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Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

RUDYARD KIPLING: The Three-Decker

The Three-Decker

1894
"The three-volume novel is extinct."
Full thirty foot she towered from waterline to rail.
It took a watch to steer her, and a week to shorten sail;
But, spite all modern notions, I’ve found her first and best –
The only certain packet for the Islands of the Blest.

Fair held the breeze behind us – ‘twas warm with lover’s prayers,
We’d stolen wills for ballast and a crew of missing heirs.
They shipped as Able Bastards till the Wicked Nurse confessed,
And they worked the old three-decker to the Islands of the Blest.

By ways no gaze could follow, a course unspoiled of Cook,
Per Fancy, fleetest in man, our titled berths we took
With maids of matchless beauty and parentage unguessed,
And a Church of England parson for the Islands of the Blest.

We asked no social questions – we pumped no hidden shame –
We never talked obstetrics when the Little Stranger came:
We left the Lord in Heaven, we left the fiends in Hell.
We weren’t exactly Yussufs, but – Zuleika didn’t tell.

No moral doubts assailed us, so when the port we neared,
The villain had his flogging at the gangway, and we cheered.
‘Twas fiddle in the foc’s’le – ‘twas garlands on the mast,
For every one was married, and I went at shore at last.

I left ‘em all in couples a-kissing on the decks.
I left the lovers loving and parents signing cheques.
In endless English comfort, by county-folk caressed,
I left the old three-decker at the Islands of the Blest! . . .

That route is barred to steamers: you’ll never lift again
Our purple-painted headlands or the lordly keeps of Spain.
They’re just beyond your skyline, howe’er so far you cruise,
In a ram-you-damn-you liner with a brace of bucking screws.

Swing round your aching searchlight – ‘twill show no haven’s peace.
Ay, blow your shrieking sirens at the deaf, grey-bearded seas!
Boom our the dripping oil-bags to skin the deep’s unrest –
And you aren’t one knot the nearer to the Islands of the Blest.

But when you’re threshing, crippled, with broken bridge and rail,
At a drogue of dead convictions to hold you head to gale,
Calm as the Flying Dutchman, from truck to taffrail dressed,
You’ll see the old three-decker for the Islands of the Blest.

You’ll see her tiering canvas in sheeted silver spread;
You’ll hear the long-drawn thunder ‘neath her leaping figure-head;
While far, so far above you, her tall poop-lanterns shine
Unvexed by wind or weather like the candles round a shrine!

Hull down – hull down and under – she dwindles to a speck,
With noise of pleasant music and dancing on her deck.
All’s well – all’s well aboard her – she’s left you far behind,
With a scent of old-world roses through the fog that ties you blind.

Her crews are babes or madmen? Her port is all to make?  
You’re manned by Truth and Science, and you steam for steaming’s sake?
Well, tinker up your engines – you know your business best –
She’s taking tired people to the Islands of the Blest!




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