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In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

20 April 2015 - 07:44 AM

The Word of the Week for April 20, 2015 is joss





Joss Whedon’s latest movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron will be in theaters May 1. But you may not know that his first name means Chinese idol  or that REH mentions joss in a couple of his poems. The first, “Sighs in the Yellow Leaves” appears in full on the REHupa website. The second is “Viking of the Sky.” (The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 110; The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v3, p. 481 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 58.)


Over the smoke-cloud’s crimson reach,

With the thrum of the Maxim’s ripping screech!

Through clouds as fleecy and white as snow,

Till I see the face of the frenzied foe!

The flame spurts red and the smoke leaps blue

And a spear of Hell’s-fire sears me through.

Ships so close that the flame jets cross,

His face turns blank as a Chinese joss!

His struck plane staggers, it dips to fore

And down he goes with a ripping roar!


In “Viking of the Sky” REH uses joss to describe the expression on the German pilot’s face but it isn’t the theme or focus of the poem as it is in “Sighs in the Yellow Leaves.” In “Sighs” it sets the tone, mood and place of the poem. Old and evil gods, leafy jungles and oriental mandarins are all familiar themes in REH’s poetry. “The Symbol” is a good example of idols found in leafy jungles.:


But deep in the seaweed-haunted halls in the green unlighted deep,

Inhuman kings await the day that shall break their chain of sleep.

And far in a grim untrodden land on a jungle-girded hill,

A pillar stands like a sign of Fate, in subtle warning still.


Carved in its blind black face of stone a fearful unknown rune

Leers in the glare of the tropic sun and the cold of the leprous moon.

And it shall stand for a symbol mute that men are weak and blind,

Till Hell roars up from the black abyss and horror swoops behind.


For this is the screed upon the shaft, oh, pallid sons of men:

“We that were lords of all the earth, shall rise and rule again.”

And dark is the doom of the tribes of earth, that hour wild and red,

When the ages give their secrets up and the sea gives up its dead.


The jungle god in “The Gods That Men Forget” is more benevolent and was once revered:


We were very old people on the island, old as races are measured but men had come before us. One day I climbed the leafy green fastness of the dreaming and mysterious hills where no man ever went. Higher and higher I climbed where the silence brooded like a sleeping god and I went on wary toes lest I should wake the drowsing leaves which carved out the tourmaline shadows. And at last I stood against the topaz sky and saw the coiling green serpent that men call the sea spread beneath me from horizon to horizon, and the distant white sails that hung against the skyline like a splash of white flame on a turquoise girdle. And the dusky jadegowned slopes stretched beneath my feet far down to the beaches where the distance carved the bays and inlets into little clear-cut stencils that winked like sapphires set in a green mitre.


And there I came upon a shrine of sard and calcite and an old forgotten god. Sunk and lost in the white-faced flowers and the lush grass were the marble paves which once girded his fane. Vines crawled like shimmering green serpents across his pedestal of red-veined onyx, and orchids flung about him their fragrance like an invisible white mist.


From great, strange magic eyes of carven rubies he looked at me and the jade and amber of his face glimmered ghostily in the purple shadows of the leaves. Not by word nor by sign did he speak to me, but the brooding invocation of the silence spoke to me.


Mandarins are mentioned in three of his poems. The first four lines of “The Sighing of the Yellow Leaves” are about idols. Then REH changes the tone of the poem. "Drowsy" and "sipped" give a relaxed feeling.


We sat beneath the drowsy fronded tree,

From shell-thin cups we sipped our amber tea.

The Mandarin laid his coral button cap

Upon the silken ocean of his lap.


In later lines he describes the Mandarin’s fingernail of jade—a pretty clichéd image. However, “shell-thin cups” and “the silken ocean of his lap” are more tangible descriptions. You can easily picture the cups and the silken robe he wears. Behind this relaxed atmosphere and ever present is the joss and its evil effect on the mandarin is felt.


A mandarin is also mentioned in the untitled (“A haunting cadence fills the night with fierce longing”)


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.

Yellow ivory—and my lips were hot against them—yellow ivory

And my thirsty fingers ruminated the mysteries of her body.

Yellow ivory—yet afar, afar, oh, sandals on my restless feet!


