Most of you will be familiar with Robert E. Howard as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, and as the father of the swords and sorcery genre. But few realize that as well as being a prolific writer, Howard was also a prolific poet.
I have lived in the Southwest all my life, yet most of my dreams are laid in cold, giant lands of icy wastes and gloomy skies, and of wild, wind-swept fens and wilderness over which sweep great sea-winds, and which are inhabited by shock-headed savages with light fierce eyes. With the exception of one dream, I am never, in these dreams of ancient times, a civilized man. Always am I the barbarian, the skin-clad, tousle-haired, light-eyed wild man, armed with a rude ax or sword, fighting the elements and wild beasts, or grappling with armored hosts marching with the tread of civilized discipline, from fallow fruitful lands and walled cities. This is reflected in my writings.
~ Robert E. Howard 1906-1936
I love his poetry almost as much as I love his stories, but the following two poems are my favourites.
I have not heard lutes beckon me, nor the brazen bugles call,
But once in the dim of a haunted lea I heard the silence fall.
I have not heard the regal drum, nor seen the flags unfurled,
But I have watched the dragons come, fire-eyed, across the world.
I have not seen the horsemen fall before the hurtling host,
But I have paced a silent hall where each step waked a ghost.
I have not kissed the tiger-feet of a strange-eyed golden god,
But I have walked a city's street where no man else had trod.
I have not raised the canopies that shelter revelling kings,
But I have fled from crimson eyes and black unearthly wings.
I have not knelt outside the door to kiss a pallid queen,
But I have seen a ghostly shore that no man else has seen.
I have not seen the standards sweep from keep and castle wall,
But I have seen a woman leap from a dragon's crimson stall,
And I have heard strange surges boom that no man heard before,
And seen a strange black city loom on a mystic night-black shore.
And I have felt the sudden blow of a nameless wind's cold breath,
And watched the grisly pilgrims go that walk the roads of Death,
And I have seen black valleys gape, abysses in the gloom,
And I have fought the deathless Ape that guards the Doors of Doom.
I have not seen the face of Pan, nor mocked the Dryad's haste,
But I have trailed a dark-eyed Man across a windy waste.
I have not died as men may die, nor sin as men have sinned,
But I have reached a misty sky upon a granite wind.
Serpent prow on the Afric coast,
Doom on the Moorish town;
And this is the song the steersman sang
As the dragonship swept down:
I followed Asgrimm Snorri's son around the world and half-way back,
And 'scaped the hate of Galdjerhrun who sank our ship off Skagerack.
I lent my sword to Hrothgar then; his eyes were ice, his heart was hard;
He fell with half his weapon-men to our own kin at Mikligard.
And then for many a weary moon I labored at the galley's oar
Where men grow maddened by the rune of row-locks clacking ever more.
But I survived the reeking rack, the toil, the whips that burned and gashed,
The spiteful Greeks that scarred my back and trembled even while they lashed.
They sold me on the Eastern block; in silver coins their price was paid;
They girt me with a chain and lock, I laughed and they were sore afraid.
I toiled among the olive trees until a night of hot desire
Blew me a breath of outer seas and filled my veins with curious fire.
Then I arose and broke my chain and laughed to know that I was free,
And battered out my master's brain and fled and gained the open sea.
Beneath a copper sun adrift, I shunned the proa and the dhow,
Until I saw a sail uplift, and saw and knew the dragon prow.
Oh, East of sands and sunlit gulf, your blood is thin, your gods are few;
You could not break the Northern wolf and now the wolf has turned on you.
The fires that light the coasts of Spain fling shadows on the Eastern strand.
Master, your slave has come again with torch and axe in his right hand!