Literary Texas: Robert E. Howard, Part 2

The home of Dr. and Mrs. Howard and their son Robert.

Robert Ervin Howard–creator of Conan the Barbarian and the Sword and Sorcery genre of fiction, a prolific writer of pulp fantasy, speculative fiction, extreme sport fiction, westerns, and other heroic narratives–also wrote poetry. It will likely surprise no one, therefore, that much of that poetry consisted of ballads about wars and tales of ghostly encounters.

The Harp of Alfred
I heard the harp of Alfred
As I went o'er the downs,
When thorn-trees stood at even
Like monks in dusty gowns;
I heard the music Guthrum heard
Beside the wasted towns:

When Alfred, like a peasant
Came harping down the hill,
And the drunken danes made merry
With the man they thought to kill,
And the Saxon kings laughed in their beards
And bent them to his will.

I heard the harp of Alfred
As the twilight waned to night;
I heard ghost armies tramping
As the dim stars flamed white;
And Guthrum walked at my left hand,
And Alfred at my right. 
                    by Robert Ervin Howard (1928)

Solomon Kane's Homecoming

The white gulls wheeled above the cliffs, the air was slashed with foam,
The long tides moaned along the strand when Soloman Kane came home.
He walked in silence strange and dazed through the little Devon town,
His gaze, like a ghost's came back to life, roamed up the streets and down.

The people followed wonderingly to mark his spectral stare,
And in the tavern they thronged about him there.
He heard as a man hears in a dream the worn old rafters creak,
And Solomon lifted his drinking-jack and spoke as a ghost might speak:

"There sat Sir Richard Grenville once; in smoke and flame he passed.
And we were one to fifty-three, but give them blast for blast.
From crimson dawn to crimson dawn, we held the Dons at bay.
The dead lay littered on our decks, our masts were shot away."

"We beat them back with broken blades, till crimson ran the tide;
Death thundered in the cannon smoke when Richard Grenville died.
We should have blown her hull apart and sunk beneath the Main.
The people saw upon his wrist scars of the racks of Spain."

"Where is Bess?" said Soloman Kane. "Woe that I caused her tears."
In the quiet churchyard by the sea she has slept these seven years."
The sea-wind moaned at the window-pane, and Solomon bowed his head.
"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and the fairest fade," he said.

His eyes were mystical deep pools that drowned unearthly things,
And Solomon lifted up his head and spoke his wanderings,
"Mine eyes have looked on sorcery in dark and naked lands,
Horror born of the jungle gloom and death on the pathless sands."

"And I have known a deathless queen in a city old as Death,
Where towering pyramids of skulls her glory witnesseth.
Her kiss like an adder's fang, with the sweetness Lillith had,
And her red-eyed vassals howled for blood in that City of the Mad."

"And I have slain a vampire shape that sucked a black king white,
And I have roamed through grisly hills where dead men walked at night.
And I have seen heads fall like fruit in a slaver's barracoon,
And I have seen winged demons fly all naked in the moon."

"My feet are weary of wandering and age comes on apace;
I fain would dwell in Devon now, forever in my place."
The howling of the ocean pack came whistling down the gale.
And  Solomon Kane rose up again and girt his Spanish blade.
In his strange cold eyes a vagrant glean grew wayward and blind and bright,
And Solomon put the people by and went into the night.

A wild moon rode the wild white clouds, the waves in white crest flowed,
When Solomon Kane went forth again and no man knew his road.
They glimpsed him etched against the moon, where clouds on hilltop thinned;
They heard an eery echoed call that whistled down the wind.
                                                               by  Robert Ervin Howard (1936)

That Robert Howard “blocked up” such landscapes as these in his creative inner-space may seem incongruous when compared to his rural, small-town life in Cross Plains, Texas, where his mother read him prose literature and poetry. But it was there in such an atmosphere that his intellectual interests, vivid imagination, and love of narrative formed a romantic alchemy out of which bubbled fantastic and sometimes macabre worlds, constant action, and superhuman heroes.

2 thoughts on “Literary Texas: Robert E. Howard, Part 2

  1. It is amazing what the mind can visualize. Talking locomotives, Muppets, and Horton the Elephant, are stepping stones to fantasy worlds; but, also pathways for inquiring minds to create and invent in the real world. Such is the power of a parent reading to their child.

    Liked by 1 person

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