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Romance -- W J Turner

The title says it all...
(Poem #238) Romance
When I was but thirteen or so
I went into a golden land,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Took me by the hand.

My father died, my brother too,
They passed like fleeting dreams,
I stood where Popocatapetl
In the sunlight gleams.

I dimly heard the master's voice
And boys far-off at play, ---
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Had stolen me away.

I walked in a great golden dream
To and fro from school ---
Shining Popocatapetl
The dusty streets did rule.

I walked home with a gold dark boy
And never a word I'd say,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Had taken my speech away.

I gazed entranced upon his face
Fairer than any flower ---
O shining Popocatapetl
It was thy magic hour:

The houses, people, traffic seemed
Thin fading dreams by day;
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi,
They had stolen my soul away!
-- W J Turner
An unabashedly romantic poem (don't say you weren't warned!), and not a very
good one - the imagery is uninspired, the prosody unremarkable, the theme
ordinary. And yet... for some reason (no doubt measureless to man) it's one of
those poems which stick in the memory. I remember reading it when I was very
young; I rediscovered it last year, and the magic still remains.

The key ingredient of the spell is, of course, the evocativeness [1] of the
place names. The poem is carried by the effect of the simple yet beautiful
refrain - 'Chimborazo, Cotopaxi'. (and the equally nice counterpoint
'Popocatapetl'). And indeed, place names in general do tend to conjure up
wonderful images - think of Samarkand and Byzantium, Troy and Carthage, Timbuktu
and Tokyo, the Khyber Pass and the Oregon Trail, the Silk Road and the Sahara...
Turner was merely the first poet to make explicit use of this particular form of
magic in such a direct fashion.


[1] There it is, that word again. If I had a penny for every time I've used it
on the Minstrels...


A similar poem is Joyce Kilmer's 'Trees' - nothing remarkable, but it sticks in
your mind. You can read it at poem #146

99 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

LesGdd said...

I disagree. I think there is far more to this poem than exotic place names.
True, it is not the deeepest poem ever written but I think its power and
memorability is in its simplicity. It is warm and evocative and like the
volcanos mentioned posseses a deep, smoldering, hidden power. That is why it
sticks in the mind.

Ru Freeman said...

I feel the same way. It isn't the greatest poem on earth, but there is more to this than the mere repition of place names. A sense of wonder and otherworldliness and a childlike hypnotism associated with the references to family and to the volcanoes. I learned this poem as a small child and it has never left me, even though I remembered only whisps and fragmants. So much so that I call my new baby Chimborazo! and my older daughter has a Popercaterpetl and a my younger, a Cotapaxi among their menagerie of stuffed animals!

Neil Coward said...

And old fella I know, who is just over 70 years old and not at all into the internet quoted a line from this poem. He had learnt it at school and wanted to find the poem.
(This is getting like the J. R. Hatley yellow pages ads..)
Thanks to your site I managed to track the poem down quite easily with a search on 'Chimborazo Cotopaxi' so many thanks!.

As to the poem itself, well it makes your arm hurt if you try and write it down quickly....

Stuart Coulter said...

I have just found an old exercise book from my school days in 1970 with this much loved poem in it but unfortunately eaten by bugs and mice! I could JUST make out some of the lines and vaguely remembered a few but only had to type in "Cotopaxi poem" to find it again on your site-many thanks.I have always adored it and as others have said just adored the romantic place names and childish images of handsome boys!! I see you have many other poems on your page and will have a good look at the Tennyson ones in particular as he is an ancestor of mine-something like my great great Grandfather was his brother Frederick-always have to look at the family tree to get the number of greats right!Any other Tennysons out there?My mother was Phyllis Tennyson before she married.thank you for supplying such a great site.

Stuart Coulter said...

I would like to add to our comments on the above E mail.For some reason my son's E mail address defaulted onto MY message;I would like to point out that I am female! Alison Coulter-no doubt the same will happen again!

MHalferty said...

