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In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

01 September 2014 - 07:10 AM

The Word of the Week for September 1, 2014 is LUTE




This week’s poem “The King and the Mallet” first appeared in The Junto in July 1929. Rob Roehm is writing “’A Pretty Good Paper’: The Junto” on Damon Sasser’s REH Two-Gun Raconteur website. There are six parts already up. Here is the link for part 1:  (http://rehtwogunraco...he junto part 1)


Rob is giving an amazing amount of good information about The Junto so I’m not going to attempt to duplicate it here. 


This Word of the Week, the lute, is only one of several instruments that REH mentions in his poetry. For the complete list, see the June 30th 2014 WotW post above.


These verses in this week’s poem “The King and the Mallet” show another version of the dark barbarian who ultimately overthrows civilization. This time the enemy is within:


I lean against my maul and wipe the sweat

            That beads my weary brow like gems of blood;

            The army thunders by me like a flood—

Once more the emperor and the slave have met.


I marked his eagle face, his air divine;

            He saw a huge slave leaning on a maul;

            He did not see the symbol of his fall,

That marked the doom of him and all his line.


But restless chains are clashing in the gloom;

            Deep in the night the blades of knives are beat—

            Gods haste the day when ’neath their slaves’ hard feet

Kings, captains, women gibber to their doom.


Other times these barbarians storm the walls such as in “A Word From the Outer Dark.”


For I would hurl your cities down

And I would break your shrines

And give the site of every town

To thistles and to vines.


Higher the walls of Nineveh

And prouder Babel’s spires—

I bellowed from the desert way—

They crumbled in my fires.


For all the works of cultured man

Must fare and fade and fall.

I am the Dark Barbarian

That towers over all.


REH, who writes from all points of view gives us “The Song of the Last Briton.”


The Saxons come and the Saxons go,

With the ebb and surge of the tide;

Their galleys loom, millipedes of doom,

But here shall I abide.


My castles rust in crimson dust,

Red ruin tossed in the drift—

But the sea is grey and the wolf’s at bay

(Though the ravens circle swift),


So come from your mists of Northern Seas,

Where the smoke-blue hazes melt:

Your dead shall lie where here I die,

The last unconquered Celt.


In “A Song of Horsa’s Galley” the invaders come from the North:


To the outmost roads of the plunging sea

Our dragon ships are hurled,

We have broken the chains of the Southern Danes

And now we break the world.


Out of the dark of the misty north

We come like shapes of the gloam

To harry again the Southland men

And trample the arms of Rome.


History can turn the tables on the conquerors like Babylon in “Empire’s Destiny.”


Bab-ilu’s women gazed upon our spears,

And roses flung, and sang to see us ride.

We built a glory for the marching years

And starred our throne with silver nails of pride.

Our horses’ hoofs were shod with brazen fears:

We laved our hands in blood and iron tears,

And laughed to hear how shackled kings had died.


Our chariots awoke the sleeping world;

The thunder of our hoofs the mountains broke;

Before our spears were empires’ banners furled

And death and doom and iron winds were hurled,

And slaughter rode before, and clouds and smoke—

Then in the desert lands the tribes awoke

And death and vengeance ’round our walls were whirled.


Oh Babylon, lost Babylon! Where now

The opal altar and the golden spire,

The tower and the legend and the lyre?

Oh, withered fruit upon a broken bough!

The sobbing desert winds still whisper how

The sapphire city of the gods’ desire

Fell in the smoke and crumbled in the fire;

And lizards bask upon her columns now.


Now poets sing her golden glory gone;

And Babylon has faded with the dawn.


The invader that destroyed Babylon’s “golden glory” is mentioned in “The Gates of Babylon”


The gates of Babylon stand ajar;

Traders and emperors cross her sills.

She greets the men of scented breath,

But Babylon’s gates are shut as death

To the horsemen of the hills.


The gates of Babylon flare at morn

Like an evil rose on a painted stalk,

But ever her gates are barred and shut

To the chief that rules in a herder’s hut—

The king with the eyes of a hawk.


