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‘To Swear My Life Away’
The Feud by Robert E. Howard

Reading from page 8 of A Word from the Outer Dark

The Feud is a poem of three verses of four lines each, the first and second line, and third and fourth line, each rhyming.

The feud is appreciated, in stages, through the eyes of an avenger, a man who has taken and lost and hates still, but at last ponders the feud’s toll. The poem is primarily reflective, with the feudist’s enemy dead on the trail before the first verse closes. Compared to the seven verses of The Kiowa’s Tale, in which the Indian lying in ambush reflects on the shared humanity of his enemy, this, likewise nameless feuding white man despises his enemy, though he is racially the same, for his enemy has sought out the lower powers of Civilization, of sissy, non-heroic society, to intercede in their feud.

He is most galled by the fact that the brother of the man he killed, because that brother killed the feudist’s son, was headed to town to bring down the law, “to swear his life away,” for the commission of on objectively honorable act, the avenging of a son’s death. Scorn for such intrusion into the heroic life, on behalf of society, is reflected upon negatively throughout Howard’s work: from The Worms of the Earth, where Bran Mak Morn swears hideous vengeance for Roman justice, to Almuric, in which the hero, Essau Cairn, faces the systemic wrath of a weak-hearted society for dealing death to a predatory criminal.

The Feud holds the kernel of the intensity that places a shred of Achilles in many of Howard’s prose works, yet is not barren of reflection.

A Well of Heroes: Two:

Literary Impressions of the Prose and Verse of Robert E. Howard

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