When I was 18 I worked giving measles vaccinations in Guanujo, a tiny
village on the shoulder of Chimborazo. As I hiked the foothills each day
the verses of this poem resonated in my mind. My experience was that
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi had stolen me away. As a result of this experience I
have become an avid mountain climber and am planning to return to Ecuador
next year to summit both Mt Chimborazo and Mt. Cotopaxi. I believe the
magic and the unforgettable quality of this poem is a reflection of the
power and majesty of these peaks.

Forester Andy said...

I've wandered in the shadow of all three of these volcanoes wishing I could
remember that poem ... Before Eastern Airlines failed, one of their flights
out of Lima flew took me over the craters of both Chimborazo and Cotapaxi,
clearing them by only 7000 feet--a stunning sight and the only decent thing
I can remember about this awful airline. My camera jammed-up wouldn't ya
know it?

A word of caution: most people pronounce the Mexican volcano as a string of
three, double syllables whereas it is really two words of three syallables.
The name translates from the Nahautl as Smoking Mountain "Popoca" [=smoking]
and "Tepetl" [=mountain] so it's
"Pop-oca-tep-etl" not, as most people say, "Popa-Cata-Petal". Consider the
Aztec deity Chimalpopoca [= Smoking Mirror] which is similarly pronounded
"Chimal - popoca"...

Finally, in my anthology the volcano is mispelled as Popocatapetl [i.e.,
with an "a" rather than an "e"] which makes me think that Turner also
incorrectly pronounced the name. No Mexican would ever say "Popa-Cata-Petal"

Andrew Forester

deaneille dean said...

Hi there,

It is so amazing that I have a similar story to those who commented on
this poem. I did this in secondary school in Trinidad and Tobago, and
presently I'm in college in the US; I studied literature for both O's
and A levels, but I had read 'Romance' when I was about 12 and I only
remembered a few phrases.

Anyway, I resurrected it because for my college lit class, I need to
present a poem, and I passed over Elliot , Shakespeare and Hughes for
this one. What is the appeal? I believe it's the imagery, simple
phrasing and rhyme along with juxtaposing of these exotic mountains with
everyday life, with the mystiscm of them transcending the ordinary.

A poem doesn't have to be complex, and written in the 19th cen to be
good. When it appeals to our simple emotions, that's even better.


William Illing said...

I too remember this from school. A unforgettable resonation in my the mind. A beautiful mystic of far off places. But I wonder about its implied sexuality. There are the words that imply that the romance is not for the dusty streets, but for the gold dark boy. Substitute golden dark girl and you may appreciate my meaning. That said, and please don't confuse me with someone who is homophobic, it does not detract from the beauty of the poem

Roy Illing

Ed said...

W.J Turner, the poet, though born in Australia, was much better known later
on as a music critic in London and wrote a well-known essay on Mozart (His
opinions in this seem rather strange to me.) and two other books: one on
English music and the other on Hector Berlioz which is probably his best


Jane Brunton said...

My former mother-in-law quoted this poem to me when I met my own "gold dark boy", my second husband, who is from Ecuador. We subsequently went to live there for ten years and I saw Chimborazo and Cotopaxi regularly, from trains, buses and planes.

Mysterious Chimborazo is often cloud covered and one counts oneself lucky when she reveals herself to you for a moment or two.

I wonder why Turner mixed in the image of Mexico's Popocatapetl? Maybe he just liked the sound of it.
I agree with those who say it is the imagery of these far away places and interesting names that seem to haunt the mind.

Glad I found the poem. Great site.


Orbra Bliss said...

It is incredible, reading these comments, that so many have had the same experience as I. I could relate to almost all of them, except perhaps the comment by that kid named Neil Coward and his comment about the "old fella" who was over 70 and not into the Internet. That's really sad. I couldn't really relate to that. ;o) (I say this with a smile, as I know his perspective will change eventually.)

