The Word of the Week for May 25, 2015 is scintillant
Scintillant appeared only a few times in REH’s poetry and letters. While the meaning of the word doesn’t change, it’s context makes it stand out in each of his poems. Altars and Jesters is a poem of endless images. In these quoted verses I noticed the alliteration of the letter “s”
Far below lay the golden ditches.
Laughing, taunting, I saw them fly,
A shimmering arc of naked witches,
Like a silver bridge in the broken sky.
Then with a flick of his wrist, the devil
Flung me over a frozen sun,
And I fell and lay on a scintillant level,
Watching dancers that reeled and spun.
Each of the women was wearing only
High heeled slippers and black silk hose.
Their laughter rose but the sound was lonely,
And each of them tossed me a great black rose.
The untitled (“The iron harp that Adam christened Life) was the featured poem on May 4, 2015 for the word “cannonade.” but it was the type of cannonade that makes it so interesting:
And they that bear the harp revere their lords,
The blind uncertain gods that smite the chords.
Like some Manchurian gong of keenest jade
Into the brazen bowl the brazen tones
Drum out a hard scintillant cannonade
As in a skull were shaken precious stones.
And she who holds the bowl still knows the spur
Of they who smite the harp and ravish her.
A hard sparkling cannonade? The use of the scintillant which means sparkling becomes clearer in the next line: “As in a skull were shaken precious stones.” Still, an awesome use of the word.
In “Tiger Girl”, this week’s poem, her eyes were scintillent jet. In the prose poem “Flaming Marble” they are grey.
Now her fine, scintillant grey eyes flashed like white flame under ice, and she lashed me with words like silver daggers and diamond-pointed spears. The language she spoke I do not know, for the sound of it was as familiar to me then as is the language I speak in my waking life, and whether she reviled me in classic Latin, purring Ionian, clashing Doric, or sibilant Egyptian, I do not know. Nor do I remember what she said, or I scarcely heard, as I stood there scornful, with arms folded on my mighty breast—for my eyes were devouring the beauty of her marble limbs, the cold splendor of her haughty face, regal now like a goddess in her wrath.
Scintillant not only appeared in the three poems and a prose poem, it was a part of REH’s vocabulary in a couple of his letters. The first was to Harold Preece, dated Jan-Feb 1928. The interesting thing is both these letters contain famous and important passages:
The characters I write about in my fiction are all primitive, see. The one I like to write about best and which I have sold best is kind of a combination of Jack Dempsey, a Zulu chief and a prehistoric man. To hell with these damned polished snobs — “sophisticated” — hell. These birds that stand around making sarcastic wise cracks at everything, and sneer at all feelings as old fashioned, and think they are scintillant luminaries of an advanced - “sophisticated” - hell. I’ve studied psychology and not in school. They are just a flock of shallow, selfish tramps who are unconsciously seeking an excuse for their shallowness and selfishness. They ain’t even men, really. I write about men with primitive faults and failings and even if I am nothing but a dub writer, still the faulty characters I make are more real than most of the young intellectual fools with their egoist hooey. I mean my characters are more like men than these real men are, see. They’re rough and rude, they got hands and they got bellies. They hate and they lust; break the skin of civilization and you find the ape, roaring and red-handed. That’s the way men are. I ain’t upholding them; I despise the whole race, as a whole, but that’s the way men are.
The second time scintillant appears was about three and a half years later in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, ca. August 1931.