Again, the images are rich and deep, here, they are at times erotic and in other lines drowsy and slow. Both “Sighs in the Yellow Leaves” and “A haunting cadence” show such control over the minds of the reader and we go from one place to another in different lines. 


And then there is  doggerel (“I lay in Yen’s opium joint”). Compare the images in the two poems above with these: 


I lay in Yen’s opium joint,

A-watchin’ the devils dance

And the mandarin on the painted screen

’E seemed to h’arise and prance.

H’a most ondecent purformance

Ee-yah, and it’s the truth.


Interesting rhyming lines in this poem!


 "Sighs in the Yellowed Leaves" has a jungle, a joss and a cup of amber tea with a mandarin. Sweet!. 


More about “The Viking of the Sky” poem next week in relation to another word.


In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

13 April 2015 - 07:15 AM

The Word of the Week for April 13, 2015 is doubloon





Doubloons conjure up pirates and this week’s poem “Buccaneer Treasure” (unpublished during REH’s lifetime) is one of REH’s epic stories and takes up five pages filled with wonderful images. I’ve chosen some stanzas that are great examples of these.


It’s the story of finding Captain Kidd’s treasure. It starts out mild enough in a wharf side bar where a tramp relates that he and a mate found themselves adrift on the sea after a wreck.


“Some twenty years ago it was, I found myself a-float

From the shattered deck of a fog-bound wreck—at sea in a sailless boat.


He and the mate come to blows over the water. The mate ends up in the sea. The seaman has no idea how long or in what direction the boat drifts through the fog. Finally the sun comes out and reveals a turquoise sea. He can see down into the blue depths.


“Through the golden day as mazed I lay, like jade without a flaw,

The sea lay clear to my wondering eyes and strange were the sights I saw.

I gazed on wonders of ages gone as my boat went drifting o’er

Gem-set towers and strange sea flowers a-bloom on the ocean floor.


“Galleys of cities long forgot, dragon-ships and triremes;

Beneath the bows of my drifting boat they glided like hazy dreams.

Spires and castles swam into view, lost cities met my glance,

And ever the shadows swayed and fled like things of a deep sea dance.


“At last I saw them plain and clear and I swear I do not lie!

The shadows were mermaids, that I saw, beautiful, swift and shy.

Their hair was wavy and long and gold, their bodies whiter than snow;

Through the wondrous sheen of the ocean green they sported to and fro.


“Gem-set towers and strange sea flowers a-bloom on the ocean floor.” and I also enjoy the lines:


Spires and castles swam into view, lost cities met my glance,

And ever the shadows swayed and fled like things of a deep sea dance.


Vivid images of what lies below the sea. But as the mermaids take control of his small boat and literally guide him to an abandoned wreck the poem’s tone turns more sinister.


“So ancient was she I gaped and gazed in wonder, craning my neck;

Skeletons sat at the rotting oars and lay on the sun-warped deck.

A steel-bound chest on the main bridge stood and a skeleton lay thereon.

From the size of the bones he must have been a giant of thews and brawn.


“All in and out among his ribs the clinging sea moss twined

And decked the bare, sea-rotting skull that once had held a mind.

Those bones were old as Time itself, sun-warped, broken and grey.

I flung them down upon the deck and the chest’s lock pried away.


A “sea-rotting skull that once had held a mind.” Awesome! But that isn’t all!


“But I knew by the sword cuts and the marks as I flung back the lid

I had found the treasure that seamen seek, the treasure of Captain Kidd!

Glimmers of diamonds met my eyes, rubies that shone like stars;

Gleam and glitter of virgin gold, shimmer of silver bars.


“I thrust my hands in the kingly hoard where the doubloons rare lay massed—

When an icy breath like a thing of Death like a shadow whispered past.

I turned me round, my eyes a-blink, half-blind from the treasure shine—

The short hair prickled at my neck and a cold hand touched my spine.


“When an icy breath like a thing of Death like a shadow whispered past.” Another good image. And the tale continues:


“The rotten oars began to creak and sway each in its groove,

The arm bones creaked and bent and swayed—the galley began to move!

The galley leaped like a fleeing deer, straight into the west she sped

As the scarlet sun in a sea of blood sank with a blaze of red.


“The crimson waves cleft to her prow and in behind her spun.

And I saw a world of lurid flames behind the setting sun.

