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'At the Haunted Dusk of Day'
The Dweller in the Dark Valley by Robert E. Howard
First published in Lost Fantasies, 1976, reading from the Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard, Del Rey, 2008
The Dweller in the Dark Valley is a masterpiece of narrative poetry that leaves this reader wondering why Howard did not write an epic poem. The answer is probably commercial viability. But where even Homer staggered through myriad lines in various cadences and the bard of Beowulf slogged as if through a marsh into his epic, Howard's verse dances, and manages to tell a complete tale in five four-line verses, the last two of which are quoted below.
"The nightwinds tossed the tangled trees, the stars were cold with scorn;
Midnight lay over Dark Valley the hour I was born.
The mid-wife dozed beside the hearth, a hand the window tried—
She woke and stared and sceamed and swooned at what she saw outside.
"Her hair was white as a leper's hand, she never spoke again;
But laughed and wove the wild flowers into an endless chain.
But when my childish tongue could speak, and my infant feet could stray,
I found her dying in the hills at the haunted dusk of day."
Three more verses of four lines each complete a tale that would occupy most writers at novel length and Howard would have rendered as a five chapter novelette, if inclined. Howard's horrific verse, I am convinced, was crucial to his success in prose. It lays suppressed in the subtext of Kull, emerges in the cycles of Bran Mak Morn and Solomon Kane, and exists side by side with the prose of the Conan tales, which he must have imagined as a hero cycle in the rough, gathered by a poet and not yet transformed into the poet's mnemonic art.
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