Post by RMichaelPyle on May 15, 2018 13:10:50 GMT -4
I've been dipping into many different epic poems recently, and this morning discovered one which is magnificent and another that is so turgid and utterly bombastically awful I can't believe it was ever printed!
The really wonderful poem is by G [ilbert] K [Keith] Chesterton, best known as the author of the Father Brown series of short stories and novellae. Many of these have been turned into television shows, especially in Britain, and they've been shown on PBS for several years now. However, he wrote an epic ballad (!) on the subject of King Alfred the Great called The Ballad of the White Horse, a poem of nearly 2,700 lines. The title refers to a particular genuine spot in England that is an archaeological wonder, though in reality probably had nothing to do with King Alfred. Still, the poem has always had admirers, and some claim it to be the last really great English epic. It was published first in 1911. (That surmise of greatness has been given to several other pieces of writing...) A rather easy read, this one can be read within a couple of hours with some persistence, unlike most epics!
The other poem is an American epic about Daniel Boone. The complete title is The Mountain Muse, Comprising the Adventures of Daniel Boone. It's based on John Filson's earlier book about Boone. Filson was a famous early Kentuckian who disappeared in 1788 during an American Indian attack and was never heard from again. His book had an early fame and continues to be read even today. It was an appendix to an early history of Kentucky, also by Filson. The poem, based on his book, is by Daniel Bryan. I tried to read the first 300 lines. It's so bad I couldn't get any farther, and so far nothing is about Daniel Boone. Basically, so far it's only about the founding of the universe! A few lines of example:
...From cloud to cloud, in blazing torrents stream The awaken'd fires electric: flashing flames In forky grandeur, in ethereal light, Projected peaks of rolling vapour crown; And all the nubilous involutions paint With intermitting Lightning's vivid tints: While glancing scintillations spangle thick With dancing luster all the clouded gloom; And angry Meteors, flaming as they fly, etc., etc.,... Book I, lines 241-249
Anyway, there are 5,500 lines of this 1813 unmasterpiece...
Anyway, too...this is what I've been dipping into...
Post by RMichaelPyle on May 17, 2018 14:49:52 GMT -4
Dipped into Tecumseh; or the West Thirty Years Since by George Hooker Colton. Colton was a noted - and youthful - New Yorker whose writings in their day were appreciated widely, but he was especially noted for founding "The American Review", a Whig magazine that had a great run for six years, but was unfortunately interrupted in the close of 1847 by Colton's death by Typhus. He was merely 29 years old!
The poem has a curious beauty about it. It's well done, but far, far too long. It runs to 9,400 lines, and it's because of this that it's no longer read on any regular basis. I found some very interesting reviews of it from contemporaneous writers. One by Edgar Allan Poe and another by Ralph Waldo Emerson will suffice. I agree with both. I must say that, upon some miscellaneous scrutiny, I found some lyric passages and some narrative passages of great worth. The one thing that challenged me constantly, though, was the nearly non-stop patronizing of the American Indian and the pressing of a point that there is a supremacy in the white man in comparison. It was always subtle, but it was always there. This was 1842 (when the poem was published), and the puberty of manifest destiny for the white European was in full drive. I don't think it's ended quite yet in many quarters in our country. I won't fault Colton for it; he simply is a child of his destiny in relation to his time; but that doesn't make the presentiment of the thought correct. The poem isn't written in a light such as "The Birth of a Nation" is seen in 1915 in relation to black/white relations, but it's close enough to be offensive to those who think of nothing but political correctness. The poem is epic in scale, but should have been much, much less, perhaps a ballad as G. K. Chesterton did with King Alfred the Great in The Ballad of the White Horse.
Here are the two reviews:
This is Edgar Allan Poe's feeling when the poem had been published and read for a couple of years:
"Mr. Colton is noted as the author of Tecumseh, and as the originator and editor of "The American Review," a Whig magazine of the higher (that is to say, of the five dollar) class. I must not be understood as meaning any disrespect to the work. It is, in my opinion, by far the best of its order in this country, and is supported in the way of contribution by many of the very noblest intellects. Mr. Colton, if in nothing else, has shown himself a man of genius in his successful establishment of the magazine within so brief a period. It is now commencing its second year, and I can say, from my own personal knowledge, that its circulation exceeds two thousand — it is probably about two thousand five hundred. So marked and immediate a success has never been attained by any of our five dollar magazines, with the exception of "The Southern Literary Messenger," which, in the course of nineteen months, (subsequent to the seventh from its commencement,) attained a circulation of rather more than five thousand.
