Monday, May 14, 2018

‘To Die’

James LaFond's Impressions of Two Men by Robert E. Howard
Reading from A Word from the Outer Dark, pages 68-70

In twelve four-line verses Howard renders a sketch dialogue in poetics between two men viewing the conduct of Jesus Christ as he hauls his cross to the appointed place. The men discuss the possibility of achieving his relief, his guilt or innocence and his relevance. This treatment seems to be based on Ben-Hur, a story Howard was familiar with, having promoted a biblical scholar’s discussion of the novel in what—if I recall correctly from the peek I had of his letters—might have been his 18th year.

Two Men achieves peaks of vision, valleys of ignorance and plateaus of despair as the two poetically embodied opposites of the soul and the body, of hero and slave discuss the fate of a man neither admits to understanding.

For an idea of the poetic rhythm verse one is quoted below:

Two men stood in the gates of day,
And one man said with kindling eye,
'The red drums rattle, the banners sway;
They are bearing the Lord Christ forth to die!'

To appreciate the materialistic view of the man lacking the “kindling eye,” of the view that predominates in our age as well as Howard’s dusted past, below are quoted the first lines of verse seven:

He might have done good, this dreamy man,
Had He chosen to go where the leaders go,
But he sat with beggar and publican,
And—He must be wrong, for the priests say so.

This pustule of a soul declares in further verses his willingness to lick the “boots” of the “Law,” to crawl and debase himself in whatever way necessary to obey the master class so that he might have cozy housing and costly suits. He continues extolling the men above as godly and reminding the aspirant of dreams wondering next to him that, “Greater than God is Opinion” making in Howard’s hand the point of the ages he so often leaves to villains to illustrate, that most men will ever worship the things of the world, that Man’s sacred creed of actuality and deed are in fact the petty laws of man and only but rarely do men look further than their bellies and roofs to recognize God’s hand.

This reader is convinced that the essence of the character Solomon Kane, the psychotic, Puritanical avenger who stalked Howard’s imaginary world of A.D. 1600 in relentless pursuit of evil, was either born, ruminated on or reflected in these twelve verses, which ends brightly in addendum for a poet so dim.

(c) 2018 James LaFond

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