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‘Gazing Beyond Our Ken’
Men of the Shadows by Robert E. Howard
© 2016 James LaFond
Formerly published as ‘From the Dim Red Dawn,’ revised and expanded
The verse from Men of the Shadows, written between 1927 and 1929, was published in 1957, the prose not until 1969. This review is limited to the verse portion that precedes the prose, not the verse chanted by the Shaman within the story.
Reading from Bran Mak Morn: The Last King, Del Rey, 2005
The poem consists of 9 verses of four lines each, with verses 1, 5, 7 and 9 reproduced below.
“From the dim red dawn of Creation
From the fogs of Timeless Time
Came we, the first great nation,
First on the upward climb.
“See, how the Lost Fire smolders,
We are one with the eon’s must,
Nations have trod our shoulders,
Trampling us into dust.
“So we have mingled with ages,
Liking the Old and New—
Look, where the sea-cloud spaces
Mingle with ocean-blue.”
“Speak night-winds, of man’s creation,
Whisper o’er crag and fen,
The tale of the first great nation,
The last of the Stone Age men.”
In this brutal ode to a fallen people, Howard seems—as with all of the Bran Mak Morn material—to be obsessed with the notion that the earliest men to have risen from an animal state, might still have bloodlines among us. Is this a poetic yearning for continuity, an obsession about his fractured ancestry, so deeply reflected in the tales of the barbarian king brooding just beyond Rome’s Great Wall? Or could it reflect a purely sentimental hope that the first nation might have held a unique human spark that his imagination refused to consign to the ashes of a dead age—to the dark?
Howard has often been noted for his dark settings. But in most very scene he writes there is a source of illumination, the moon at night, the dying sun at dusk, a torch in a hero’s hand, even the scintillant gleam of wicked eyes. As an artist, Howard was one who worked in strong contrasts. In large measure, I count his dark settings as much a canvas for a smoldering characterization of will as a belief in an ultimately dark fate.
He: Gilgamesh: Into the Face of Time
‘A Dusky Rose in the Fading Light’
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