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‘The Thick Night’s Falling’
Up, John Kane! by Robert E. Howard
Formerly published as ‘The Dark Blood-Flower,’ revised
Published posthumously, reading from page 27 of The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, 2008, Del Ray
Robert E. Howard peppered his prose with verse, much of it atmospheric, but more often than not offering a menacing context steeped in the idea that antiquitous horrors, as well as the memories of those humans who had opposed such evil in the past, might travel down through the eons via the blood. As a writer I take this as the metaphor for the handing down from memory sacral verse within the bloodline of the tribe. But Howard, and others of his era, having been convinced through readings of Darwin and Galton that God might well be writ small and ever-replicating along a biological pathway that included Man, saw—or at least dreamed of—the possibility of ancestral memories emerging in dream, or through the fingers of a writer composing in a channeling fashion.
The theme of primal vengeance against the artificial world order of Modern Diminished Man at the hands, claws or fangs of wolf-like men or beasts, was strong in Howard’s verse and emerged as prose in the Solomon Kane stories.
From Up, John Kane!
“Up, John Kane, the grey night’s falling;
The sun’s sunk in blood and the fog comes crawling;
From hillside to hill the grey wolves are calling;
Will ye come, will ye come, John Kane?
“What of the oath that you swore by the river
Where the black shadows lurk and the sun comes never,
And a Shape in the shadows wags its grisly head forever?
“You swore by the blood-crust that stained your dagger,
By the haunted woods where hoofed feet swagger,
And under grisly burdens misshapen creatures stagger.
“Up, John Kane, and cease your quaking!
You have made the pact which has no breaking,
And your brothers are eager their thirst to be slaking.”
Two more three-line verses follow as the thirsty earth reminds John Kane of his pact. A final four-line verse compliments the first. This is perhaps my favorite Howard verse. As with some of the shorter poems to follow, I suspect he was using these to work out the psychological dimensions of his heroic vision, with the Solomon Kane and Conan character seemingly more infused with poetic vision than his other heroes. On the face of it this is absolutely a call to a werewolf to rise and slake his thirst.
Was Howard simply developing empathy for the monstrous to assist in his infusion of horrific themes into his adventure tales?
Perhaps, as this is an often unseen aspect of the fiction writer's discipline, with some of us leaving behind in our unpublished notes absolutely lousy verse. I can’t help but wonder if Howard’s bold identification with werewolves—in light of the fact that werewolves are symbolic in myth of a fall back into barbarism and savagery—might be tied in with his obsession with the transcendental superiority of barbarism to civilization.
I highly recommend the reader acquire a copy of the Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard by Del Rey and enjoy some of the darker visions of the author's mind’s eye.
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