In wild amaze I watched them blaze, leap up and die and flare

Beyond the rim of the fiery sea like things of a wild nightmare.


“No worldly fires could fling such flame and I knew what befell—

As faster and faster the galley sped—she was bearing me into Hell!

Shrieking I hurled me across the rail, I clambered into the boat;

With shaking hands I loosed the chain and pushed her far afloat.


“But the galley altered not her pace, ’twas as she fled the night;

Marveling there I watched her fly, fast dwindling from my sight.

Till far away like some foul bird she stood against the flare,

Then vanished in the red sunset and Hell that waited there.


“The stars came blinking o’er the sea, slow came a slender moon

And I found that I clutched in my shaky hand a tarnished gold doubloon.

The blue waves barely rocked the boat beneath the silver moon;

All night she drifted with the tides as I lay half in a swoon.


He is eventually rescued but not before he encounters Captain Kidd:


“And sometime ’tween the dusk and dawn, after the moon had slid

Across the skyline, there came to me the ghost of Captain Kidd.

He wore his pistols and great sea boots as when he trod the deck,

But shackles clung to his hairy arms and the noose was on his neck.


When I read REH’s description of Kidd's “great sea boots” the bold pirate's image sprang up immediately—I can easily picture him standing on deck wearing those boots. They seem almost magical because when I try to picture him without them, he seems less a legendary pirate and more ordinary. Other images of pirates come to mind easily: sword, hat, scarf, but REH chose one item of Kidd’s dress and his focus was dead-on. Kidd standing on deck in those great sea boots conjures up a image of a powerful pirate. I can see from this that less is better when writing.


“And he told me how, as a living man, he had sailed to unknown climes

And had found that galley upon the sea, adrift since ancient times.

And put thereon his chest of loot and a grisly bargain made

With Satan himself, and with men’s blood he sealed his part of the trade.


Back at the wharf side bar the narrator sees the tarnished gold doubloon. I have to admit after I finished reading, a cynical thought occurred to me. What a great way to drink all the ale you wanted for the rest of your life. Simply invest in (or steal) a gold doubloon and come up with a strange tale. As the first verse says:


With his twitching hands and his rasping laugh he gazed like an idol grim

With a drunken leer o’er the stein of beer that I had bought for him.

“Look here,” said he, “I’ll tell ye a tale—a story strange, d’ye hear?

No man has heard it from me before—I’ve held it many a year.


That tale would definitely be worth the price of a beer and maybe more! I could be too cynical though. What do any of you think?


What are your favorite images in this poem?


In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

06 April 2015 - 07:16 AM

The Word of the Week for April 6, 2015 is ju-ju





This week’s poem “Ju-Ju Doom” was not published during REH’s lifetime. It’s a tale of magic and arrogance. I’m reprinting the poem here so we can look at it more closely. I’ve always thought of this as an REH anti-slavery poem. He wrote several of them. But perhaps I am wrong. I’ve highlighted lines 3 and 4 below because I think they are referring to the slave trade. Whether Worley is black or white is immaterial because many Africans sold other tribesmen and women (usually foes) to the white slave traders.


As a great spider grows to monstrous girth

On life-blood sucked from smaller, cringing things,

So Joab Worley, in his plunderings

Of black folk spawned in nakedness and dearth,

Grew great in all the riches prized of earth;

Dwelling in state, a brother to black kings,

In his great throne-hut, safe from spears and slings;

The deep black jungle echoed to his mirth.


Until he dared to go, in drunken pride,

Alone into the ju-ju hut; all round

The black priests trembled and the drums were beat;

At last they, on their bellies crawled inside;

There Joab Worley lay, without a wound,

Stone dead before the leering idol’s feet.


Does anyone have any other viewpoints on this?


Another special aspect of this poem: yes, lines 10 and 13 do rhyme according to REH’s pronunciation. In his book, Dark Valley Destiny, (p. 294) L. Sprague de Camp states:


Price dutifully notes two “idiosyncrasies” in Robert’s speech: he pronounced “wound,” meaning, an injury, so that it rhymed with the word “hound,” and he said “sword” with the “w” sound intact.


