Category Archives: (Short) Narrative Poems

In the Style of the Faerie Queen

I really enjoyed reading Spenser’s Faerie Queen, but one night I found myself grumbling that the knights always triumphed by force of might. “Alas,” I tho’t, in the real world, the righteous are not always the strongest in battle.” And then I realized I had rather missed the point: I was reading an allegory, of course, so each knight’s triumph represented not the triumph of physical strength (though the adventure told that way), but the triumph of the particular virtue the knight represented.

A little while later I decided to play with this idea in my own Faerie poem. So, writing in the Faerie Queen’s stanzas, I began my own tale of adventure in Faerie–and its parallel in the real world, where moral battles were not often resolved through physical contest, and often appeared to be losing. Here is the first portion of that poem:

Faithfulness, or

The Parallel Stories of a Knight in Faerie and a Boy in an American Public School

A gentle knight was riding on a trail,
Yclad in mighty arms and silver shield
Which bore the marks of many years’ travail,
Received from many foes on divers fields,
For many knights the ancient arms had steeled.
Upon this shield this ensign could be found:
The image of an humble prince, who kneeled
Before his father to receive a crown,
And eke a share of glory and renown.

The device upon his shield bespoke his name;
For generations faerie had it seen,
And sung the reputation of its fame.
The ages hadn’t dimmed the armor’s sheen,
And still the ancient sword was keen;
So now the youthful elfin knight rode forward
And bore the honored arms with humble mien,
Determined he’d be Faithful to his Lord,
And rightly bear his fathers’ active sword.

Now as he journeyed on a dusty road
The knight espied a row of sculpted stones;
Like men they were, and well the details showed;
They might have been mistook for flesh and bone.
Beside these static forms were wearied dames,
From which there rose a woeful widowed moan:
Behold our husbands,” each of them exclaimed,
Their lives the petrifying monster’s claimed!”

The monster lay ahead upon the path;
At last, the faerie knight could try his might!
So, spurring horse ahead, with righteous wrath
And fiery fervent zeal the faerie knight
Committed strength to serve the widows’ plight.
But beast below had not the strength of good,
And would not join his rider in the fight:
It slackened pace, and then it only stood,
And left the elf to manage as he could.

The monster loomed ahead, a bulky troll,
A muscled mound beneath a hide like rock.
The elf, with sword in hand, and heart and soul,
Attacked the thing—which did not try to block,
But let the blade rebound with quite a shock
To him who had attempted the assault;
And then, with droning voice, began to talk.
It’s not my problem, chum, and not my fault,”
It said, and brought the knight unto a halt.

It’s not worth any effort,” th’ otherwise
Immobile troll opined.  This voice had swayed
So many men, who’d bowed to its advice,
And doing so, had let their powers fade;
At last they found their manliness unmade,
And gradually they’d been reduced to stone.
So now, beholding how his useless blade
Grew heavy in his hand, the knight undone
Was tempted just to leave the thing alone.

But Faithless would he be t’abandon right,
That Apathy might keep its fell control;
So rallying his strength the faerie knight
Betook himself again to fight the troll,
Determined to be Faithful in his role.
Discarding sword and taking mace instead,
The faerie knight with all his strength and soul
Now brought the weapon down upon its head,
And at the stroke, there Apathy fell dead.

A boy outside of faerie heard the stroke,
A little man, whose age was four and ten;
And at the sound his senses quickly woke
Up to the evil that approached him then.
For, like the faerie knight (and all good men),
He also sought for good to rightly rule,
But in a place beyond the faerie ken,
Where men and monsters both did play the fool,
A fell forsaken land called public school.

Andreas was the minor man yclept,
And from the person Christ had he been fed.
Not far from him he found a boy inept
In managing defense against his dread,
And now Tormenting Boys upon him tread.
“It’s not my problem,” said a Subtle Voice
That might have been his own inside his head;
But well Andreas knew that Subtle Voice,
And well he knew the nature of his choice.

Without a pause Andreas interposed
Between the bullies and their sobbing prey,
And made at once the bullies his own foes.
“Oh, big mistake,” he heard the leader say,
But bullies rarely tend to force a fray,
If they can have their ends by other means.
Yet this time one was keen to have his way,
And backed up a pair of wicked teens
He sought to punish him who’d intervened.

