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‘The Unreined Life’
A Thousand Years Ago by Robert E. Howard


First published in [ITALICS]Night Images[/ITALICS], 1976.

This is another one of Howard’s pieces which were unpublished in his lifetime, which seems to be the fate of much of his verse. A Thousand Years Ago consists of three seven-line verses and fits firmly into the realm of dream. As to the extent to which Howard and other fiction writers of his period actually believed in blood memory we cannot know. But A Thousand Years Ago fits as firmly into the theme of dreams upwelling from our genetic code as the Edgar Rice Burroughs story, War Chief, in which the son of Scotch immigrants who was captured by Apaches as a small child, experiences the release of his savage Celtic ancestors once put back into a similar social context. Burroughs’ War Chief story was written within five years of this one. Howard’s most convincing stories along these lines involve Dark Agnes, who can hear battle drums in her temples as her blood pumps and in The Love of Barbara Allen. In this short poem, we seem to be treated to the ghostly voice of an ancient War Chief, remembering how he had terrorized civilization’s past. The last four lines of this haunting remembrance are:

“Of the desert dawns and the unrefined life

When I took the wars of the world to wife –

When I was chief of the Chatagai

A thousand years ago.”

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