There are three references to ju-ju in REH’s poetry. One of them “Ju-Ju Doom” refers to a ju-ju hut, fetish charms and magic. But the other two refer to ju-ju trees. I enjoy featuring various topics in REH’s poetry. One of those is trees. He mentions beech, birch, oaks, olive, palm and pines. Trees most of us are familiar with.  But there are more exotic trees (baobob, sounding, thunder trees are among those. However, the ju-ju tree is more problematic. According to online dictionaries, ju-ju tree is a variant spelling of jujube tree which grows in China, Asia and Africa and also other locals. It’s difficult to tell from REH’s references in the poem whether he means a tree used for hanging ju-ju amulets, etc. or whether he is referring to a tree species. For instance in “The Return of Sir Richard Grenville,”


 “Rise up, rise up,” Sir Richard said,
“The hounds of Doom are free;
“The slayers come to take your head
“To hang on the ju-ju tree.


 “Swift feet press the jungle mud
“Where the shadows are grim and stark,
“And naked men who pant for blood
“Are racing through the dark.”


The other reference is in one of REH’s bawdy poems “Strange Passion.”


And I’ve felt the speed and strength

Of a slim-limbed Somali girl,

Naked, beneath the ju-ju trees:

That time my passion hottest burned,

I lay across her slim, brown knees,

My firm, young buttocks bare upturned.

Each time she shook in passion’s hap,

With greater strength my corded staff she held,

Stretching me naked o’er her lap,

Beating me till I fairly yelled. . .


Until this time, I thought he was referring to a tree in both these but perhaps I’m wrong. In “Sir Richard Grenville” Solomon Kane’s head in itself could be a ju-ju symbol—a sign of great magic. “Strange Passion” has a different tone though and frolicking (a more acceptable word here on the Forum) under a tree dedicated to magic could enrage the local shaman.


By definition ju-ju is both a magical item/place and it also is a species of tree. REH does so much with words and “Ju-Ju Doom” is another of his intriguing poems. If you see this poem differently, please share!


In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

30 March 2015 - 07:15 AM

The Word of the Week for March 30, 2015 is hook




This week’s poem “In the Ring” was not published during REH’s lifetime. To read the complete poem, see Word of the Week for March 2 on this Forum.


While “hook” is this week’s featured word, “In the Ring” is filled with other types of boxing punches: roundhouse, uppercut, hook, swing and jab. Each is defined and lists the poems it appears in.




The Cooling of Spike McRue:

A couple of hams were having a mill

In Gallegher’s old saloon.

With long left jabs and round house rights

They were playing a merry tune.


Fables for Little Folks:

Ah, the crowd they cheered, but the crowd they jeered

When his foeman stepped in the ring;

They hissed and jowled and the giant scowled

And rushed with a round-house swing.


Untitled (“My brother he was a auctioneer”):

But I laid for him upon that night,

            As he leaped across the hedgel,

And I timed his chin with a roundhouse right

            And knocked him cold as a wedgel.


When you were a Set-Up and I was a Ham:

In James J. Corbett’s day

And toe to toe and blow to blow

We mixed it in a fray

Or skittered with many a roundhouse right


The roundhouse is defined as a large, swinging circular punch starting from a cocked-back position with the arm at a longer extension than the hook and all of the fighter's weight behind it is sometimes referred to as a "roundhouse", "haymaker", or sucker-punch. Relying on body weight and centripetal force within a wide arc, the roundhouse can be a powerful blow, but it is often a wild and uncontrolled punch that leaves the fighter delivering it off balance and with an open guard.


Wide, looping punches have the further disadvantage of taking more time to deliver, giving the opponent ample warning to react and counter. For this reason, the haymaker or roundhouse is not a conventional punch, and is regarded by trainers as a mark of poor technique or desperation. Sometimes it has been used, because of its immense potential power, to finish off an already staggering opponent who seems unable or unlikely to take advantage of the poor position it leaves the puncher in.


The jab is another of the punches that appears “In the Ring.” It also is used in:


The Cooling of Spike McRue

A couple of hams were having a mill

In Gallegher’s old saloon.

With long left jabs and round house rights

They were playing a merry tune.


Slugger’s Vow

How your right thudded on my jaw.

Gad, what a punch you have!

Also that left jab

To the nose was a pippin.


When You Were a Set-Up and I Was a Ham

We were heavyweights, rough and tough,

But cautious at first in the fight;

We sparred at ease while the crowd yelled “Cheese!”

