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‘Vain Things of Breath’
The Bride of Cuchulain by Robert E. Howard
© 2019 James LaFond
DEC/16/19
Reading from pages 98-99 of A Word from the Outer Dark
Gulfs, contempt for self-worship
Howard’s most often reoccurring theme of a horrific nature—the great empty obstacle against which his manic and mirthful heroes dash themselves like striven waves, is given savage life in this poem.
The Bride of Cuchulain, which this reader takes to represent Howard’s yearning for and identification with the heroic Gaelic spirit of his favored racial aspect, is a wonderfully sober meditation on our passing efforts to leave our handprints upon the fluid walls of Time. It consists of nine three-line versess, all of which ring well in the mind’s inner bell. Below find verses two and three;
“We know, for we rent the curtain [1]
To gaze behind the lure,
That naught but death is certain, that naught but death is pure. [2]
“From our thrones of ivory, flattered [3]
By the cringing tribes of earth,
We have watched the idols shattered to the flute of our empty mirth.” [4]
Howard’s reverence for the poetic and heroic aspects of his favorite ancestral race, is, in The Bride of Cuchulain, tellingly intertwined with his almost Japanese sense of fatalism. For the postmodern reader, Howard’s most disturbing aspect is well reflected within these 9 verses, which place Mankind in tiny proportion within the cosmos, a most unsettling framework for the self-defied pinnacles of evolutionary conceit teetered brittlely on the lips of one shallow breath which they see as Time’s final precipice.

Notes
1-Common domesticated delusion
2-an expression of his suicidal longing or of a contempt for man’s petty conceits?
3-Bone throne possibly referencing our mortal forms
4-the use of music to represent iconoclasm possibly references Howard’s overriding theme of cyclic rise and fall of domestic societies as opposed to the modern and postmodern notion of perpetual lineal progress.
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