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'To the Set of the Sun'
The Return of the Sea-Farer by Robert E. Howard, reading from A Word from the Outer Dark, pages 32-4


In yet another stark musing on the savagery of the sea, Howard treats the reader—which I understand as himself, immersing his molten muse in icy gulfs in mood setting poetics—underlines his prose works in bold with his vision of seafaring in open boats upon open seas.

Each verse is of four lines.

The first three verses are put as questions to the returning sea-chieftain.

Verse one reads:

"Thorfinn, Torfinn, where have you been?

And whence do you come in the rain and the night?

The grey ocean surges have swallowed your men,

And your dragon-ship sleeps where the wolf-waves roll white."

After a reading of this passage it is hard to believe Howard had not read The Odyssey and been moved by it. Howard's readings are not known to this author, except for Bulfinch, London, Burroughs and Lamb.

The next verse stands in for the homelanders characterizing Thorfinn in a soul-damaged and voyage-wracked manner.

The third verse asks Thorfin of what wonders he beheld and what horrors he survived.

The remaining six verses constitute Thorfinn's laconic answer, as if Odysseus were a ghost describing a fleeting glimpse of sunset shores and the elemental power of the ocean. For a landsman, Howard possessed a vivid appreciation of the savagery of the seas his ancestors had tossed and strove upon in ages gone by. The poem seems to prefigure the short epic Solomon Kane's Homecoming and it's spirit is best illustrated by this line:

"White fangs of the hounds of the ocean were bared—"

The Return of the sea-farer suggests that the soil that Howard nursed his totemic imagery in, that gave such life to characters such as Conan and Kull, were his largely unsold poetics.

Notes

Thorfinn was the name of the Norseman first credited with sighting North America.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skræling#Thorfinn_Karlsefni

The Pale Usher

Impressions of Moby Dick: Herman Melville and Modern Man?s Transcendental Journey

https://www.amazon.com/Pale-Usher-Impressions-Melville-Transcendental/dp/1975891090/ref=sr_1_1/144-1723628-0585162?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1504268535&sr=1-1

Add Comment
Tex AlbrittonSeptember 9, 2017 12:34 AM UTC

Our host said...

"Howard's readings are not known to this author, except for Bulfinch, London, Burroughs and Lamb."

To which I reply...

http://web.archive.org/web/20110513233907/http://www.rehupa.com:80/bookshelf.htm

Though an archive link, it's still searchable.

Tex Albritton

(doing his part)