Or jabbed with a wary right.


The jab is defined as a short, straight punch. According to the sportsdefinitions website, it is a short, sharp punch with little windup. Usually used to soften up an opponent or distract him before a bigger punch is thrown. Other boxing websites state that the jab is the busiest punch in boxing. It's a punch thrown quickly with your leading hand straight from the chin in direct line to your target.


The Uppercut only appears once in REH’s poetry. "In the Ring."

And he batters me back across the ring—

Jab and uppercut, hook and swing—

A torrent of smashes that never slack—

I feel the ropes against my back.


The uppercut is defined as a punch directed upward with a bent arm. Sports Definitions define it further as a punch that is aimed at either the solar plexus or the chin. This punch can be devastating and is delivered using the front knuckles in an upward motion.


The Swing

Aw Come On and Fight!

I sprang, I struck, I crushed his skull

With a sudden desperate swing,

He died with his eyes to the glaring lights

And his back to the canvassed ring.


The Champ

A swing I landed on his jaw,

The crowd did yell and stamp,

The referee did count him out

And I was aye the champ.


Private Magrath of the A.E.F.

I sidestep quick as he makes his spring,

His bay’net flashes, I duck, I swing!

Flush on the jaw my right he stops,

Down in the muck on his face he flops.


Swings and Swings

They have built a world of paper and wood,

They have vanquished former kings;

And the only swing that would do them good

Is the kind that Dempsey swings.


Untitled (“We are the duckers of crosses.”)

We are the duckers of crosses,

We are the swingers of swings.

We count our gains and our losses

In all of the fourth rate rings.


When You Were a Set-Up and I Was a Ham

In James J. Corbett’s day

And toe to toe and blow to blow

We mixed it in a fray

Or skittered with many a roundhouse right

’Mid the ropes of a third-rate ring

My soul was rife with the joy of strife

As I matched you swing for swing.


(NOTE: skitter was Word of the Week on April 8, 2013. http://www.rehupa.com/?p=3788 )


The swing is defined as a sweeping punch that uses the full curve of the arm. A difficult punch to throw successfully.


The Hook appears in this week’s poem as well as.


Aw, Come On and Fight! 

He cracked three ribs with his smashing right,

His left hooks gashed my head;

I saw the ring aswim in a light

Hazy and dim and red.


According to BoxingDefinitions.com, the hook is defined as a short-arm punch that is thrown with the wrist turned at the point of impact and the arm curved rather than bent.


The mightyfighters.com website offers this information on the hook:



§  Keep Your Guard Up (1): Remember just like with every punch you throw, keep your rear hand up guarding your chin with your elbow tucked in to protect your body.

§  Bend Your Arm At A 90 Degrees Angle (2): When you throw the hook, your arm should be bent at an angle of 90 degrees, or close to it. If the angle is much more of much less, then you won’t get the maximum power from the punch.

§  Rotate Your Body (3): Again, this is another essential motion to increase your punching power. Not only that, but you’ll find that when you rotate your body simultaneously with the hook, your head also moves which helps to either avoid punches coming back or at least rolls with them.

§  Pivot Your Lead Foot: If you want to increase the power of your hook, then make sure that you pivot your lead foot simultaneously with the lead hook. If you’re hooking with your rear hand, then pivot with your rear foot.

§  Bend Your Knees: You may have heard the term, “sitting down on your punches”. This basically means bending your knees to get the most power. Not too much though, just slightly so that you can still maintain your balance.

§  Follow Through: It’s not a good idea to follow through with every punch. However, if you want to throw a hook with knockout power, then you have to aim to throw your punch through the target, not at it.



§  Drop Your Guard: A common mistake that fighters make when throwing the lead hook is that they would drop their rear guard. This leaves them open for a counter hook, which is often devastating. Knockouts in this manner happens time and time again, so be careful.

§  Stand Up Straight: Not only will you not get enough power in your hook, but you’ll expose yourself as a target a lot more and you can also be easily knocked off balance.

§  Load Up: What this means is that you shouldn’t cock back your arm and then throw the punch because then your opponent will be able to read your movement and time your punch better. Those few split seconds that you take loading up on a shot, you better believe that your opponent is waiting for the opening.

