Song of the Red War-Boat, by Rudyard Kipling, 1910, Music by Erich Schraer, 1983
  1. Shove off from the wharf-edge! Steady!
    Watch for a smooth! Give Way!
    If she feels the lop already
    She'll stand on her head in the bay.
    It's ebb—it's dusk—it's blowing—
    The shoals are a mile of white,
    But (snatch her along!) we're going
    To find our master to-night.

          For we hold that in all disaster
          Of shipwreck, storm, or sword,
          A Man must stand by his Master
          When once he has pledged his word.

  2. Raging seas have we rowed in
    But we seldom saw them thus,
    Our master is angry with Odin—
    Odin is angry with us!
    Heavy odds have we taken,
    But never before such odds.
    The Gods know they are forsaken.
    We must risk the wrath of the Gods!

  3. Over the crest she flies from,
    Into its hollow she drops,
    Cringes and clears her eyes from
    The wind-torn breaker tops,
    Ere out on the shrieking shoulder
    Of a hill-high surge she drives.
    Meet her! Meet her and hold her!
    Pull for your scoundrel lives!

  4. The thunders bellow and clamour
    The harm that they mean to do!
    There goes Thor's own Hammer
    Cracking the dark in two!
    Close! But the blow has missed her,
    Here comes the wind of the blow!
    Row or the squall'll twist her
    Broadside on to it!—Row!

  5. Heark'ee, Thor of the Thunder!
    We are not here for a jest—
    For wager, warfare, or plunder,
    Or to put your power to test.
    This work is none of our wishing—
    We would house at home if we might—
    But our master is wrecked out fishing.
    We go to find him to-night.

          For we hold that in all disaster—
          As the Gods Themselves have said—
          A Man must stand by his Master
          Till one of the two is dead.

  6. That is our way of thinking,
    Now you can do as you will,
    While we try to save her from sinking
    And hold her head to it still.
    Bale her and keep her moving,
    Or she'll break her back in the trough...
    Who said the weather's improving,
    Or the swell's are taking off?

  7. Sodden and chafed and aching,
    Gone in the loins and knees—
    No matter—the day is breaking,
    And there's far less weight to the seas!
    Up mast, and finish baling
    In oars, and out with the mead—
    The rest will be two-reef sailing...
    That was a night indeed!

          But we hold that in all disaster
          (And faith, we have found it true!)
          If only you stand by your Master,
          The Gods will stand by you!

This Rudyard Kipling poem was originally published in Rewards and Fairies in 1910. When I wrote the music in late 1983, I was unaware of other versions, but have since heard settings by Peter Bellamy and by Leslie Fish. Originally I repeated the first chorus between verses 3 and 4, but now I usually skip it.

The music shown here is in the key in which I sing it. Note that I capo my guitar at the third fret and play in A Minor.

Music copyright © 2004 Erich Schraer