Sons of the Island race, wherever ye dwell,
Who speak of your fathers' battles with lips that burn,
The deed of an alien legion hear me tell,
And think not shame from the hearts ye tamed to learn,
When succour shall fail and the tide for a season turn,
To fight with joyful courage, a passionate pride,
To die at last as the Guides of Cabul died.
For a handful of seventy men in a barrack of mud,
Foodless, waterless, dwindling one by one,
Answered a thousand yelling for English blood
With stormy volleys that swept them gunner from gun,
And charge on charge in the glare of the Afghan sun,
Till the walls were shattered wherein they couched at bay,
And dead or dying half of the seventy lay.
Twice they had taken the cannon that wrecked their hold,
Twice toiled in vain to drag it back,
Thrice they toiled, and alone, wary and bold,
Whirling a hurricane sword to scatter the rack,
Hamilton, last of the English, covered their track.
"Never give in!" he cried, and he heard them shout,
And grappled with death as a man that knows not doubt.
And the Guides looked down from their smouldering barrack again,
And behold, a banner of truce, and a voice that spoke:
"Come, for we know that the English all are slain,
We keep no feud with men of a kindred folk;
Rejoice with us to be free of the conqueror's yolk."
Silence fell for a moment, then was heard
A sound of laughter and scorn, and an answering word.
"Is it we or the lords we serve who have earned this wrong,
That ye call us to flinch from the battle they bade us fight?
We that live--do ye doubt that our hands are strong?
They that are fallen--ye know that their blood was bright!
Think ye the Guides will barter for lust of the light
The pride of an ancient people in warfare bred,
Honour of comrades living, and faith to the dead?"
Then the joy that spurs the warrior's heart
To the last thundering gallop and sheer leap
Came on the men of the Guides: they flung apart
The doors not all their valour could longer keep;
They dressed their slender line; they breathed deep,
And with never a foot lagging or head bent
To the clash and clamour and dust of death they went.