(Poem #261) Recompense
I have not heard lutes beckon me, nor the brazen bugles call, But once in the dim of a haunted lea I heard the silence fall. I have not heard the regal drum, nor seen the flags unfurled, But I have watched the dragons come, fire-eyed, across the world. I have not seen the horsemen fall before the hurtling host, But I have paced a silent hall where each step waked a ghost. I have not kissed the tiger-feet of a strange-eyed golden god, But I have walked a city's street where no man else had trod. I have not raised the canopies that shelter revelling kings, But I have fled from crimson eyes and black unearthly wings. I have not knelt outside the door to kiss a pallid queen, But I have seen a ghostly shore that no man else has seen. I have not seen the standards sweep from keep and castle wall, But I have seen a woman leap from a dragon's crimson stall, And I have heard strange surges boom that no man heard before, And seen a strange black city loom on a mystic night-black shore. And I have felt the sudden blow of a nameless wind's cold breath, And watched the grisly pilgrims go that walk the roads of Death, And I have seen black valleys gape, abysses in the gloom, And I have fought the deathless Ape that guards the Doors of Doom. I have not seen the face of Pan, nor mocked the Dryad's haste, But I have trailed a dark-eyed Man across a windy waste. I have not died as men may die, nor sin as men have sinned, But I have reached a misty sky upon a granite wind.
For those of you who have never heard of Robert E Howard, he was to swords-and-sorcery what Tolkien was to high fantasy. His Conan books practically defined the genre for later authors; he stands along with Tolkien as one of the founders of modern fantasy. Unlike Tolkien, he did not intersperse his novels and stories with poetry; nonetheless many of his poems clearly inhabit the same general fantasy universe that his fiction does. Today's, for instance, deals with the age-old theme of a barbarian commenting on civilized life; there is, of course, little doubt as to where Howard's own sympathies lie. As for the poem itself; as befits a barbarian's outpourings, it is more energetic than polished; a somewhat disconnected sequence of highly vivid images expressed in strong, masculine couplets. The imagery is, of course, instantly familiar to anyone who has read any sword-and-sorcery fantasy; while it does at times appear cliched I have to wonder how much of that was due to Howard's influence on the field.  masculine rhymes are those that rhyme on the final syllable only. Then again, long exposure to fantasy has meant that even the triter phrases are laden with associations, and thus evocative when set against the backdrop of the genre. Which is only appropriate, given how heavily the genre was influenced by Howard - it has in a sense helped lend his own works a certain measure of timelessness. I do have a few complaints against the poem - the occasional break in scansion, a few words I wish he'd avoided, and especially the abruptness of the ending - but they're far outweighed by the sheer cornucopia of strange and wondrous images. m. Biography: The Britannica, oddly enough, doesn't deign to list either Howard or Conan. There is also (somewhat ironically) a lot more on the net about Conan than about Howard; still, I did manage to find the following biography: http://www.spe.sony.com/classics/www/misc/about.html Here's an excerpt, but do follow up te link, if only for the Howard quote at the beginning: Robert Ervin Howard was born in Peaster, Texas in 1906. The son of one of the southwest's most prominent pioneer physicians, Howard's youth coincided with the last days of Americas frontier culture, a fact that would forever influence him and his stories. Very early on, Howard steeped himself in the folklore and history of the southwest, the Rio Grande valley. He became fascinated with the legendary virility and strength of the pioneers and delighted in the innate poetry found in the exploration of virgin land. At the age of 15, he began writing his yarns, tales of savage men living outside the rest of society, battling against other men, for land and pride. Though the circumstances and settings changed, the hero, or anti-hero, was always somehow a shade of the same creature--part savage, part nobleman, part poet, part pioneer--not unlike Howard himself. Always described as an imposingly tall, dark, brawny man with piercing blue eyes, Howard's characters were as much himself as they were pulled from his extraordinary imagination. Howard's mentor and friend, the legendary father of pulp fiction H.P. Lovecraft, described him as "a lover of the simpler, older world of barbarian and pioneer days, when courage and strength took the place of subtlety and stratagem, and when a hardy, fearless race battled and bled...the real secret [of Howards stories] is that he himself is in every one of them..." Links: [broken link] http://pages.ripco.net/~bbb/howard.html is a pretty comprehensive Howard site. http://collins.wssnet.com/gentzel/reh/index.html is worth a look, too Howard fandom is alive and well - see [broken link] http://www.robjob.com/rehupa/samples.html and the web ring at [broken link] http://markbutler.8m.com/conanwebring.htm