§  Throw From Too Far Out: The hook is meant to be thrown from close-range to mid-range. If your opponent is out of range, you’ll either have to lunge in with the hook (which you shouldn’t do unless you’re great at it), or you’ll have to reach with the hook which leaves you off-balance and reduces your power significantly.

§  Put All Your Weight On Your Front Or Back Foot: Distribute your weight in the middle as evenly as possible. If you put too much weight on your front foot and you miss your hook, then you’ll be falling into your opponent. If too much weight is on your back foot and you miss, you can easily be knocked backwards.


In addition they mention the types of hooks: The Check Hook; The Backstep Hook; The Pullback Hook; The Hook Uppercut; The Lead Body Hook and The Leaping Lead Hook along with videos and examples of each of these. Here is the link:



And, when those are mastered, there’s another section called “Using the Hook as a Counter.”




This ends the March Word of the Week using boxing terms. And that doesn’t even exhaust one of REH’s favorite subjects. It’s been a fun and informative series for me. As VK pointed out, it’s amazing what can spring from the seed of a single word. Like an iceberg there is so much more lying below.


In the meantime, Volume 4 of Fists of Iron has arrived in Cross Plains from the printer and Arlene and Tom are already started the wrapping, packing, boxing and shipping of all those volumes. And, this will continue over the next couple weeks. It might take just a little longer than usual to get all the books shipped because many people have requested their copies be sent in one shipment when all the volumes have been published so there is a lot of work ahead.


I’ve been told by Arlene that the Cross Plains post office loves us. Arlene also mentioned that many people in CP stare when she tells them these REH books are shipped to countries all over the world! I bet REH would stare too if he knew that!


In Topic: REH Word Of The Week

23 March 2015 - 07:16 AM

The Word of the Week for March 23, 2015 is feint




This week’s poem “Time, the Victor” was unpublished during REH’s lifetime. The Word of the Week refers to an important boxing strategy. For more information on this technique, see: http://www.mightyfig...different-ways/


REH’s boxing poems contain tributes, parodies, humor, cynicism and at least one metaphor which is in this week’s featured poem, “Time the Victor.”


In “These Things are Gods” (the full poem is featured in March 9 post) REH gave tribute to boxing and the boxing profession:


Long, smooth muscles rippling under a boxer’s skin,

The stench of sweat and tobacco smoke,

The crash of a gory glove,

The blood-lusting chant of the throng:

These things are gods.


He also wrote tributes to specific boxers including the Nonpareil Dempsey in “Jack Dempsey,” William Harrisison “Jack” Dempsey in “Fables for Little Folks,” both of which were featured last week. There were two other boxers who were featured in a poem of their own: John L. Sullivan in “John L. Sullivan,”


Bellowing, blustering, old John L.

Fearing nothing ’tween sky and hell!

Rushing, roaring, swinging his right,

Smashing, crashing, forcing the fight.

Battering foes until they fell,

Tilt your glasses to old John L.!


Mitchell he knocked, from the ring clear out!

Dropped Kilrain with a single clout!

Laflin he beat and Burke he flayed,

Knocked out the Maori Giant, Slade!

Packed in each fist, damnation and hell!

Tilt your glasses to old John L.!


Old John L.’s in town today

He’s hitting it down the Great White way.

Look at his swallow tail coat, silk hat!

Mustache too, say he’s on a bat!

Living it in, that you can tell,

Tilt your glasses to old John L.!


He’s cleaned out the roughest, toughest saloon,

He’s licked O’Rourke and Jem McClune,

Sampled every saloon on the streets,

Buying drinks for all he meets,

He’s taking the bowery in pell-mell!

Tilt your glasses to old John L.!


Stick in your head in that grog-shop door,

Look at him! Listen to his roar!

“Set out the whiskey, Jimmy, ye bum!

Belly the bar, ye half bred scum!

I can lick any guy from here to hell!”

Tilt your glasses to old John L.!


The world moves on and the ring moves too,

Old fighters have long given way to new.

But here’s a health to the olden days,

To the wild old, mad old, bad old ways,

When a fight was a fight and not a sell,

And tilt your glasses to old John L.


His tribute to Kid Lavigne in “Kid Lavigne is Dead” is a eulogy:


Hang up the battered gloves; Lavigne is dead.

