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'Never the Sun Goes Forth'
The Song of the Mad Minstrel by Robert E. Howard
First published in Weird Tales, February-March, 1931
The following poem inspired this author to write the "Piper" character in Hemavore and The Jericho Bone, the subject of the collection Drink Deep of Night. The Mad Minstrel also inspired the Negro of the Sands character from A Hoodrat Halloween and Skulker Jones.
The poem itself consists of eight verses of four lines and two couplets each. The theme is explicitly that of a doom-saying, instigating, prophecy-making and fulfilling Fate, a masculine interpretation of the Hellenic Furies or the Norse Fates. This reader is tempted to see the Mad Minstrel as an expression of Howard's unsold Kull story, By This Axe I Rule! Renaldo, the fanatic, regicidal poet was written strongly in that Kull novella and remains in the first draft of the Conan rewrite—Howard's most groundbreaking novelette, the story that established the iconic Conan—The Phoenix on the Sword, and remains in the second draft. Much of Renaldo's animus is transferred to the Stygian servant, become sorcerer, but he remains as the moral impetus behind the regicidal mob.
Verse 1
"I am the thorn in the foot, I am the blur in the sight;
I am the worm at the root, I am the thief in the night.
I am the rat in the wall, the leper that leers at the gate;
I am the ghost in the hall, herald of horrors and hate.
Verse 3
"I warp and wither with drouth, I work in the swamp's foul yeast;
I bring the black plague from the south and the leprosy from the east.
I rend from the hemlock boughs wine steeped in the petals of dooms;
Where the fat black serpents drowse I gather the Upas blooms. [1]
Verse 6
"There was never a king or priest to cheer me by word or look,
There was never a man or beast in the blood-black ways I took.
There were crimson gulfs unplumbed, there were black wings over a sea;
There were pits where mad things drummed, and foaming blasphemy."
There is something very evocative of the Rolling Stones Song, Sympathy for the Devil—minus the sympathy—in The Song of the Mad Minstrel. The Lovecraftian theme of monstrous gulfs separating humanity from beings of madness is strong, as is the tragic sense of the passage of history. The Upas tree is possibly the inspiration for the much-used lotus plants that populate the dark-dreaming undercurrent of the Conan stories and provide a living, mythic thread with toxic, mind-altering plants shepherding civilized men to their doom and threatening barbarians like Conan with the intoxicated fate of the civilized degenerate.
The Upas is a tropical plant with toxic properties.
A Well of Heroes: Two:
Literary Impressions of the Prose and Verse of Robert E. Howard
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