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'Follows the Ghosts of the Mighty Dead'
Black Harps in the Hills by Robert E. Howard

Reading from page 43 of A Word from the Outer Dark

These 9 verses, 8 of six lines and 1 of 5 lines, constitute a racial call to action against an ancestral enemy.

The first verse sets the tone:

"Let Saxons sing of Saxon kings,

Red-faced swine with a greasy beard—

Through my songs the Gaelic broadsword sings,

The pibrock [1] skirls and the sporran swings, [2]

For mine is the blood of the Irish kings,

That Saxon monarchs feared."

The second verse extolls the hard, bitter life of the Irishman and that he is also descended from great men of old, whose spirit will well up within him and carry him to battle.

The third verse names the hereditary foes of the Irish race and warns that the "black fury" of the Gael will make him a terror to these less vibrant and less rage-filled races of men.

Verse 4 is of the clan in battle.

Verse 5 is the uncompromising kingship.

Verse 6 is of battlefields, with a phrase in Gaelic.

Verse 7 brings the author in as a ghost-summoning bard.

Verse 8 begins with a Gaelic line and concerns clan again in a fatalistic call to a battle to be lost.

Verse 9 holds up the bloody draws against invading armies as an honor and ends with a line in Gaelic which is unintelligible to this reader.

Howard remains unsurpassed in the passion, drive and tribal identity of his heroes. It is this readers opinion that this is the case, in part, because Howard wrote inspirational verse from the viewpoint of his various characters, without directly placing or citing such verses in their stories, as if these verses were incantations for the summoning of ancient shades. Poems such as Black Harps in the Hills were, in the least, good preparatory exercises for writing realistically vested ancient characters.


1. (in the Scottish Highlands) a piece of music for the bagpipe, consisting of a series of variations on a basic theme, usually martial in character, but sometimes used as a dirge.

2. spor·ran.



sporrans (plural noun)

a small pouch worn around the waist so as to hang in front of the kilt as part of men's Scottish Highland dress.


mid 18th cent.: from Scottish Gaelic sporan.

A Well of Heroes: Two:

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

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