But the lean wolves slink from the scarlet hills,

And the kites and the vultures throng the land;

And we ride full soon through a bloody dawn

O’er the shattered gates of Babylon

With death at our left hand.


“Song Before Clontarf is especially appropriate since its 1,000 year anniversary was celebrated last April.


Lean on your sword, red-bearded lord, and watch your victims crawl;

Under your feet they weakly beat the dust with their dying hands.

The red smokes roll from the serf’s roof-pole and the chieftain’s shattered hall—

But there are fires in the heather and a whetting of hungry brands.


The peaked prows loom like clouds of doom along each broken port;

The monks lie still on the heathered hill among the fallen stones.

Over the land like a god you stand, our maidens howl for your sport—

But kites await in the heather to tear the flesh from your bones.


Clouds and smoke for a broken folk, a lash for the bended back—

Thus you roared when your crimson sword blotted the moon on high,

But sea breaks and the world shakes to the battle’s flying wrack,

And Death booms out of the heather to nail you in the sky.


“The Song of the Naked Lands” shows the cyclic nature of barbarism once they have conquered.


We have doffed our wolfskin clouts for silks,

            We wear them clumsily,

Our eyes are bleak, our beards unshorn,

            Our matted locks stream free.


But our sons will trim their beards and hair,

            Don cloaks of crimson hue;

They will take your daughters to their beds,

            Till they grow soft as you.


They will trade their freedom for harps and lutes,

            Discard the bow and the dart;

They will build a prison of satin and gold,

            And call it Culture and Art.


They will lie in the lap of a smiling land,

            Till its rusts unman and rot them,

And they scorn their blood, and the calloused hand,

            And the fathers who begot them.


But our brothers still dwell in the sun-seared waste

            And their sons are hard and lank;

They will hunt the wolf-pack that we chased,

            And drink the water we drank.


The hungers we knew they too will know,

            The scars of fangs and of briars;

In the rocks where they crouch when the sandstorms blow

            They will find the marks of our fires.


They will know the hungers that once we had,

            While the stream of centuries runs,

Till they burst from the desert, hunger-mad,

To slaughter our slothful sons.


In “Thor’s Son” the barbarian was a slave already within the walls. My favorite verse is the last one.


And then for many a weary moon I labored at the galley’s oar

Where men grow maddened by the rune of row-locks clacking evermore.

But I survived the reeking rack, the toil, the whips that burned and gashed,

The spiteful Greeks that scarred my back and trembled even while they lashed.


They sold me on an Eastern block; in silver coins their price was paid,

They girt me with a chain and lock, I laughed and they were sore afraid.

I toiled among the olive trees until a night of hot desire

Brought me a breath of outer seas and filled my veins with curious fire.


Then I arose and broke my chain and laughed to know that I was free,

And battered out my master’s brain and fled and gained the open sea.

Beneath a copper sun adrift, I shunned the proa and the dhow,

Until I saw a sail uplift, and saw and knew the dragon prow.


Oh, East of sands and sunlit gulf, your blood is thin, your gods are few;

You could not break the Northern wolf and now the wolf has turned on you.

The fires that light the coast of Spain fling shadows on the Eastern strand.

Masters, your slave has come again with torch and axe in his red hand!


The Dark Barbarian was a favorite REH theme and he wrote about it from all points of view and as a result, turns out some of his best poems.


It’s fortunate that some of the copies of The Junto are still in existence. Otherwise, we would not have a copy of “The King and the Mallet.”


In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

25 August 2014 - 07:24 AM

The Word of the Week for August 25, 2014 is slavering




According to Paul Herman’s The Neverending Hunt, this week’s poem “Song of a Mad Minstrel” first appeared in Weird Tales in February-March 1931. In REH’s letter to Clyde Smith ca. February 1930 (Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard v2, p 17), he mentions Farnsworth Wright paid him $8 for the poem. REH sold Weird Tales two other poems at the same time: “Black Chant Imperial”, $6, and “Shadows on the Road” with which he seemed much pleased and offered me $11.50, considerably more than I ever got for any other poem.”


