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‘Deeds of Men’
Roundelay of the Roughneck by Robert E. Howard
Reading from pages 104-107 of a Word from the Outer Dark
Howard admitted in a letter that “roughnecks” had been among the group of men he had used to assemble characteristics from the most dynamic mythic hero in all of human history, Conan the barbarian. I am currently living with a man who worked the oil fields of the north a half century after Howard wrote of the oil workers of the South. He said, “During the Oil Boom Evenstan [Wyoming] was a good place to get punched in the mouth.” According to him the mixture of hardworking and hard-drinking men, sometimes engaged in criminal activity, was “a scary situation.”
Roundelay of the Roughneck is the one poem he wrote about these men.
The poem is structured of 16 verses, all four lines, except for verses 11 and 12 which are of 2 lines each.
Below are some samples:
Verse 2
“Let poets seek the tinted reek,
Perfume of ladies gay,
Of winds of wild outlands I speak,
The lash of far sea spray.”
Verse 4
“Prospector; king of battle ring;
Tarred slave of tide’s behest,
Monarchs of muscle shall I sing,
Lords of the hairy chest.”
In Verse 6 Howard chants his favorite mantra, that real men “mock death,” which echoes down to our extreme sissy age populated by billions of godless souls clinging to miserable life like drugged gods that dread their own tragic end in bitter hatred of the Eternal God living outside of Time. Here Howard reminds in heathen wise that only the hero who dares death has access to Eternity.
Verse 15
“In the marshy swamp, in the jungle damp,
Tall trees in marching lines,
That echo again to the tusker’s tramp,
Where the tiger glides through the vines.”
Verse after verse Howard equated the rough labor of the oil hand on the margins between civilization and the wild places with the life of adventure in far lands. This was not just fancy, as these men did travel to exotic climes in serves to the oil industry and their tales of departure and return seem to have inspired the wanderlust of his mythic heroes who would labor with sword rather than wrench.
The roughneck, perhaps, represents the interaction with lethal habitats by socially obsolete men, which, in this reader’s view must have informed a portion of Howard’s high regard for the barbaric state over the civilized, as the men who serve civilization on its margins tend to mirror the barbarian much more than their distant master.
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Add Comment
ShepOctober 18, 2020 10:58 PM UTC

IIRC, the oil fields were where Kirby "The Iron Man" Karnes got his start.
responds:October 20, 2020 3:02 PM UTC

Thanks, I had forgot and had to give the book away!