The Strength Within

A tribute to Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr. Mike Stroud who, in 1993, became the first men to cross the continent of Antarctica unsupported. The crossing took 93 days.

They stood like ants upon a drum, the whiteness so intense;
The task before them magnified the grandeur so immense.
The Otter disappeared from view, its engines droned away
And left them washed in silent light to walk in endless day.

It held a strange enchantment, this hushed and freezing land
Where ice and snow and wind and death lay waiting hand in hand.
Where silence echoes through the mind, its muffling veil pervading
With only footprints left behind, the virgin snow invading.

And so with those first steps began an epic of manhauling
The task in front of Ran and Mike would prove to be appalling.
Yet doggedly and undeterred they trudged the frozen plain
Determined they would keep their word despite a world of pain.

The wind it howled and shrieked its curse in Katabatic rage
And blinding snow without remorse would fly at any stage.
Yet on and on and onward still they trudgingly progressed,
The mind would conquer matter as it cried out for a rest.

The cold grew ever more severe and evil was its mood;
They knew they could well perish here for lack of warmth and food;
The long exertion wore them down, their fleshly strength receded;
The danger signs were etched in blood—with painful treatment needed.

In this cruel world of searing white, defying explanation,
They took man’s courage to a height beyond all expectation.
It was a mission of a kind to lead men to the grave,
A trial of the heart and mind fit only for the brave.

The frostbite came with cruel intent, the numbing cold grew deeper
There was no shelter but their tent to keep them from the reaper.
Though icy needles lanced their skin and wounds were gross and sore,
They somehow found the strength within like none had done before.

At last to journey’s end did come two ice men worn and frozen.
“They’re more dead than alive!” they said, “Their timing’s wisely chosen!”
And so they beat Antarctica with naught but their own worth
And won the right to own the name… The Toughest Men on Earth.

©2017 Rod Walford



Rod Walford is an Englishman living in Auckland, New Zealand and has been writing poetry for some 25 years. He is a semi-retired diesel fuel injection engineer. He has self-published several books of rhyming poetry including “Timeless,” “Real Poetry for Real Women (written by a man),” and “One Hour before the Dawn.” Access his website here:

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6 Responses

  1. Joe Tessitore

    Excellent poetry; excellent story-telling.
    Well done, Mr. Walford.

  2. Margaret Coats

    This shows careful technique in shifting focus from the men to the land and back, again and again, such that you manage to cover uncounted days in a poem that’s relatively brief for the true length of the story. Excellent word choices suited to the task and the strength that accomplished it.

  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Rod, this is a wonderful poetic tribute to “The Toughest Men on Earth”. You give some chilling depictions of Mother Nature at her harshest, my favourite being; “The wind it howled and shrieked its curse in Katabatic rage”. I remember watching footage of Antarctica on TV and shuddering at the sound of that savage wind. I agree with Margaret, you have accomplished much within the short confines of this poem and taken this reader on a fearsome yet exhilarating journey through poetry (the only way I’m ever likely to contemplate crossing the Antarctic).

  4. Rod Walford

    Thank you Margaret, Susan and Joe for your kind appraisals – much appreciated as always.
    I sent this poem to Sir Ranulph shortly after I had written it and was delighted to receive a personal reply expressing his great appreciation and adding that he was going to forward it to Dr Stroud.
    I should mention perhaps that Sir Ranulph is a very accomplished author himself and, having read all of his books, is one of my great heroes.
    Personally, I am rather like yourself Susan in that I am an armchair Polar Explorer and whilst having read just about every book there is on the subject I have no desire to visit the area in person!

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      Rod, it’s wonderful to hear that your poem was joyfully and appreciatively received by Sir Ranulph – what an accomplishment! It’s one thing to write a great poem for your hero, another to have him read it, enjoy it, and forward it to the fellow Toughest Man on Earth. Bravo Rod! Bravo!

  5. Monty

    Well played, Rod. It’s rather fitting to see such a monumental human achievement poetically documented; and pleasing to learn that the two “toughies” are in possession of your documentation. I’m sure after reading your piece they both felt (as I did) that your obvious knowledge of the subject enabled you to fully empathise with the magnitude of their achievement (as can be seen by your vivid use of imagery).

    I must also remark upon your imaginative metaphor in the opening line: “ants on a drum” . . and what a pair of ants they were! And what a drum!


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