The total for the three poems was $25.50. That doesn’t seem like a lot of money but in 1930, it was quite a bit. I checked the internet to see what it could buy:


1930 average prices:


hamburger meat: 12 cents

a loaf of bread: 9 cents

gallon of gas 10 cents

new car $600

Average wages/year $1,970

new home: $3,845-$7,000

Firestone Tyre (1932) from $3.69 

Complete Modern 10 piece bedroom Suite $79.85

Emerson 5 tube bedroom radio $9.95


With $25.50, he could have bought four tires and a spare for his car and with gas at ten cents/gallon, he could have then driven the car quite a distance and still had enough to buy a week’s worth of groceries.


However, in 1930 REH didn’t have a car yet. According to Rob Roehm’s article “Robert E. Howard’s Automobiles: License and Registration Please”, REH bought his first car in 1932: 


There’s not much mention of Howard’s cars in his correspondence, other than him saying he went here or there. Even the description of his accident in Rising Star doesn’t provide much information about the car, though it does describe the incident involving his ’31 Chevy and a flagpole placed “in the middle of the street” in graphic (some say “exaggerated”) detail. This was my starting point.


Next on the checklist was Rusty Burke. I emailed Rusty some follow-up questions about Bob’s ’31 Chevy. Burke responded that Lindsey Tyson, a Cross Plains friend of Howard’s, had said the following in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp dated February 18, 1977:


Bob, Dr Howard and I went to Arlington Texas in about 1932 and Bob bought a used 1931 model Chevrolet. I drove the car home for him and then taught him to drive; after he learned to drive, he had a lot of fun driving on short trips around the country. I can not understand why Dr. Howard had never taught him anything about driving a car. (And by the way, Bob gave $350.00 for this car, about a year old.)


Burke had a wealth of information. His transcription of de Camp’s August 1977 notes from a phone conversation with Tyson revealed that the ’31 Chevy was purchased “second-hand after Lovecraft’s visit to New Orleans in the spring of 1932.” In a different interview with de Camp, Tyson described the car as “Dark Green,” and that it “had a glove compartment” rather than a door pocket: “This is where he carried his gun.” Upon further question, in 1978, Tyson added that the car was “a Chevrolet coach”; a “Two-door.” And, regarding the flagpole incident in Rising star, Tyson told de Camp in his 1977 letter that he and Dave Lee “were both in the car [. . .] that was involved in the wreck in Rising Star, Texas. It was a misty night when we were returning home from Brownwood. What we hit was a flag pole located in the middle of the street and did not have a light on it. We had been to Brownwood to see the Golden glove tournament. It was not because of Bob’s driving, none of us saw the thing before we hit it, we were traveling slowly and none of us were seriously injured.”


To read Rob’s complete article and see photos of a 1931 Chevrolet and as well as an equivalent of the 1935 Chevrolet he had when he died, see: http://www.rehfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/reh-cars3.pdf Rob also quotes the gas station attendant where REH brought his car and gives a wealth of other information relating to REH’s two automobiles.


REH wrote his version of the Rising Star accident in a letter to H. P. Lovecraft, ca January 1934! (Collected Letters, v3, pp. 188-191.) There is quite a difference:


This answer to your letter has been delayed considerably, partly because of an accident that proved non-fatal to me only by the merest chance. Three other young men and I were returning from Brownwood late in the night of December 29th, at which time it was raining, with a heavy fog on, making ordinary driving extremely difficult. We passed through a small town about fifteen miles from Cross Plains, where a steel flag pole was planted in concrete in the middle of the street. [NOTE: Rising Star, at the intersection of what was then Texas Highway 206 (now Texas 36) and US Highway 283/Texas 23 (now US 183). The three men in the car with Howard were Dave Lee, Lindsey Tyson, and Bill Calhoun.]