Well, I doubt if this missile will be very scintillant. Gone are the gay and festive days when I could instill sparkle and wit into a letter. I just got a letter from Farnsworth hinting Tamerlane as a fit subject for an Oriental Story story. He likewise mentioned my “The Thing on the Roof” which is not only the best story by far that I ever wrote, but which is, in my honest opinion a really first-class weird story judged by any standards. That sounds conceited and probably is; just the same, I hold to it. Several months ago Farnsworth rejected the tale saying it seemed too erudite for the general reader, though he liked it himself. Claytons likewise rejected it, saying the plot was too thin etc. etc. also etc. There was no attempt at plot. Like most real weird stories, it had no plot. Argosy rejected it with the usual stereotype. Then Farnsworth asked to see it again, when he accepted my “The Sowers of the Thunder” for Oriental Stories. In his latest letter he accepted it for $40. Not much money, but in this case I wasn’t really thinking about the money and he could have had the story for nothing, if he’d made me that proposition. I’d have given it to him free, just to get it in print. Now I’ve got to get hold of something on the Big Tatar and try to pound out a novelet; I’ve been thinking of writing a tale about him for a long time. And Babar the Tiger who established the Mogul rule in India — and the imperial phase in the life of Baibars the Panther, the subject of my last story — and the rise of the Ottomans — and the conquest of Constantinople by the Fifth Crusade — and the subjugation of the Turks by the Arabs in the days of Abu Bekr — and the gradual supplanting of the Arab masters by their Turkish slaves which culminated in the conquest of Asia Minor and Palestine by the Seljuks — and the rise of Saladin — and the final destruction of Christian Outremer by Al Kalawun — and the first Crusade — Godfrey of Bouillon, Baldwin of Boulogne, Bohemund — Sigurd the Jorsala-farer — Barbarossa — Coeur de Lion. Ye gods, I could write a century and still have only tapped the reservoir of dramatic possibilities. I wish to Hell I had a dozen markets for historical fiction — I’d never write anything else.
Unfortunately for his fans that he didn’t write that novelette or even an historical fiction novel but Conan and others were still to come.
This week’s poem “Tiger Girl” was never published in REH’s lifetime.
Your eyes, as scintillant as jet,
Dare my uncertain fancy rove;
And you are mine, strange girl—and yet
I almost fear that tigress love.
You would endure a thousand whips
As meek as any Moro wife—
But let me look on other lips—
And die beneath a Sulu knife.
In it REH mentions that “Tiger Girl” is “as meek as any Moro wife.” According to Wikipedia, the Moro are a population of indigenous Muslims in the Phillippines, forming the largest non-Catholic group in the country, and comprising about 5% of the total Philippine population. The Moro are divided into 13 ethnic groups. When the Spanish made incursions into Moro territory intending to colonize it, they ordered Jews and Muslims to convert to Roman Catholicism or leave or face the death penalty. The Moros challenged the Spanish and began to conduct raids on coastal towns. These Moro raids reached a fevered pitched during the reign of Datu Bantilan in 1754. They were never subjugated by the Spaniards during the entire 350 years they ruled the East.
The US claimed the territories of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Again, the Moro resisted any attempts by them to colonize their lands. On July 4, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation declaring an end to the Philippine Insurrection and a cessation of hostilities in the Philippines "except in the country inhabited by the Moro tribes, to which this proclamation does not apply.”
Subsequent negotiations with the Moro resulted in peace although raids by individual Muslims continued until the success of new aggressive American tactics. According to Rear Admiral D.P. Mannix, who fought the Moros as a young lieutenant from 1907–1908, the Americans exploited Muslim taboos by wrapping dead Moros in pig's skin and "stuffing [their] mouth[s] with pork", thereby deterring the Moros from continuing with their suicide attacks.
The Sulu knife was one of three weapons used by the Moro. (For a description and photo of this weapon, see “Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector’s Sword Collection” 7/27/12 on Black Gate website: It appears in the article toward the end under “Knives”.)
REH refers to the Battle of Manila Bay in his untitled poem (“Oh, the road to glory lay”). The note for this poem states:
A poem that is contained in “The Pit of the Serpent”, attributed to Steve Costigan’s fictional shipmate Hansen; appears to be a short takeoff from “The Battle of Manila Bay”, 1904, an epic poem about a American sea victory; poem has appeared with the story in all publications, and has not been published separately
Oh, the road to glory lay
Over old Manilla [sic] Bay
Where the Irish whipped the Spanish
On a sultry summer day.
The Battle of Manila Bay took placed on 1 May 1898. It was the first major engagement of the Spanish–American War. The battle was one of the most decisive naval battles in history and marked the end of the Spanish colonial period in Philippine history.
A lot of background in one REH poem “The Tiger Girl.”