In 1943, when I was in third grade, the teacher would read poetry to us during our, so called, rest period. She read them with much expression and I enjoyed listening, but most were soon forgotten. All except for a phrase from one of the poems which got stuck in my brain. For years afterward, the whispered phrase "Chimborazo Cotopaxi" would pop out and start running around in my head. I didn't know the name of the poem, nor much else about it. I knew those were the names of two mountains in South America, but otherwise didn't give it much significance. After schooling was finished, I went to live and work in Africa for a number of years. But, then came the day, 37 years after those third grade rest periods, when I was on a plane arriving in Quito, Ecuador. Over the western ridge and heading up the valley toward the Quito airport and right off to the side, for the first time, I saw the Cotopaxi that might steal my heart away. For the next six years, Cotopaxi, with her "eyebrow", was an almost daily sight, except when veiled with clouds. Frequent trips south, over the paramo on a clear day, gave a majestic view of Chimborazo, with her three lomas glistening in the sun. Yes, you can leave them, but they never leave you. I now have the images to go with the phrase I heard so long ago and I am sure they will never go away.

Five years ago, I was again able to return to Ecuador for six months. This time to Pifo, on the eastern side of the valley. The window of the dining room framed a view of Cotopaxi. Almost every morning, I ate my breakfast as I watched the sun come over the eastern ridge and start illuminating her snowcap in an orange pink light, often against a deep blue sky. Cotopaxi changes from day to day and month to month. Sometimes she wears a bonnet of clouds, sometimes it's just a wreath or maybe a scarf of clouds trailing out in the wind. At one time, I had pictures of that scene posted on a website. It's gone now, but when I can get some time, I want to get another one set up. I would recommend to anyone that, if at all possible, they travel to see Chimborazo, Cotopaxi and all their many beautiful siblings. Ecuadorians are very gracious people and it is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Orbra Bliss

Carolyn Bunch said...

Thank you

Carolyn Bunch said...

Many thanks for helping me track down this poem.
Through the years I have been giving Wallace Stevens
credit for it in my mind. Clearly, it doesn't sound like
him, but that's the way it was embedded.
True, this poem is not profound - but to me it embodies
the particular detachment of a creative person who
contructs a world of his/her own. There is a self-isolating
and comforting beauty in such a world. Not too socially
praiseworthy perhaps, but very satisfying.
You have given me new destination. Ecuador it is.
Carolyn Bunch

A&H Urquhart said...

Just two hours ago I returned from Mexico City from where I took a
taxi to Popocatapetl. The name had been with me since the early
1950's when I read Turner's poem though I did not recall the poet's
name. I checked the old-fashioned way in The Oxford Dictionary of
Quotations and found the first four lines only with no reference to
"El Popo" as it is called in Mexico.

The mountain is spectacular and is flanked by another volcano called
"Itzaccihuatl". I would not have made the two hour journey but for
the poem and I add my thanks to those previously registered.


Fredadneale said...

I read this poem at grammar school in the 1930s and the imagery has stayed
with me. But as nobody explained it to us, for many years I took it literally,
and thought the orphaned boy really had been taken to these places. Nor were
we told where the volcanoes are and, as geography was not my strong point, I
had no idea they were in two separate countries.

ESSIE297 said...

True it is not the greatest poem ever written so why has it stuck in my mind
for nearly 30 yrs?I was taught this poem by a teacher who was also clearly
smitten with it.At six years old I didn't have the foggiest idea what she was
talking about but I still remember every line.Surely this in itself makes it
a great poem

Allan Peter said...

During WWII, when "I was but thirteen or so" I was sent out of England where there food rationing, and went to Canada, "A golden land", where there was ice cream of every flavor imaginable. Years later I got to Australia, and found out Turner was Australian. Romance was my favorite until I read his The Hunter (Yucatan). Worth a search. APWB.

Allan Peter said...

I've just read some of the other comments. As Longfellow said in his "The Day is Done" --- "Read from some humbler poet, whose songs gushed from his heart". He also said to read poetry out loud, --- "... lend to the rhyme of the poet the beauty of thy voice". I would say good advice for any poem that has lots of exotic names (eg. Ozymandias, Xanadu and Kubla Khan, to name a few that come immediately to mind). APWB

Anonymous said...


Chris Harvey said...