The pole was painted grey and was practically invisible. None of us saw it until we had hit it, head-on. Naturally the car was wrecked. The fellow on the seat beside me, a Tennessean, was thrown through the wind-shield, head and shoulders, and struck his belly terrifically against the dash-board, and a piece of glass gouged out most of his eyebrow and a piece of scalp larger than a dollar, and left it hanging over his eye by a shred of flesh. Of the men sitting behind, one was practically unhurt, but the other suffered a badly wrenched and almost broken leg, and some veins and tendons were evidently ruptured. As for me, I was driven against the wheel with such terrific force that I crumpled it with my breast-bone and my head was driven down against a jagged shard of glass with a force that would have fractured or dislocated a more fragile jaw than mine, and a gash two and a half inches long was ripped along the under part of my jaw, laying the bone bare the full length of the cut. I also received a deep cut — to the bone — across the middle knuckle of my left hand, and the flesh inside the joint of my right thumb was literally mangled. My knees caved in the solid steel instrument-panel, which naturally bruised and tore them considerably. But the worst hurt was to my breast. The arch of my breast was flattened and for hours it was only with the most extreme pain that I could draw a breath at all. Well, the instant I recovered from the blow — which was almost instantly — I shut off the engine and leaped out to see what damage had been done to the car, and though I don’t remember my remarks, my friends say my profanity was fervent and eloquent when I saw the crumpled bumper, the ruined radiator and the other damages. I didn’t know I was cut until, during my remarks, I happened to put my hand to my jaw and felt the bare bone through the gaping wound. At about that time the other boys piled out, and the man who had gone through the windshield, evidently having been numbed by the blow, suddenly was made aware of his plight by his awakening sensations. He was bleeding like a butchered steer, and was really a ghastly spectacle, with that great flap of flesh hanging down over his eye, and the contour of the skull, covered only by a layer of membrane, showing beneath. But he was suffering most from the terrible blow of being hurled against the dash-board. He was suffering internal pain, and apparently unable to straighten up. He was convinced that he was dying, and indeed I thought it quite likely, and he was making considerable noise about it; indeed I was so taken up with his injuries that I didn’t even know the other fellow was hurt — of old Texas stock, and stoicism being part of his instincts, he didn’t even mention the agony he was enduring with his leg, so I didn’t even know he was hurt until the next day. I don’t reckon I was making much noise about my injuries, either, because he didn’t know I was hurt, until the next day, either. But the fact is I didn’t think much about them at the time. It was about midnight, and a small town; we made an effort to get a doctor, but they were all out on calls, and not even a drug store open. But a young fellow offered to take us anywhere we wanted to go, and the man whose head was laid open wanted to go to the nearest hospital, which was in a town about twenty miles from there. I tried to persuade him to come on to Cross Plains, and let my father bandage him, which wouldn’t cost him anything, but like many people he had something of a hospital complex; so I told him and the fellow with the hurt leg to go on to the hospital, and I’d see about getting my car towed home. So they went, but it was useless trying to get anybody to see about the car; everything was closed, so I phoned my father, at Cross Plains, and he came over after me and the other fellow, who, as I said, wasn’t hurt. When we got home he put five stitches in my jaw and one in my thumb, which is the first time I was ever sewed up, though I’ve been ripped open before. I’m rather fat-jowled, and the gash on my jaw presented a rather ghastly appearance, gaping widely and the white of the bone showing through. The other fellow who was cut had fourteen stitches taken in his head, and it left a rather horrible scar, which, however, may become less obvious as time goes on. He had accident insurance, which was lucky, though I offered to pay his hospital bill, which he refused. A funny thing happened while my father was sewing me up; the watchman was holding his flashlight for my father to work by, and a young drug-clerk was standing watching. In the midst of the job he asked me if I was getting sick, to which I honestly replied that I never felt healthier in my life, and presently he pulled out in considerable of a hurry. I asked my father what was the matter with him, and he said the young man got sick at the sight of blood and raw flesh. Can you beat that? I’d heard that there were people who got sick at the sight of blood, but I’d never seen one before. I’d always wondered how it felt to be sewed up like a piece of cloth, but a gash like mine was appears to offer no particular problem. I imagine other wounds might require a local anesthetic. I was forced to lead a very quiet life for a few days, because my knees and ribs got so sore I could scarcely move, and the bandages on my hands prevented me from doing much with them. Indeed we were all lucky to come out of the wreck alive and no worse injured than we were. People who have seen the wheel I wrecked with my breastbone have repeatedly expressed wonder that it didn’t kill me, or at least cave in most of my ribs. It was a heavy steel frame covered with very hard rubberish material; I bent the frame almost double, rim, spokes and all, and broke great pieces of the rubber off, in many places leaving the frame work bare. Indeed, it has only been a week or so since the soreness has entirely gone out of my breast bone and ribs. I was not only thrown against the wheel with all my weight and the velocity of the car, but the man behind me, a bigger man than I am, was hurled on my back — the car is a coach, with movable front seats — driving me forward with his weight against mine. That was one of the cases which sometimes do occur — when sheer muscular ruggedness meant more than intellectual development. Of course, it was only chance that kept a piece of glass from severing my jugular; yet even there my bodily build saved me; if I did not have a short, thick neck, if my neck had been an inch longer, the glass shard that struck my jawbone would have been driven in below the bone, and cut my throat. And what saved me from death or frightful injury on the wheel was simply an unusually powerful set of ribs, backed and braced by heavy muscles specially developed. A body stronger than the average may not be required by our modern civilization; but in that affair, as in others I have encountered, a powerful frame saved my life. There were no broken bones, though it is possible that some of my ribs were slightly cracked, yet this even is not certain; my breast has resumed its normal arch, and the cuts healed quickly; I have a rather large scar on my jaw, but as I never had any beauty to be marred, that doesn’t amount to anything. [NOTE: In a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, Lindsey Tyson wrote, “We [Dave Lee and Tyson] were both in the car you spoke of that was involved in the wreck in Rising Star, Texas. It was a misty night when we were returning home from Brownwood. What we hit was a flag pole located in the middle of the street and did not have a light on it. We had been to Brownwood to see the Golden glove tournament. It was not because of Bob’s driving, none of us saw the thing before we hit it, we were traveling slowly and none of us were seriously injured.” No contemporary newspaper accounts of this accident have been located.]