I cannot conscientiously call Mr. Colton a good editor, although I think that he will finally be so. He improves wonderfully with experience. His present defects are timidity and a lurking taint of partiality, amounting to positive prejudice (in the vulgar sense) for the literature of the Puritans. I do not think, however, that he is at all aware of such prepossession. His taste is rather unexceptionable than positively good. He has not, perhaps, sufficient fire within himself to appreciate it in others. Nevertheless, he endeavours to do so, and in this endeavour is not inapt to take opinions at secondhand — to adopt, I mean, the opinions of others. He is nervous, and a very trifling difficulty disconcerts him, without getting the better of a sort of dogged perseverance, which will make a thoroughly successful man of him in the end. He is (classically) well educated.
As a poet he has done better things than Tecumseh, in whose length he has committed a radical and irreparable error, sufficient in itself to destroy a far better book. Some portions of it are truly poetical; very many portions belong to a high order of eloquence; it is invariably well versified, and has no glaring defects, but, upon the whole, is insufferably tedious. Some of the author's shorter compositions, published anonymously in his magazine, have afforded indications even of genius.
Mr. Colton is marked in his personal appearance. He is probably not more than thirty, but an air of constant thought (with a pair of spectacles) causes him to seem somewhat older. He is about five feet eight or nine in height, and fairly proportioned — neither stout nor thin. His forehead is quite intellectual. His mouth has a peculiar expression difficult to describe. Hair light and generally in disorder. He converses fluently and, upon the whole, well, but grandiloquently, and with a tone half tragical, half pulpital.
In character he is in the highest degree estimable, a most sincere, high-minded and altogether honorable man. He is unmarried."
Obviously, Poe was incorrect about Colton's age. Colton died several years later at 29! He published the poem when he was 23 or 24. The fact that Poe considers he has "genius" about him is unfortunate for Colton in the regard that his shorter lyrics, some of which were considered quite good, are no longer anthologized, and he is now basically forgotten in the classroom (and outside of it) as a 19th century writer of any eminence in America.
This is Ralph Waldo Emerson's review:
Tecumseh; a Poem. By George H. Colton. New York: Wiley & Putnam. This pleasing summer-day story is the work of a well read, cultivated writer, with a skillful ear, and an evident admirer of Scott and Campbell. There is a metrical sweetness and calm perception of beauty spread over the poem, which declare that the poet enjoyed his own work; and the smoothness and literary finish of the cantos seem to indicate more years than it appears our author has numbered. Yet the perusal suggested that the author had written this poem in the feeling, that the delight he has experienced from Scott's effective lists of names might be reproduced in America by the enumeration of the sweet and sonorous Indian names of our waters. The success is exactly correspondent. The verses are tuneful, but are secondary; and remind the ear so much of the model, as to show that the noble aboriginal names were not suffered to make their own measures in the poet's ear, but must modulate their wild beauty to a foreign metre. They deserved better at the author's hands. We felt, also, the objection that is apt to lie against poems on new subjects by persons versed in old books, that the costume is exaggerated at the expense of the man. The most Indian thing about the Indian is surely not his moccasins, or his calumet, his wampum, or his stone hatchet, but traits of character and sagacity, skill or passion; which would be intelligible at Paris or at Pekin, and which Scipio or Sidney, Lord Clive or Colonel Crockett would be as likely to exhibit as Osceola and Black Hawk."
EXTRACTS FROM «TECUMSEH."
TECUMSEH AND THE PROPHET.
