Reading Robert E. Howard on National Poetry Day


I saw somewhere that today is supposed to be National Poetry Day, so I thought I would read some selections by one of my favorite poets.  Robert E. Howard is held in pretty high esteem in these here parts.  This is a side of Howard’s writing that isn’t as well known as it should be.The volume you see on the left is over 700 pages in length. It was published by the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press.  If you don’t have a copy, that’s unfortunate. It’s out of print.  (And you ain’t gettin’ mine.)

Here are some of my favorites.

“A Song of the Naked Lands” is probably the Howard poem I like best.  It deals with Howard’s best known theme, the triumph of barbarians over civilization.  The poem tells how a group of barbarians overthrow a decadent civilization only to grow soft themselves and fall to their cousins who stayed int he desert.

They will trade their freedom for harps and lutes,
Discard the bow and the dart;
They will build a prison of satin and gold,
And call it Culture and Art.

Howard explored the same themes in his poetry that fill his fiction.  Case in point, “An Echo from the Iron Harp” mixes history, barbarism (again), and reincarnation.  It tells the memories of a warrior who fought against Rome.

In the pallid mist of death-like sleep
she comes again to me;
I see the gleam of her golden hair
and her eyes like the deep grey sea.

A poem that will be of interest to most Howard fans is “The Tempter”.  It concerns suicide.  I’m not going to quote it.  It’s a powerful piece of verse, and it foreshadows Howard’s death.

Another favorite of a great many people is “Cimmeria”.  At Howard Days a few years ago a group read this on the porch of the Howard house in six different languages.  Speaking of Howard Days, reading from Howard’s poetry has become a standard event every night.

Hester Howard read poetry to the young Robert, giving him a love of the form that he would carry with him all his life.  New poems still come to light from time to time.  Howard’s poetry infused his writing.  Read some of your favorite passages from Conan or Solomon Kane or any other work aloud and see if there isn’t a rhythm and a cadence to the words that makes them come alive when you hear them in addition to reading them on the page.

So what are some of your favorite Robert E. Howard poems?

6 thoughts on “Reading Robert E. Howard on National Poetry Day

  1. Matthew

    I always like the story-poem where the ghost of Richard Grenville awakens Solomon Kane to aid him against a group of cannibals.

  2. Paul McNamee

    Yes. The three Solomon Kane poems are excellent, and I believe “The Return of Sir Richard Grenville” is still my favorite of all.

    I am an abashed REH fan – I don’t have the ‘Collected Poetry.’ 🙁 I heard rumors the Foundation was considering a reprint but I’ve seen nothing.

    I’ll buy it for sure if it’s ever available again.

    1. Keith West Post author

      I think a reprint is on the agenda down the line. I know there is a demand for it. The Foundation doesn’t actually own the rights, so there’s some haggling that needs to be done in the legal sphere. Unfortunately, the rights holder won’t authorize electronic editions.

  3. deuce

    Great post! My favorite REH poems change depending on my mood. I memorized “Recompense” and “Lines Written in the Realization I Must Die” in 8th grade. They’re still high on my list.

    BTW, Howard Works is the Howard fan’s friend — just in case some of your readers don’t know about it, Keith. 😀


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