Bold and erect he went into the dark.

The crown is withered and the crowds are fled,

The empty ring stands bare and lone—yet hark:

The ghostly roar of many a phantom throng

Floats down the dusty years, forgotten long.


Hot blazed the lights above the crimson ring

Where there he reigned in his full prime, a king.

The throngs’ acclaim roared up beneath their sheen

And whispered down the night: “Lavigne! Lavigne!”

Red splashed the blood and fierce the crashing blows,

Men staggered to the mat and reeling rose.

Crowns glittered there in splendor, won or lost,

And bones were shattered as the sledges crossed.


Swift as a leopard, strong and fiercely lean,

Champions knew the prowess of Lavigne.

The giant dwarf Joe Walcott saw him loom

And broken, bloody, reeled before his doom.

Handler and Everhardt and rugged Burge

Saw at the last his snarling face emerge

From bloody mists that veiled their dimming sight

Ere they sank down into unlighted night.


Strong men and bold, lay vanquished at his feet,

Mighty was he in triumph and defeat.

Far fade the echoes of the ringside’s cheers

And all is lost in mists of dust-dead years.

Cold breaks the dawn; the East is ghastly red.

Hang up the broken gloves; Lavigne is dead.


In the poem “Down the Ages” REH pays tribute to fighters “down through the bygone centuries”:


Forever down the ages

I watch the fighters go

Down through the bygone centuries,

Silently, row on row.

Men of the mighty shoulders,

Sinewy arms and wrists,

Whose pride and whose profession

Was the cunning of the fists.


Sluggers and panthers and sprinters,

I mark them as they go,

And I mark the kings among them

By the kingship that they show.

Wiry and light of stature,

Dark eye and swarthy face,

The best of England’s finest,

The Gypsy, superb Jem Mace.


Strong and mighty of stature,

Thrilled with the battle joy,

Rugged, powerful, fearless,

Heenan, the Benecia Boy.

Morissey, Sayers, McCaffrey,

All of them men of might.


His parodies are lots of fun. The untitled “We are the duckers of crosses” was featured in the March 5th post for Word of the Week “ham.” Excerpts from another parody “The Cooling of Spike McRue” was the featured poem for March 9th. Here are more verses from “The Cooling…”


REH begins the poem “With Apologies to R. W. Service and John L. Sullivan.”



A couple of hams were having a mill

In Gallegher’s old saloon.

With long left jabs and round house rights

They were playing a merry tune.

One was the Bowery Terror, Murderous Spike McRue,

The other the pride of the whole East Side,

Benny, the Battling Jew.


When out of the night where the fly cops were,

Into the cheering crowd,

A stranger pummeled his way within,

And he laughed both long and loud.

“Now who is he,” said Monk McKee

“Interferrin’ wi’ our sport?”

With a single clout he knocked Monk out

And he gave a scornful snort.


He’d weigh a scant two hundred pounds,

Yet the crowd was still as a louse

As he smashed a sledge‑hammer fist on the bar

And bellowed for drinks on the house.

And, “Boys,” said he, “you don’t know me,

And I don’t give a ding.

But Spike, that bloke—just watch my smoke.”

And he bounded into the ring.


Benny he ducked and the stranger swung,

And Benny he hit the floor.

The stranger tore into Spike McRue

And the crowd began to roar.

’Twas a left that lashed and a right that smashed,

And a left and a right again,

And shoulders flat Spike hit the mat

When he took it fair on the chin.


The crowd it cheered but the stranger sneered,

As he stepped to the waiting bar

And took a swig of whiskey, neat,

And lighted a long cigar.

And “Boys,” said he, “I don’t know ye,

And there’s none of youse worth a damn,

But you all know John L. Sullivan,

And that’s the guy I am.”


While knocked out flat on the trampled mat,

Lay Murderous Spike McRue,

With his feet in the classical Yiddish face

Of Benny the Battling Jew.



References to boxing terms are included in the bawdy untitled “My brother he was an auctioneer” and in the difficult to describe “A Hairy Chested Idealist Sings.”


Surprising cynicism shows up in his boxing poems although it seemed to be directed towards the crowds that attend the matches. In “Aw Come On and Fight!” the boxing match is a brutal one and not even the death of one of the boxers appeases the bloodthirsty crowd.