NEVER did eye a form behold At once more finished, firm, and bold. Of larger mould and loftier mien Than oft in hall or bower is seen, And with a browner hue than seems To pale maid fair, or lights her dreams. He yet revealed a symmetry Had charmed the Grecian sculptor's eye,— A massive brow, a kindled face. Limbs chiseled to a faultless grace. Beauty and strength in every feature, While in his eyes there lived the light Of a great soul's transcendent might— Hereditary lord by nature ! As stood he there, all stern, unmoved, Except his eagle glance that roved, And darkly limned against the sky Upon that mound so lone and high. He looked the sculptured god of wars, Great Odin, or Egyptian Mars, By crafty hand, from dusky stone. Immortal wrought in ages gone, And on some silent desert cast, Memorial of the mighty Past. And yet, though firm, though proud his glance, There was upon his countenance That settled shade which, oft in life. Mounts upward from the spirit's strife, As if upon his soul there lay Some grief which would not pass away. The other's lineaments and air Revealed him plainly brother born Of him, who on that summit bare So sad, yet proudly, met the morn: But, lighter built, his slender frame Far less of grace, as strength, could claim; And, with an eye that, sharp and fierce, Would seem the gazer's breast to pierce. And lowering visage, all the while Inwrought of subtlety and guile, Whose every glance, that darkly stole, Bespoke the crafty cruel soul. There was from all his presence shed A power—a chill mysterious dread— Which made him of those beings seem That shake us in the midnight dream. Yet were his features, too, o'ercast With mournfulness, as if the past Had been one vigil, painful, deep and long Of hushed Revenge still brooding over wrong. No word was said: but long they stood. And side by side, in thoughtful mood. Watched the great curtains of the mist Up from the mighty landscape move; 'T was surely spirit-hands, they wist, Did lift them from above. And when, unveiled to them alone The solitary world was shown, And dew from all the mound's green sod Rose, like an incense, up to God, Reclined, yet silent still, they bent Their eyes on heaven's deep firmament - As if were open to their view The stars' sun-flooded homes of blue; Or gazed, with mournful sternness, o'er The rolling prairie stretched before - While round them, fluttering on the breeze, The sere leaves fell from faded trees.
THE DEATH OF TECUMSEH.
FORTH at the peal each charger sped, The hard earth shook beneath their tread; The dim woods, all around them spread, Shone with their armor's light: Yet in those stern, still lines, assailed, No eye-ball shrunk, no bosom quailed, No foot was turned for flight; But, thundering as their foe-men came, Each rifle flashed its deadly flame. A moment, then recoil and rout, With reeling horse and struggling shout, Confused that onset fair; But, rallying each dark steed once more, Like billows borne the low reefs o'er, With foamy crests in air, Right on and over them they bore, With gun and bayonet thrust before, And swift swords brandish'd bare. Then madly was the conflict waged. Then terribly red Slaughter raged! How still is yet yon dense morass The bloody sun below! Where'er yon chosen horsemen pass There stirs no bough nor blade of grass. There moves no secret foe!.. . Sudden from tree and thicket green, From trunk and mound and bushy screen, Sharp lightning flashed with instant sheen, A thousand death-bolts sung ! Like ripened fruit before the blast, Rider and horse to earth were cast Its miry roots among; Then wild—as if that earth were riven. And, pour'd beneath the cope of heaven, All hell to upper air were given— One fearful whoop was rung... Then loud the crash of arms arose. As when two forest whirlwinds close, Then filled all heaven their shout and yell, As if the forests on them fell! I see - where swells the thickest fight, With sword and hatchet brandish'd bright, And rifles flashing sulphurous light Through green leaves gleaming red— I see a plume, now near, now far, Now high, now low, like falling star Wide waving o'er the tide of war, Where'er the onslaught's led... Above the struggling storm I hear A lofty voice the war-bands cheer— Still, as they quail with doubt or fear. Yet loud and louder given— And, rallying to the clarion cry, With club and red axe raging high, And sharp knives sheathing low, Fast back again, confusedly. They drive the staggering foe., etc., etc., etc....
Post by RMichaelPyle on May 19, 2018 6:51:55 GMT -4
Dipped into Endymion by John Keats. It still astonishes me that Keats died at the age of 25! His mature imagination in poetry is beyond belief. Certainly, it is a young man who writes such an epic as Endymion, but the beauty of expression is as good as any in the English language.
Early on in Book I, for example:
"For 'twas the morn: Apollo's upward fire Made every eastern cloud a silvery pyre Of brightness so unsullied, that therein A melancholy spirit well might win Oblivion, and melt out his essence fine Into the winds:" Book I, 95-100
Post by RMichaelPyle on May 25, 2018 18:08:29 GMT -4
Have been dipping into the Middle English epic geste Richard Coer de Lyon, obviously the story of Richard the Lion-Heart (Richard I of England, son of Henry II, older brother of King John).
