On aimless streets the rat-gnawed years forget-
But what inhuman figures leer and slink
Down the old alleys when the moon has set?
~ Arkham, by Robert E. Howard
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.
Small poets sing of little, foolish things,
As more befitting to a shallow brain
That dreams not of pre-Atlantean kings,
Nor launches on that dark uncharted Main
That holds grim islands and unholy tides,
Where many a black mysterious secret hides.
True rime concerns her not with bursting buds,
The chirping bird, the lifting of the rose—
Save ebon blooms that swell in ghastly woods,
And that grim, voiceless bird that ever broods
Where through black boughs a wind of horror blows.
Oh, little singers, what know you of those
Ungodly, slimy shapes that glide and crawl!
Out of unreckoned gulfs when midnights fall
To haunt the poet's slumbering, and close
Against his eyes thrust up their hissing head,
And mock him with their eyes so serpent-red?
Conceived and bred in blackened pits of hell,
The poems come that sets the stars on fire;
Born of black maggots writhing in a shell
Men call a poet's skull-an iron bell
Filled up with burning mist and golden mire
The royal purple is a moldy shroud;
The laurel crown is a cypress fixed with thorns;
The sword of fame, a sickle notched and dull;
The face of beauty is a grinning skull;
And ever in their soul's red caverns loud
The rattle of the cloven hoofs and horns.
The poets know that justice is a lie,
That good and light are baubles filled with dust—
This world's slave-market where swine sell and buy,
This shambles where howling cattle die,
Has blinded not their eyes with lies and lust.
Ring up the demons from the lower pit,
Since Evil conquers goodness in the end;
Break down the Door and let the fires be lit,
And greet each slavering monster as a friend.
Let obscene shapes of Darkness ride the earth,
Let sacrificial smokes blot out the skies,
Let dying virgins glut the Black Gods' eyes,
And all the world resound with noisome mirth.
Break down the altars, let the streets run red,
Tramp down the race into the crawling slime;
Then where red Chaos lifts her serpent head,
The Fiend be praised, we'll pen the perfect rime.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
The Heart of the Sea's Desire
The stars beat up from the shadowy sea,
The caves of the coral and pearl,
And the night is afire with a red desire
For the loins of a golden girl.
You have left your girdle upon the beach,
And you wade from the pulsing land,
And the hot tide darts your secret parts
That have known one lover's hand.
The hot tide laves your rounded limbs,
That his subtle fingers part,
And the sea that lies between your thighs
Is the heart of the Night's red heart.
In the days to come and the night to come,
And the days and the nights to be,
A babe you shall hold to your breast of gold
As you croon a lullaby;
A babe with the cry of a wind-racked gull,
That shall grow to a round-limbed girl
With strange cold eyes like the sea that lies
In the caves of coral and pearl.
Her soul shall be as an ocean wind,
Restless her feet shall be,
And she shall be part of the Night's red heart,
And the heart of the sounding sea.
And your man who lies by your side at night,
He is not your daughter's sire;
For she is the babe of the hungry Night,
And the heart of the sea's desire!
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Now is the lyre of Homer flecked with rust,
And yellow leaves are blown across the world,
And naked trees that shake at every gust
Stand gaunt against the clouds autumnal-curled.
Now from the hollow moaning of the sea,
The dreary birds against the sunset fly,
And drifting down the sad wind's ghostly dree
A breath of music echoes with a sigh.
The barren branch shakes down the withered fruit,
The seas faint footprints on the strand erase;
The sere leaves fall on a forgotten lute,
And autumn's arms enfold a dying race.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
And my number one favourite:
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.