There's a common thread in all these posts: the sense of wonder evoked by those three evocative names - and particularly the first two juxtaposed - which has lived in the minds of so many people who heard the poem as children decades ago. This in itself is a measure of the success of the poem. I too had a fractured memory of the poem and had to search for it and the name of the author last year, and it had inspired me travel abroad extensively. I spent several months in South America in the seventies and was entranced by the mountains, history and cultures of the Andes, but I have yet to see the three volcanoes.

Anonymous said...

Always loved this poem. I first heard it about 1956. I found it recited on YouTube by one who might be the author just a few minutes ago.

Anonymous said...

My sixth-grade teacher (1968) posessed a romantic attachment to all things South American. She instilled in me an unrepentant Wanderlust - not least through her recitation of this poem. Reading it now, for the first time, 43 years later, conjures that sixth-grade year with laser focus. I resolve to go to Quito to see those mountains for myself - and soon.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this poem. Always thought it was by John Masefield. Like everyone else who has written in I learned it 60 years ago or so with the same results.I loved reading all the comments. Many thanks

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Anonymous said...

I read this poem as a very young girl and it's never left me. I dont't really know why but when I go back to it again it still moves me - maybe taking me back to my youth - who knows??
It's pretty magical - and simple.

Anonymous said...

I have just returned from a visit to Ecuador purely occasioned from remembering this poem read as a child over 70 years ago. Delighted to report that Chimborazo and Cotopaxi fully justified the glorious images created by this romantic and unforgettable poem. Go!
Eileen R.

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Anonymous said...

I read this poem at school when I was about almost eighty. The wonder, enchantment and mystery I felt then never left me but I could only remember the first few lines so thank you for posting the whole poem.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. My husband is from Cotopaxi province, and I am in the process of organising a trip to bring our three children to see the family next year. Having lived in Ambato when Tungurahua volcano started spewing fire and ash in 1999, I would caution against a fully romantic view of these gigantic beasts. They are beautiful though, and reading this poem brings me back to the first time I went to Ecuador in 1995, and my (now) husband and I used to visit the white washed towns and walk the cobbled streets. No wonder I fell head over heels in love.

William Knapp said...

I learned this poem when I was in the 4th grade

by Edgar A. Guest

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,
You've all that the greatest of men have had,
Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes
And a brain to use if you would be wise.
With this equipment they all began,
So start for the top and say, "I can."

Look them over, the wise and great
They take their food from a common plate,
And similar knives and forks they use,
With similar laces they tie their shoes.
The world considers them brave and smart,
But you've all they had when they made their start.

You can triumph and come to skill,
You can be great if you only will.
You're well equipped for what fight you choose,
You have legs and arms and a brain to use,
And the man who has risen great deeds to do
Began his life with no more than you.

You are the handicap you must face,
You are the one who must choose your place,
You must say where you want to go,
How much you will study the truth to know.
God has equipped you for life, but He
Lets you decide what you want to be.

Courage must come from the soul within,
The man must furnish the will to win.
So figure it out for yourself, my lad.
You were born with all that the great have had,
With your equipment they all began,
Get hold of yourself and say: "I can."

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Anonymous said...

'Romance' is indeed a most memorable poem. Popocatepetl is erupting as I write, and hearing of it immediately reminded me of the poem, even though I'd not heard it for more than forty years. I can picture this romantically-inclined thirteen-year-old schoolboy mulling the exotic names of these wonderful mountains over and over in his mind, oblivious to what is going on around him, and attaching to them romantic thoughts of travel and people which he associated with them through some hazy knowledge of geography. I'm like that too.

Robert Louis (pronounced Lewis) Stephenson produced a similarly romantic poem in a completely different style, of which I'm also very fond - I hope you like it too:-

Escape at Bedtime

The lights from the parlour and kitchen shone out
Through the blinds and the windows and bars;
And high overhead and all moving about,
There were thousands of millions of stars.
There ne'er were such thousands of leaves on a tree,
Nor of people in church or the Park,
As the crowds of the stars that looked down upon me,
And that glittered and winked in the dark.
The Dog, and the Plough, and the Hunter, and all,
And the star of the sailor, and Mars,
These shown in the sky, and the pail by the wall
Would be half full of water and stars.
They saw me at last, and they chased me with cries,
And they soon had me packed into bed;
But the glory kept shining and bright in my eyes,
And the stars going round in my head.