Very easy to read. Fun to read so far. This poem is 7240 lines long. I'm at line 300 presently. Written barely a hundred years after the death of Richard (1199), so about 1300, this combines history of the third Crusade in which Richard participated and much fantastical material besides. It's rather famous for including the [supposed] incidents of Richard's cannibalism of Saracens (and graphic about it, too)!! Great edition edited by Peter Larkin for Teams Middle English Texts Series, a project sponsored by the Consortium for the Teaching of Middle Ages and edited by a team based in the Rossell Hope Robbins Library at the University of Rochester. These are so well done. Great service to scholarship!
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, And what can be the use of him is more than I can see. He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head; And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow – Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow; For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball, And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play, And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way. He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see; I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
One morning, very early, before the sun was up, I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup; But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head, Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Post by RMichaelPyle on May 27, 2018 7:59:45 GMT -4
It's difficult to understand and appreciate, but Stevenson was such a sickly individual all his life, and it's amazing to hear that he was extremely sick in bed, near death some thought, when he wrote the wonderful book "Penny Whistles", eventually re-titled as "A Child's Garden of Verses", from which both of those poems come. When he died (at age 44) on Samoa, he was buried with his own epitaph put on his grave. It's misquoted, by the way! It's also one of my favorite pieces of literature:
Under the wide and starry sky, Dig the grave and let me lie. Glad did I live, and gladly die, And I laid me down with a will. This be the verse you grave for me: Here he lies where he longed to be; Home is the sailor, home from sea, And the hunter home from the hill.
On his tombstone (and misquoted by most who quote the poem) is the extra word "the" in the line "Home is the sailor, home from - the - sea".
He's definitely worth reading. Interesting to learn, too, that he's the 26th most translated author in the world (!), ahead of such fellow nineteenth century authors Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe, this according to Wikipedia on the internet.
Post by RMichaelPyle on May 28, 2018 18:13:58 GMT -4
Have dipped into Italian poetesses Margherita Sarrocchi, Tullia D'Aragona, and Moderata Fonte; also, American poetesses Edna St. Vincent Millay and Lola Ridge, the last new to me. She's an amazing writer, a searing writer born in Ireland, raised in New Zealand, then coming to America where she published her poems. Very radical, her poems, such as "The Ghetto", a long poem about New York Ghetto life, burns even today, long after it was published (1922). Quite a difference from fellow poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was a near contemporary. Thomas Hardy once wrote, "America has two great attractions: the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay". This is my favorite of Millay's sonnets:
"Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink And rise and sink and rise and sink again; Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath, Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; Yet many a man is making friends with death Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. It well may be that in a difficult hour, Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, Or nagged by want past resolution’s power, I might be driven to sell your love for peace, Or trade the memory of this night for food. It well may be. I do not think I would."
"What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, I have forgotten, and what arms have lain Under my head till morning; but the rain Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh Upon the glass and listen for reply, And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain For unremembered lads that not again Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. Thus in winter stands the lonely tree, Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: I cannot say what loves have come and gone, I only know that summer sang in me A little while, that in me sings no more."
Post by RMichaelPyle on May 29, 2018 8:02:32 GMT -4
I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but, yes, that's my very favorite Shakespeare, period! I memorized that one about the time I was married. Last year on some radio show I heard a rather famous actor quote that one, too, and he was miserable. Didn't have the inflections properly under his belt. Made me angry that we don't teach reading such things aloud very well...
I'll always remember that scene in 1995's Sense and Sensibility film where Kate Winslet's Marianne doesn't like the way Edward Ferrars is reading the sonnet to everyone and grabs the book from him and reads it passionately, with far better inflection. LOL.
"If you're really in love, appearances aren't important. The best house is the one you build in each other's hearts." ~ Winter Sonata
Post by RMichaelPyle on May 30, 2018 11:37:58 GMT -4
Dipped into several Middle English metrical romances yesterday. I'm checking for certain tropes at the beginnings of these pieces, several word phrases that occur over and over, for comparison with a few choice phrases in John Barbour's The Bruce.
While I was at it, I also dipped into some poems by Robert Lowell, the American poet. Never was a fan in the past, but I've changed my mind. A poem I had to read over fifty years ago I never cared for - no, I just frankly didn't get it - I now found to be absolutely remarkable. It's a sonnet, and worth it for the first line alone. Five instances of assonance and several of alliteration, besides! An amazing opening, but the rest of the poem is SO Lowell... He was a sea person in spirit, and it comes through over and over and over. Being from the Midwest, I never understood the allusions well until I finally got to the oceans on all sides. Now I love the allusions. Here's the poem. It's simply called "Salem".