According to A Means of Freedom, v2, p. 722, HPL’s replying postcard has not been found.


REH’s responding letter (CL, v3, p. 193) says:


I deeply appreciate your sympathetic expressions in regard to my wreck. All parties made rapid and uneventful recoveries, and feel lucky it wasn’t worse. The town where the accident occurred helped me pay for having my car repaired, and the flagpole has been removed — though one of their own citizens had to wreck himself on it before that was done. He was hurt worse than I was. Strange; that pole stood there for years without doing any damage, but as soon as one car was wrecked against it, another shortly followed.


The discrepancy between the version of the accident given by Lindsey (Pink) and that of REH is probably entirely due to REH's great story telling abilities. Of course the need for this depends upon how late he was in responding to HPL's letter. The accident took place on December 29 and there is no definite January date shown on REH's letter. A Means to Freedom shows the letters previously written by HPL are missing.


Rob’s article also includes information about the condition of REH’s current automobile after his suicide.


And yes, by the time REH got his car in 1932, gas even as late as 1939 was still ten cents a gallon.


In Topic: Poems and Verse of Robert E. Howard

22 August 2014 - 09:15 PM

Hi VK,

Thanks for the quotes and references. They piqued my curiosity so I checked “Queen of the Black Coast” on HowardWorks. It was published in Weird Tales May 1934. "The Secret" was sent in a letter to Clyde Smith ca March 1928 which means it could be somewhat later (or even earlier).


I also checked for references to “Ivory globes.” I didn’t find those specific words but did find two that referenced “ivory domes.”


In the untitled (“Adam’s loins were mountains”) [letter to Clyde Smith ca November 1928, Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v1, p 254-5] In this poem, REH is referring to Eve and it’s pretty bawdy so I’m only quoting two lines here:


Her breasts were domes of ivory,

Her legs were round and firm,….


