
The West Wind called: -- "In squadrons the thoughtless galleons fly
That bear the wheat and cattle lest street-bred people die.
They make my might their porter, they make my house their path,
Till I loose my neck from their rudder and whelm them all in my wrath.
 
"I draw the gliding fog-bank as a snake is drawn from the hole,
They bellow one to the other, the frighted ship-bells toll,
For day is a drifting terror till I raise the shroud with my breath,
And they see strange bows above them and the two go locked to death.
 
"But whether in calm or wrack-wreath, whether by dark or day,
I heave them whole to the conger or rip their plates away,
First of the scattered legions, under a shrieking sky,
Dipping between the rollers, the English Flag goes by.
 
"The dead dumb fog hath wrapped it -- the frozen dews have kissed --
The naked stars have seen it, a fellow-star in the mist.
What is the Flag of England? Ye have but my breath to dare,
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:12 min read
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Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English short-story writer, poet, and novelist chiefly remembered for his tales and poems of British soldiers in India and his tales for children. more…

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