The Bell Buoy

By Rudyard Kipling 1865–1936 Rudyard Kipling

1896

They christened my brother of old—
   And a saintly name he bears—
They gave him his place to hold   
   At the head of the belfry-stairs,
   Where the minster-towers stand
And the breeding kestrels cry.
   Would I change with my brother a league inland?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I !

In the flush of the hot June prime,
   O’er sleek flood-tides afire,   
I hear him hurry the chime
   To the bidding of checked Desire;
   Till the sweated ringers tire
And the wild bob-majors die.
   Could I wait for my turn in the godly choir?
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

When the smoking scud is blown—
   When the greasy wind-rack lowers—
Apart and at peace and alone,
   He counts the changeless hours.
   He wars with darkling Powers
(I war with, a darkling sea);
   Would he stoop to my work in the gusty mirk?   
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not he!

There was never a priest to pray,
   There was never a hand to toll,
When they made me guard of the bay,
   And moored me over the shoal.
   I rock, I reel, and I roll—
My four great hammers ply—
   Could I speak or be still at the Church’s will?   
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

The landward marks have failed,   
   The fog-bank glides unguessed,   
The seaward lights are veiled,
   The spent deep feigns her rest:
   But my ear is laid to her breast,
I lift to the swell—I cry!
   Could I wait in sloth on the Church’s oath?   
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

At the careless end of night
   I thrill to the nearing screw;
I turn in the clearing light
   And I call to the drowsy crew;
   And the mud boils foul and blue
As the blind bow backs away.
   Will they give me their thanks if they clear the banks?   
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not they!

The beach-pools cake and skim,
   The bursting spray-heads freeze,
I gather on crown and rim
   The grey, grained ice of the seas,
   Where, sheathed from bitt to trees,
The plunging colliers lie.
   Would I barter my place for the Church’s grace?   
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

Through the blur of the whirling snow,
   Or the black of the inky sleet,
The lanterns gather and grow,
   And I look for the homeward fleet.
   Rattle of block and sheet—
‘Ready about—stand by!’
   Shall I ask them a fee ere they fetch the quay?   
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

I dip and I surge and I swing   
   In the rip of the racing tide,   
By the gates of doom I sing,
   On the horns of death I ride.
   A ship-length overside,
Between the course and the sand,
   Fretted and bound I bide
             Peril whereof I cry.
Would I change with my brother a league inland?   
(Shoal! ’Ware shoal!) Not I!

Source: A Choice of Kipling's Verse (1943)

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Poet Rudyard Kipling 1865–1936

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Nature, Jobs & Working, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Travels & Journeys

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Refrain

 Rudyard  Kipling

Biography

Rudyard Kipling is one of the best-known of the late Victorian poets and story-tellers. Although he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, his unpopular political views caused his work to be neglected shortly after his death. Critics, however, recognize the power of his work. "His unrelenting craftsmanship, his determination to be 'master of the bricks and mortar of his trade,' compels respect, and his genius as a . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Jobs & Working, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Travels & Journeys

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Refrain

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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