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‘A Poet’s Skull—An Iron Bell’
Which Will Scarcely be Understood by Robert E. Howard
Consisting of six versus, three each of five and six lines, Which Will Scarcely be Understood, seems to be Howard’s own prediction of the rejection of his work by the cattle-like masses he often refers to in his horror, people with the “dim-eyes of oxen.” Likewise, he realizes that the puppet-masters of men and their sycophants and acolytes will reject the dark view of life his prose and verse illuminated, as not conducive to mass manipulation. It was left to the fringe readers of Weird Tales and later generations of people who found something lacking in the literature of their own time, to bring Howard’s work the status it deserved.
Below are some images that seem to be rooted as much in his own melancholy nature, as his Celtic heritage, and the influence of the colored storytellers of his childhood.
“Small poets sing of little, foolish things,
As more befitting a shallow brain…”
“True rime concerns…ebon blooms that dwell in ghastly woods…”
“The face of beauty is a grinning skull…”
His final verse predicts Orwell’s work in savage style:
“The poets know that justice is a lie.
That good and light are baubles filled with dust—
This world’s slave-market where swine sell and buy,
This shambles where the howling cattle die,
Has blinded not their eyes with lies and lust.”
Howard’s poetry, along with the dark menacing undercurrents of his adventure settings, offer a deeper indictment of modernity than did the works of men like Knock, who saw the flaws of modern civilization through systemic analysis, where Howard’s sense came through the oral traditions of displaced and discarded peoples and through contact with men who lived according to an obsolete code of honor that flew in the face of the emerging modern ethos. The most fantastic element of Howard’s work—the place where his dreamy boyhood mind’s eye focused—was that characters who lived their lives according to a code of behavior that respected the human spirit above and beyond the endless struggle for material gain would be victorious—if penniless—in the end. This, of course, was a sentiment that was rarely supported by events and trends, not in the American society of Howard’s day, or in ours.
A Well of Heroes
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