The bully’s pair of cronies checked around
To note if any teacher happened near,
And satisfied that none were to be found,
He gan to make his purpose plainly clear.
“I’ll count to three, and you will disappear,”
He told Andreas, smiling at the fun.
Then rose up from his stomach filthy fear,
Preparing him to either fight or run,
As the villain promptly counted, “One.”

 

You can read the remainder of the poem in Visions, and find out how Andreas faces down fear, and several other monsters besides.

Faye (video)

Thumbnail

Narrative poem in anapestic meter by the Bearded Poet. Enjoy!

Get this and other great poems on your Kindle:

Own Visions for only 99 cents, or download free if you have Kindle Prime!

The Cremation of Sam McGee

by Robert W. Service (1874-1958)

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
by the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
that would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
but the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennesee,
where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam
’round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold
seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way
that he’d “sooner live in hell.”

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way
over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold
it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then our lashes froze
till sometimes we couldn’t see;
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one
to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night as we lay packed tight
in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars overhead
were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he,
“I’ll cask in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you
won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no;
then he says with a sort of moan:
“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold
till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ’tain’t being dead—it’s my awful dread
of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair,
you’ll cremate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed,
so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn;
but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day
of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall, a corpse was all
that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death,
and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid,
because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say:
“You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you
to cremate those last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid,
and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb,
in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight,
while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows—
O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay
seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent
and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad,
but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing,
and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge on Lake Lebarge,
and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in ice, but I saw in a trice
it was called the “Alice May.”
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit,
and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” says I, with a sudden cry,
“is my crematorium.”

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor,
and I lit the boiled fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around,
and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—
such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal,
and I stuffed in Sam McGee

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like
to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled,
and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled
down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak
went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow
I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and the danced about
ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said:
“I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked…”
then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm,
in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile,
and he said, “Please close the door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear
you’ll let in the cold and storm—
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee,
it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
by the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have there secret tales
that would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
but the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

The Raven (video)

Enjoy The Raven on YouTube.

Thumbnail

If you like this poem, you may enjoy this discussion of its structure and artistry.

Leave a comment below about what you thought of this interpretation (and yes, I know what words I missed), or make a suggestion for what other poems you would like to hear performed.

Or check out some of my other videos if you like.

Casey at the Bat

Some readers may remember this poem by Ernest Thayer from an old Disney cartoon–or maybe have heard it referenced or parodied in one of a thousand other places, as it is simply the most popular baseball poem ever written. (Not that all that many poems have been written about baseball.) It is written in iambic heptameter, an ideal form for telling a story in poem, as it allows for longer phrases and more variation than tetrameter or pentameter. It is also an excellent example of metrical construction, in that it requires no particular effort from the reader to generate the rhythm: the rhythm is the product of natural speech, supporting rather than distracting from a story that might be told [less effectively] in prose.

It looked extremely rocky for the Mudville nine that day;
The score stood two to four, with but an inning left to play,
So, when Cooney died at second, and Burrows did the same,
A pallor wreathed the features of the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go, leaving there the rest,
With that hope that springs eternal within the human breast.
For they thought: “If only Casey would get a whack at that,”
They’d put even money now if Casey were at bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, and likewise so did Blake,
And the former was a pudd’n, and the later was a fake.
So on that stricken multitude a deathlike silence sat;
For there seemed but little chance of Casey’s getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all.
And the much despised Blakey tore the cover off the ball.
And when the dust had lifted, and they saw what had occurred,
There was Blakey safe at second, and Flynn a-huggin’ third.

Then from the gladdened multitude went up a joyous yell—
It rumbled in the mountaintops, it rattled in the dell;
It struck upon the hillside and rebounded on the flat;
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place,
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face;
And when responding to the cheers he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt,
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then when the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance glared in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped;
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey.  “Strike one,” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm waves on the stern and distant shore.
“Kill him! kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult, he made the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and the echo answered “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed;
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let the ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lips, his teeth are clenched in hate.
He pounds with cruel vengeance his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go.
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright.
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout.
But there is no joy in Mudville: Mighty Casey has struck out.