The untitled (“A haunting cadence fills the night with fierce longing”) [letter to Clyde Smith ca February 1929, CL, v1, p. 320-21] is one of REH’s reincarnation poems.


Long ago I climbed the outer rim of a pagoda in the garden of

A mandarin.

Long ago I saw the Imperial City stretch drowsily below me.

But the whisper crawled along the horizon

Like yellow spiders on the Hoang-Ho. And I was, and I am.

But silken fans lulled me with sibilant rustling and I lay

On the bosom of a Manchu princess and was content—after a fashion.

But afar, oh afar, sleeping blood in the red veins of me!

A whisper and a yearning.

Her breasts were dome of old ivory, ivory that grows yellow in the

Treasure hut of a Matabele chief.


The three letters to Clyde Smith mentioned above contain REH plays and many poems.


While I was searching for globes of ivory I remembered “The Fear That Follows” which has a theme similar to that of “The Secret.” In fact it could almost be a sequel as REH writes of what happens after she dies:


The smile of a child was on her lips—oh, smile of a last long rest.

My arm went up and my arm went down and the dagger pierced her breast.

Silent she lay—oh still, oh still!—with the breast of her gown turned red.

Then fear rose up in my soul like death and I fled from the face of the dead.

The hangings rustled upon the walls, velvet and black they shook,

And I thought to see strange shadows flash from the dark of each door and nook.

Tapestries swayed on the ghostly walls as if in a wind that blew;

Yet never a breeze stole through the rooms and my black fear grew and grew.


Moonlight dappled the pallid sward as I climbed o’er the window sill;

I looked not back at the darkened house which lay so grim and still.

The trees reached phantom hands to me, their branches brushed my hair,

Footfalls whispered amid the grass, yet never a man was there.

The shades loomed black in the forest deeps, black as the doom of death;

Amid the whispers of shapes unseen I stole with bated breath,

Till I came at last to a ghostly mere bordered with silver sands;

A faint mist rose from its shimmering breast as I knelt to lave my hands.


The waters mirrored my haggard face, I bent close down to see—

Oh, Mother of God! A grinning skull leered up from the mere at me!

With a gibbering scream I rose and fled till I came to a mountain dim

And a great black crag in the blood‑red moon loomed up like a gibbet grim.

Then down from the great red stars above, each like a misty plume,

There fell on my face long drops of blood and I knew at last my doom.

Then I turned me slow to the only trail that was left upon earth for me,

The trail that leads to the hangman’s cell and the grip of the gallows tree.


Again, a supernatural force is at work but this time it’s not walking at his side as a so-called friend. It’s looming over him as a threat. Out of curiosity, I checked Paul Herman’s The Neverending Hunt and found that this poem was never published in his lifetime so once again we have no idea when it was written especially in relation to “The Secret.”


In Topic: Poems and Verse of Robert E. Howard

22 August 2014 - 03:25 AM


Thanks for the additional insight into "The Secret." I read a synopsis of both of those and tend to agree with you. Although REH doesn't mention either of the Shakespearean works specifically, here are some of the comments he did make about Shakespeare-- making it a strong possibility that he did actually read them:


REH to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. September 1933: "I quite agree with your estimate of the average newspaper, and do not differ radically with your opinion of radio programs.  And yet it would be erroneous to say that all radio programs are entirely without cultural value... I have heard, among other things, such plays as... a number of Shakespearean plays.  Of course I had rather see these things on the stage, but as my chances of doing that are so slim they are practically non-existant, I was grateful for the opportunity of hearing them over the air." 

Tevis Clyde Smith, "Adventurer in Pulp": "...Shakespeare was his favorite playwright..." 

Tevis Clyde Smith, "Report on a Writing Man": "'Shakespeare,' he would say, 'had perspective.  That is why he is so great, why he continues to live.  It is something so few have.  He probably had it more than any man.'"

All we can do is speculate though....


