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Bridge-Guard in the Karroo

Written by: Rudyard Kipling | Biography
 | Quotes (67) |
 1901 ". . . and will supply details to guard the Blood River Bridge." District Orders-Lines of Communication, South African War.
Sudden the desert changes,
 The raw glare softens and clings,
Till the aching Oudtshoorn ranges
 Stand up like the thrones of Kings --

Ramparts of slaughter and peril --
 Blazing, amazing, aglow --
'Twixt the sky-line's belting beryl
 And the wine-dark flats below.

Royal the pageant closes,
 Lit by the last of the sun --
Opal and ash-of-roses,
 Cinnamon, umber, and dun.

The twilight svallows the thicket,
 The starlight reveals the ridge.
The whistle shrills to the picket --
 We are changing guard on the bridge.

(Few, forgotten and lonely,
 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;

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 herders
 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.

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,
 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.)

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,
 And the earth allows again,
Meetings, greetings, and voices
 Of women talking with men.