This week's theme - immortal narrative poems
(Poem #1124) The Green Eye of the Yellow God
There's a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu, There's a little marble cross below the town; There's a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew, And the Yellow God forever gazes down. He was known as "Mad Carew" by the subs at Khatmandu, He was hotter than they felt inclined to tell; But for all his foolish pranks, he was worshipped in the ranks, And the Colonel's daughter smiled on him as well. He had loved her all along, with a passion of the strong, The fact that she loved him was plain to all. She was nearly twenty-one and arrangements had begun To celebrate her birthday with a ball. He wrote to ask what present she would like from Mad Carew; They met next day as he dismissed a squad; And jestingly she told him then that nothing else would do But the green eye of the little Yellow God. On the night before the dance, Mad Carew seemed in a trance, And they chaffed him as they puffed at their cigars; But for once he failed to smile, and he sat alone awhile, Then went out into the night beneath the stars. He returned before the dawn, with his shirt and tunic torn, And a gash across his temple dripping red; He was patched up right away, and he slept through all the day, And the Colonel's daughter watched beside his bed. He woke at last and asked if they could send his tunic through; She brought it, and he thanked her with a nod; He bade her search the pocket saying, "That's from Mad Carew," And she found the little green eye of the god. She upbraided poor Carew in the way that women do, Though both her eyes were strangely hot and wet; But she wouldn't take the stone and Mad Carew was left alone With the jewel that he'd chanced his life to get. When the ball was at its height, on that still and tropic night, She thought of him and hastened to his room; As she crossed the barrack square she could hear the dreamy air Of a waltz tune softly stealing thro' the gloom. His door was open wide, with silver moonlight shining through; The place was wet and slipp'ry where she trod; An ugly knife lay buried in the heart of Mad Carew, 'Twas the "Vengeance of the Little Yellow God." There's a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu There's a little marble cross below the town; There's a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew, And the Yellow God forever gazes down.
(1911, music by Cuthbert Clarke) This is one of those vivid, exaggerated poems that some critics would dismiss as 'lowbrow', but which enjoy a tremendous popularity for all of that. There is a certain combination of elements that indefinably but unmistakably lends a narrative poem the stamp of immortality - Kipling's 'Gunga Din' had it, as did Service's 'Dan McGrew', and so, in full measure does today's poem. It's hard to pin down just what sets it apart from so many other poems. A sine qua non is, of course, a good story to tell, and almost as essentially, a larger-than-life protagonist to tell it about. A strong rhythm and good rhymes are likewise a must - anything that breaks the flow of the poem will at best distract and at worst jar upon the reader. And finally, there should be something extravagant about the imagery - this is no place for delicate subtlety. This extravagance should hold, too, for the plot - the reader expects larger-than-life situations to accompany the larger-than-life characters, and they go a long way towards making the poem memorable. It is unsurprising that so many of these poems seem to be set along frontiers, pooling in the constant clash and swirl of wilderness and civilisation. It is precisely there that a romance-starved populace looks for its unfettered heroes, and writers are seldom slow to provide them. Sadly, with popular taste turning away from poetry recitation as a form of entertainment, poems like today's may well become an endangered species - Shakespeare and Keats may live on in a hundred thousand classrooms, but syllabi seldom stress poetry for sheer pleasure. This week's I'll round up a few of them that haven't been run yet - suggestions and guest poems are as always welcome.  yes, I know I said 'immortal', but... Links: Brief biography of Hayes: [broken link] http://www.public.iastate.edu/~jdbrus/Hayes.html The fine art of poetry recitation: [broken link] http://www.abc.net.au/rn/arts/ling/stories/s643715.htm Tangential but intriguing: [broken link] http://andsom.tripod.com/retrogaming/articles/retrogaming_articles_gods_eye.htm There are touches of Barbara Allen [Poem #548] and The Glove and the Lions [Poem #275] in the story There are several parodies floating about, but they all commit the cardinal sin of bad scansion; I have therefore linked to none of them. martin