In Salem sea-sick spindrift drifts or skips To the canvas flapping on the seaward panes Until the knitting sailor stabs at ships Nosing like sheep of Morpheus through his brain's Asylum. Seaman, seaman, how the draft Lashes the oily slick about your head, Beating up whitecaps! Seaman, Charon's raft Dumps its damned goods into the harbor-bed, - There sewage sickens the rebellious seas. Remember, seaman, Salem fishermen Once hung their nimble fleets on the Great Banks. Where was it that New England bred the men Who quartered the Leviathan's fat flanks And fought the British Lion to its knees?
Post by RMichaelPyle on May 31, 2018 9:44:18 GMT -4
I dipped into this one this morning: one of the most eccentric and unusual epics ever written was Thomas Heywood's The Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels (1635). It's very, very long, but incredibly detailed as to the actual hierarchy as specified in holy literatures; and it's told as a poem. There are some prose passages, too, plus all kinds of additional sort-of lyrical pieces, such as the following, a rhetorical apostrophe to God, and in the original spelling with original punctuation:
THE HIERARCHY OF THE BLESSED ANGELS (1635)
[SEARCH AFTER GOD]
I SOUGHT Thee round about, O Thou my God! In thine abode. I said unto the Earth "Speake, art thou He?" She answer'd me, "I am not."—I enquired of creatures all, In generall, Contain'd therein;—they with one voice proclaime, That none amongst them challenged such a name.
I askt the seas, and all the deeps below, My God to know. I askt the reptiles, and whatever is In the abysse; Even from the shrimpe to the leviathan Enquiry ran; But in those deserts which no line can sound, The God I sought for was not to be found.
I askt the aire, if that were He? but, lo! It told me No. I from towering eagle to the wren, Demanded then, If any feather'd fowle 'mongst them were such? But they all, much Offended with my question, in full quire, Answered,—"to finde thy God thou must look higher."
I askt the heavens, sun, moon and stars, but they Said "We obey The God thou seek'st."—I askt, what eye or eare Could see or heare; What in the world I might descry or know Above, below; —With a unanimous voice, all these things said, "We are not God, but we by Him were made."
I askt the world's great universal masse, If that God was? Which with a mighty and strong voice reply'd, As stupify'd, "I am not He, O man! for know that I, By Him on High, Was fashion'd first of nothing, thus instated, And sway'd by Him, by whom I was created."
A scrutiny within myself I, than, Even thus began:— "O man, what art thou?"—What more could I say, Than dust and clay? Fraile, mortal, fading, a meere puffe, a blast, That cannot last; Enthroned to-day, to-morrow in an urne; Form'd from that earth to which I must returne.
I askt myself, what this great God might be That fashion'd me? I answer'd—the all-potent, solely' immense, Surpassing sense; Unspeakable, inscrutable, eternall, Lord over all; The only terrible, strong, just and true, Who hath no end, and no beginning knew.
He is the well of life, for He doth give To all that live, Both breath and being: He is the Creator Both of the water, Earth, aire, and fire. Of all things that subsist, He hath the list; Of all the heavenly host, or what earth claimes, He keeps the scrole, and calls them by their names.
And now, my God, by thine illumining grace, Thy glorious face, (So far forth as it may discover'd be,) Methinks I see; And though invisible and infinite,— To human sight, Thou, in thy mercy, justice, truth, appearest; In which to our weake senses Thou comest nearest.
O make us apt to seeke, and quicke to finde, Thou God, most kinde! Give us love, hope and faith in Thee to trust, Thou God, most just! Remit all our offences, we intreat; Most Good, most Great! Grant that our willing, though unworthy quest, May, through thy grace, admit us 'mongst the blest.
Just read an article on the death of the American mall. I tried to remember the last time I drove 15 minutes to get to our big mall. Has to be over a year. There's nothing there I can't order on Amazon and have it delivered to me in 2 to 3 days with Amazon Prime.
"If you're really in love, appearances aren't important. The best house is the one you build in each other's hearts." ~ Winter Sonata