Anonymous said...

Apologies - 'Stevenson'

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Anonymous said...

Who are you to say not a very good poem?! A poem that is still widely read and appreciated so long after it was written can't be that bad! And I think you ignore the lyricism of the poem. The verses are musical, meant to be sang ans there are indeed many settings to music of this poem. Check out Jonathan Dove's setting in the oratorio There Was a Child
Jon Kempsey

Anonymous said...

I dimly recall a very similar poem where the writer is day dreaming of exotic places and at the end of the poem is suddenly brought back to his office desk and the hot, busy and noisy streets of his real life - can anyone else recall this poem?

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Anonymous said...

Romance was one of my mother's favorite poems (I never asked her why) and she used to read it to me when I was a child. I have always loved it without knowing why. Two,years ago I went to Ecuador and under strange circumstances met my own gold dark boy
and began a wonderful but doomed romance of sorts I have since travelled the Avenue of Volcanos and seen Chimborazo and Cotopaxi. Two days ago I finally saw Popocatepetl when flying into Mexico City. The combination of the poem, my mother's love of it, and a very modern romance have become so important to me. Why? Who knows? Fate? This story spans more than sixty years.

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Benjamin Howell said...

I recall reading this poem when I was around eight. The only part that stuck in my mind is "Chimborazo, Cotopaxi took me by the hand". But stuck in my mind it did. Something about Chimborazo and Cotopaxi that I could not forget at all and I thought were peoples name/s. Every time I remember the poem it gives me such a nostalgic feeling.

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Kyrie Irving’s Nike Kyrie 2 The Academy is a Kyrie 1 special edition colorway that’s part of the Nike Basketball The Academy Collection.Joining the Kobe 11, KD 9 and LeBron Soldier 10, the Nike Kyrie 2 KD 6 comes dressed in a similar color scheme as the rest. The shoe features an all-White upper with The Academy colorful print covering the mid-foot strap, Curry 2 along with Black detailing and an icy outsole.Take a first look at the Nike Kyrie 2 “The Academy” below and let us know what you LeBron zoom soldier 9 guys think in the comments section.Stay tuned to Sneaker Bar for more release updates on the entire Nike Basketball The Academy Collection as it develops.UPDATE: kobe bryant shoes For those looking to add the “Academy” Nike Kyrie 2s to their collection, here’s your chance. The shoes are currently being sold here.
The Nike Cheap KD Shoes KD 9 launch has been a success thus far, with several colorways like the lead “Zero” and recent “USA Gold” hitting their marks with ease. LeBron 12 Things will only head up once Durant laces them up in his new Oracle Arena home, and as the 2016-2017 NBA season nears its start, LeBron 13 Nike will release more colorways of this $150 signature shoe. On October 4th, a “Triple Black” as well as an “On Court” style will Kobe high tops be available – the latter likely being a mix of white, yellow, and royal blue to fit his new uniforms. On November 11th, a GS-only LeBron soldier 9 colorway will be available alongside the Kyrie 2, LeBron 14, and Kobe 11. Photos haven’t surfaced yet, but jot these down on your sneaker release Kyrie 3

Unknown said...

This is not a very common poem, which you may see everyday or every year. Definitely not. It's a masterpiece, furnished by Turner who captivates the reader; wherever he may come from, and slightly touches ones romantic fibers, in no way depicted unintentionally. This piece, I first glanced in my Primary schools years 1956 in St. Josephs Roman Catholic School in Trinidad &Tobago by the Principal MR. Thomasso. Very fond meories.Winston Rochard.

Anonymous said...

You are so right. I read this poem when I was about 9 years old and could never seem to get it out of my head this many years later ( having gone beyond school and raising a family.) The exotic names of places mentioned certainly evoke a feeling of wanting to be in those places. Very cativating.

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