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Arithmetic on the Frontier

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Arithmetic on the Frontier  (1886) 
by Rudyard Kipling
Arithmetic on the Frontier was first published in Departmental Ditties and Other Verses in 1886. The poem was written about the Second Anglo-Afghan war, describing the conflict between highly-educated British soldiers and poor tribesmen.[1]


A great and glorious thing it is
       To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
       Ere reckoned fit to face the foe—
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass."

Three hundred pounds per annum spent
       On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
       Comprised in "villanous saltpetre!"
And after—ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station—
       A canter down some dark defile—
Two thousand pounds of education
       Drops to a ten-rupee jezail
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

No proposition Euclid wrote,
       No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
       Or ward the tulwar's downward blow
Strike hard who cares—shoot straight who can—
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One sword-knot stolen from the camp
       Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
       Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
       The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
       To slay Afridis where they run.
The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap—alas! as we are dear.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1936, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 75 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.