His first was a left that broke my nose,

His right ripped off my ear;

The red blood splashed beneath our blows

Till we stood in a crimson smear.


He cracked three ribs with his smashing right,

His left hooks gashed my head;

I saw the ring aswim in a light

Hazy and dim and red.


He split my brow and the lid dropped down

Like a curtain over the eye;

At every shove of his wet red glove

I saw the crimson fly.


On my hands and knees in a scarlet pool

I heard the referee toll,

And the crowd roared: “Kill the yellow bum!”

Like the sea along a shoal.


I sprang, I struck, I crushed his skull

With a sudden desperate swing,

He died with his eyes to the glaring lights

And his back to the canvassed ring.


The referee counted above the dead,

I swayed and clung to the ropes,

And the crowd roared: “Yellow! Both of ’em’s bums!”

Like the seas on the beaches’ slopes.


In “The Champ” his cynicism is directed towards the value of the title of champ itself:


The champion sneered, the crowds they jeered,

And to the crowd said he,

“In all this land is there a man

Will go three rounds with me?”

Up then I leaped, “You bum,” quoth I,

The champion loudly jeered,

And like a crowd, full long and loud,

The audience they cheered.


And then into the ring we came

And he rushed swift at me.

His nose I slammed, his jaw I whammed

And mixed it merrily.

A swing I landed on his jaw,

The crowd did yell and stamp,

The referee did count him out

And I was aye the champ.


Ah, amateur, this gink hath been

A champ before your day,

And therefore lend me fifteen cents

And I will go my way.


The untitled (“They matched me up that night…”) reflects on a realization about the crowd’s cheer at the end of the bout.


They matched me up that night with a bird that was a fright,

The Anaconda Kid from Amsterdam,

His face was like a fable, his wrist a hawser’s cable;

His shoulder was a gable, his arm a battering ram.

He rushed me from the bell like a roaring ape from Hell

And I put a wicked left against his chin,

But his left hand found me and his right swing crowned me

And the fogs closed round me and the ring began to spin.

A surf was roaring loud which I reckoned was the crowd

Gone cookoo as babies in their cribs.

At the gong my knees were knocking, I was weaving, ducking, blocking,

I went to my corner rocking with a couple broken ribs.

For the second gory round he came roaring with a bound

Seeing he had victory in his grasp,

I let go my right and duck him—just above the belt it took him

And I know that I have shook him for he halted with a gasp.

He dropped his guard a second—long enough for me I reckoned—

And the crowd went crazy where they sat

For my left hand battered and my right hand shattered

Till the red blood splattered on the great grey mat.

Oh, how they did yell and whoop when I knocked him for a loop

Just about a couple counts before the bell.

They’d have gave as loud a bellow had I been the losing fellow—

God, a crowd is yellow—yellow—all of them can go to Hell.


We know from his letters, poetry and even photos that REH himself boxed in matches. He wrote of his personal boxing experiences with friends in the untitled “There were three lads,” “When You Were a Set-Up and I Was a Ham,” and the untitled “Match a toad with a far-winged hawk."


But perhaps this excerpt from a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith dated August 26, 1925 (Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v1, pp 67-8) give us a picture of REH’s ageless dream:


      Primitive instincts are stronger in us. A child’s strongest, most lasting impressions are received in his earliest years. So with the race. The impressions received in the early, primitive days remain with us longer.


      I am boxing. My opponent leads with his right. I parry with my left and counter with my right. That is not correct. I should have stopped the punch with my right and countered with my left. Why did my instinct not tell me the correct form? More, why did instinct not tell my opponent to lead with his left which is also the correct form? Wrestling was perfected much earlier than boxing. In my former lives I must have been a man of peace and study. The great fighters now have been fighters in other lives.


      Some later age in some other body, I too will be a fighter. For that I am now building the foundation. What some have by sub-conscious instinct, I am gaining by hard work and study. I duck, guard, jab, parry and spar already mechanically and one might say instinctively, but it is not that. It is the act of trained muscle, rather than trained mind, and mind and muscle do not work in unison. But the instincts imparted to the mind in this life will go down the ages. And a thousand years from now, I clothed in another form, may hear the cheering crowd acclaim my name — the name of a new champion.


Boxing was that important to him and luckily for his fans, he was able to share that passion with us.