In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

18 August 2014 - 07:11 AM

The Word(s) of the Week for August 18, 2014 is Damascus Steel




“Drake Sings of Yesterday, ” this week’s featured poem was never published during REH’s lifetime. In it Sir Francis Drake, English sea captain and privateer, tells of his adventures and names the “plunder from a thousand cargoes drawn” that he has captured over the years:


“Boots of Cordovan leather, chests of ash,

Damascus steel, rare silks and silver plate;

Rough-carven gems to match the starlight’s flash,

And gold moidores cresting a piece-of-eight!

Tuns of brown ale and barrels of black rum,

And many a pipe of sharp Canary wine;

Toledo blades that shimmer, gleam and hum,

And bales of spice and idols of odd design!


Among the treasures he lists is Damascus steel. This is the only reference REH makes to it in his poetry and the term “Damascus steel” doesn’t appear as such in his Letters.


According to Wikipedia:


      Damascus steel was made from wootz steel, a steel developed in India around 300 BC. These swords are characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water. Such blades were reputed to be tough, resistant to shattering and capable of being honed to a sharp, resilient edge.

      The reputation and history of Damascus steel has given rise to many legends, such as the ability to cut through a rifle barrel or to cut a hair falling across the blade, but no evidence exists to support such claims. A research team in Germany published a report in 2006 revealing nanowires and carbon nanotubes in a blade forged from Damascus steel. This finding was covered by National Geographic and the New York Times. Although certain types of modern steel outperform these swords, chemical reactions in the production process made the blades extraordinary for their time, as Damascus steel was superplastic and very hard at the same time.

      The original method of producing Damascus steel is not known. Because of differences in raw materials and manufacturing techniques, modern attempts to duplicate the metal have not been entirely successful.


However, it appears that the duplication of Damascus steel was finally solves according to a 1981 NY Times article by Walter Sullivan: “The Mystery of Damascus Steel Appears Solved”


      Two metallurgists at Stanford University, seeking to produce a ''superplastic'' metal, appear to have stumbled on the secret of Damascus steel, the legendary material used by numerous warriors of the past, including the Crusaders. Its formula had been lost for generations.

      Analyses of steel by Jeffrey Wadsworth and Oleg D. Sherby, in their search for a highly plastic form, revealed properties almost identical to those they then found in Damascus steel, though their own plastic steel had been produced through contemporary methods.

      The remarkable characteristics of Damascus steel became known to Europe when the Crusaders reached the Middle East, beginning in the 11th century…Through the ages - perhaps from the time of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C. -the armorers who made swords, shields and armor from such steel were rigidly secretive regarding their method…

      Dr. Wadsworth and Dr. Sherby realized that they might be on the track of the method when a sword fancier, at one of their presentations, pointed out that Damascus steel, like their own product, was very rich in carbon. This led them to conduct comparative analyses of their steels and those of the ancient weapons.

      Dr. Wadsworth, while still associated with Stanford, now works at the nearby Lockheed Palo Alto Research Laboratory. Dr. Sherby, a professor at Stanford, is an authority on deformable metals.

      When moderately heated, superplastic steel can be shaped into such complex forms as gears for an automobile, with minimal need for machining, leading to major economies in manufacture. Their research, Dr. Wadsworth said recently, has shown how to make steel even more amenable to shaping than the Damascus variety.

      A basic requirement, as suspected by a number of early metallurgists, is a very high carbon content. Dr. Wadsworth and Dr. Sherby believe it has to be from 1 to 2 percent, compared to only a fraction of 1 percent in ordinary steel. Another key element in Damascus blade production seems to have been forging and hammering at relatively low temperature - about 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. After shaping, the blades were apparently reheated to about the same temperature, then rapidly cooled, as by quenching in a fluid...

      The secrets of Damascus steel were shared by armorers in many parts of the ancient world, notably in Persia, where some of the finest specimens were produced. It was in the quenching that many believed it acquired magical properties. According to Dr. Helmut Nickel, curator of the Arms and Armor Division of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, legend had it that the best blades were quenched in ''dragon blood.''

      In a recent letter to the museum a Pakistani told of a sword held in his family for many generations, quenched by its Afghan makers in donkey urine. Some medieval smiths recommended the urine of redheaded boys or that from a ''three-year-old goat fed only ferns for three days.''

