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.”