The Word of the Week for October 20, 2014 is hod
This week’s poem “Roundelay of the Roughneck” appeared in the Daniel Baker Collegian April 12, 1926. That was the year of his twentieth birthday.
He sent a number of songs to Robert W. Gordon (1888-1961). Gordon edited the department “Old Songs That Men Have Sung” for Adventure magazine from 1923-1927. REH’s submissions including a verse to “Young Johnny” that he omitted in a previous letter plus three additional songs: “On the Lakes of the Ponchartrain”; “Sandford Burns”, and “My Old Beaver Cap.”
A couple months later in another letter to Gordon, he adds:
As you have doubtless received several thousand versions of “Barbara Allen” I will not bore you with the song, except that I wish to say that the last verse seems to have been dropped from most of the versions that I have seen, which is, as you know,
But by and rade the Black Douglas
And Wow! But he was rough!
For he tore up the bonny briar
And threw it in St. Levins (?) loch
Other songs he sent to Gordon were: “The Bell of Edinburgh Town” which REH considered “one of the most perfect examples of the old Scotch ballad.” Other songs included: “Pretty Polly”, “A Fragment”, “Nelly Till (?)”, “Brady”, and “Tavern Song”.
On April 14th he wrote to Clyde
Being in an (un)poetical mood, I shall take a fiendish glee in flinging various unrhythmic time-squanderings at you.
The REH poems included
Then he quotes “Song of the Seasons” by Faith Baldwin. Then he writes two untitled poems (“We are the duckers of crosses”) and (“The shades of night were falling faster,”). Over the next few months of 1926 he writes the following poems:
(“Give ye of my best though the dole be meager”)
(“Early in the morning I gazed at the eastern skies”)
Dancer (different from The Dancer)
Mountains of California
San Jacinto (Flowers bloom on San Jacinto)
Twilight on Stonehenge
Campus at Midnight.
Paging through volume one of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, for 1926, I found letters to Clyde Smith about everything under the sun from harlots, to whiskey to Celtic heritage. In between poems he comments on sexual perversions of various authors and poets. Ben Hecht, Sinclair Upton, Swinburne, Oscar Wilde, George Sylvester Viereck. He also says there is great poetry being written now: G. K. Chesterton, H.H. Knibbs, Langdon Smith, Alan Seeger, Shelley, Lanier, and Poe.
He sent a letter to The Ring ca. early 1926, discussing boxing along with his ratings of heavyweights, some of whom are mentioned in his poetry:
James J. Jefferies
James J. Corbett (“When You Were a Set-Up and I Was a Ham”)
Jack Dempsey (“Jack Dempsey” and “And Dempsey climbed into the ring…”)
Bob Fitzsimmons (“Jack Dempsey”)
John L. Sullivan (“John L. Sullivan”)
I also found this little gem: On May 7, 1926, he wrote to Clyde “My arms all right. A fool experience. I have ridden nightmares over fences and down roads, but never through windows before.”
It reminded me of something I had read in Mark Finn’s Blood & Thunder (pp 142-43):
Robert took a trip to Brownwood in late April or early May,  and he spent the night with Clyde Smith. That night, Robert had one of his sleepwalking incidents. Robert’s terrified scream woke the whole house. Smith, groggy, opened his eyes to find Robert grappling with a large shape, and, thinking an intruder was in the house, jumped in to help. Before he could do anything, Robert went headlong out the closed window, through the screen. The Smith family found Robert outside, wandering around, apparently dazed. Smith, having been told previously what to do by Robert in the event that a sleepwalking incident happened, talked to Robert until he fell back asleep. Once Robert closed his eyes again, Smith woke his friend up. Robert started. “I’m glad you woke me,” he said. “I dreamed I saw a newspaper and the headlines said, ‘Axe Murderer Slays Three.’” When Smith told him what had happened, Robert said, “I’m glad you couldn’t get to me. I have the strength of a goddamn ape when I’m in the middle of one of these nightmares.” Robert suffered cuts on his face and a deep gash on his arm. Smith’s mother recalled that Robert had let out the most chilling scream she had ever heard.
Dave Lee also confirmed Robert’s nocturnal struggles in an interview with Texas author Howard Waldrop: “Robert would tie his right hand to the bed because he had violent dreams and would wake up swinging.” Robert’s night terrors were a long-standing thing. He mentioned them in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, and his friends knew him to be a sleep walker, as everyone slept over on road trips and out of town visits. Both sleepwalking and night terrors, particularly in adolescents and adults, are linked to high levels of stress. Children who move to new cities, houses, etc. with great frequency are prone to night terrors. This would clearly be a source of stress and confusion for Robert as a child, but as a young man, it’s an indicator that he was dealing with more than he let on; the desire to succeed in his chosen profession, parental tension, a combination of both, or maybe even neither. It’s obvious that the subject matter of his dreams, the axe-murder slaying families, comes directly from his seven week stay in New Orleans as a young man. In later years, he speaks of New Orleans with a mixture of fascination and disgust—fascinated with its history, and troubled by the number of undesirables currently living there, particularly the Italian. This is also interesting considering that the Italian immigrants were the primary target for the New Orleans Axe-Man. To what degree he carried all of this around with him is a mystery, and since Robert never thought to examine his stress to the point that he wrote anything down, we will never know what was really pulling at him.
Another friend mentions REH’s nightmares according to L. Sprague de Camp.
Tom Ray Wilson, who lived in Cross Plains until 1924, became another intimate. As a high school boy, Tom sometimes drove Dr. Howard on his rounds while the doctor dozed in the back seat of his car. From time to time, Bob slept over at Tom's house, but later Tom reported that he had been scared of Bob because he always carried a hunting knife and often a pistol and suffered from nightmares. So severe were these nightmares that Tom used to tie Bob's toe to the bedpost with a piggin string lest, in his sleep, he rise up and attack his roommate. (DVD, pp 142-43)
The 1926 section in volume one of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard is about 40 pages. In the midst of his poems and comments about authors and poets is this passage from a letter to Clyde Smith dated April 14, 1926. It’s something I marked long ago when I first read it.
Comrado mio, we stand at the peak of the ages. Our feet spurn the pinnacles of the Centuries. Don’t you see? Look! Countless eons have gone before Eons uncounted will follow after! The centuries sleep with forgotten kings; ages lie unborn in the womb of infinity. Today is ours! We must seize time swiftly and with strong hand grasp its mane, for Time passes like the night wind. Live! every hour, every minute. Tomorrow, in a hundred years, careless feet will stir our dust, heedless of we who lived and laughed and toiled and passed. Listen! He who fixes his eye on a distant goal and follows unswerved follows the right path, but he whose eyes are blinded to all else is a fool. Our purse may be empty, our back bare, but the Present is ours. The gold of sunset, the rose of dawn, the whisper of the night wind, the breezes on the grass and the trees—today the Universe if ours! And after—who knows?
What a year—365 days reduced to 40 pages of REH letters that are filled with lots of information about REH.