      For eight centuries the Arab sword makers succeeded in concealing their techniques from competitors and from posterity. Those in Europe only revealed that they quenched in ''red medicine'' or ''green medicine.'' A less abrupt form of cooling, according to one account, was achieved when the blade, still red hot, was ''carried in a furious gallop by a horseman on a fast horse.''

      Writings found in Asia Minor said that to temper a Damascus sword the blade must be heated until it glows ''like the sun rising in the desert.'' It then should be cooled to the color of royal purple and plunged ''into the body of a muscular slave'' so that his strength would be transferred to the sword.

      In the ancient accounts there is more than one reference to such homicidal quenching. In a recent interview, Dr. Nickel pointed out that while many of the quenching techniques were based on superstition, they may have contributed to the success of the process, as by adding nitrogen to the alloy.

      Most, if not all, Damascus steel was derived from blocks of ''wootz,'' a form of steel produced in India. A mystery, to those seeking to recapture the technique, was the property of wootz that produced such blades - malleable when heated, yet extraordinarily tough when cooled.


The Structure of Wootz

…Wootz, it now appears, was apparently prepared in crucibles containing cakes of porous iron plus wood or charcoal to enrich it in carbon. A critical factor, Dr. Wadsworth said, appears to have been that the wootz was processed at temperatures as high as 2,300 degrees. After being held there for days, it was cooled to room temperature over a day or so. It was then shipped to the Middle East for relatively low-temperature fabrication.

      This moderate heat preserved enough carbide (in which three atoms of iron are mated to one of carbon) to give the blades great strength, yet not enough to make them brittle. The large carbide grains gave the blades their typical watery pattern.

      The superplastic steel developed at Stanford is kept at high temperature for only a few hours. It is shaped during cooling, reheated to moderate temperature for further working and may then be quenched to achieve extreme hardness. This process, Dr. Wadsworth said, produces very small carbide grains and hence even greater hardness and ductility than in Damascus steel.

      According to Dr. Nickel, once blades of Damascus steel had been rough-shaped by hammering, they were ground to a fine edge. When they were hammered chiefly on one side, a curved shape resulted - the origin of the sabre, he said.

      The finest blades ever made, he added, were the Samurai swords of Japan, whose blades may contain a million layers of steel. The layers resulted from hammering out a bar to double its original length, then folding it over as many as 32 times.

      The multiple layers used by the Japanese and by makers of the Malay dagger or kris are sometimes referred to as “'welded Damascus steel.'' Although the production method differs from that of true Damascus steel, the blades may show a very similar pattern.


However, according to a 1998 article “Damascus Steel“ by J. Horning (Purdue University School of Material Engineers) the secret of Damascus Steel was not in the technique of swordsmiths but in the composition of the metals:



Though there was a demand for Damascus steel, in the 19th century it stopped being made. This steel had been produced for 11 centuries, and in just about a generation, the means of its manufacture was entirely lost…As it turns out, the technique was not lost, it just stopped working. The "secret" that produced such high quality weapons was not in the technique of the swordsmiths, but rather on the composition of the material they were using. The swordsmiths got their steel ingots from India. In the 19th Century, the mining region where those ingots came from changed. These new ingots had slightly different impurities than the prior ingots. Because of the new composition, the new ingots could not be forged into Damascus steel. Because swordsmiths did not understand the nature of the material they used, when that material changed Damascus steel was lost.


He also states that in 1998, J.D. Verhoeven, rediscovered the composition that would create this steel. His paper on the topic The Key Role of Impurities in Ancient Damascus Steel Blades” can be found at  (http://www.tms.org/p...oeven-9809.html]


 “Drake Sings of Yesterday” contains two other words mentioned as plunder:


“Moidores” appeared on July 19, 2010 (http://www.rehupa.com/?cat=13&paged=21 – almost to the bottom of the page)

“Tuns” appeared on February 4, 2013 (http://www.rehupa.com/?cat=13&paged=8 -- about half way down the page)