Epic adventures

One of the main reasons I took to writing fan poetry was to have more ideas for writing adventure poetry. The thing is, action is especially hard to versify. I don’t know many English language examples of adventure poetry to use as models. There’s Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade of course, and huge numbers of verse translations of Homer, but I find Lawrence of Arabia’s prose translation of the Odyssey reads better than the other English Homers. Shakespeare’s Henry V has poetic speeches about adventure that go deeper than these other examples, but all his poetry is about love. His stage version of the Iliad is brutally ironic and undercuts the theme of heroism relentlessly. So far, I’ve had more luck writing love poetry about movies than writing action. It seems useless to work on my Alexander epic yet. Alexander’s sympathy with Hephaistion is easier to write than his ambition, his military victories, or his personal courage in battle. The meter is easier to adapt than the action is to write.

There was a craze for Homeric hexameters and other verse translations of Homer in English in the Victorian era; Tennyson was one of its detractors.

“Why take the style of those heroic times?
For nature brings not back the mastodon,
Nor we those times; and why should any man
Remodel models? these twelve books of mine
Were faint Homeric echoes, nothing-worth,
Mere chaff and draff, much better burnt.”

But even in this ironic poem about the revivals of ancient myths, “The Epic,” he concludes with a nostalgic nod to the desire to bring back the “deep-chested music” of old, saying it brings back his Freshman days.

Is it hopeless? Well, I found an Australian poem about stock riders that makes me think otherwise. I just bought a modest collection of Australian poetry edited not by a writer but by an unassuming reader, Jamie Grant, called 100 Australian Poems You Need to Know. This one is by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-1870). The narrator is an old man who can barely sit his horse, reflecting on a life of adventure. These stanzas are from the middle of the poem.

’Twas merry ’mid the backwoods, when we spied the station roofs,
To wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard,
With a running fire of stockwhips and a fiery run of hoofs
– Oh, the hardest day was never then too hard!

Ay, we had a glorious gallop after Starlight and his gang
When they bolted from Sylvester’s on the flat!
How the sun-dried reed-beds crackled, how the flint-strewn ranges rang
To the strokes of Mountaineer and Acrobat!

Hard behind them in the timber – harder still across the heath –
Close beside them through the tea-tree scrub we dashed;
And the golden-tinted fern leaves, how they rustled underneath,
And the honeysuckle osiers, how they crashed!

We led the hunt throughout, Ned, on the chestnut and the grey,
And the troopers were three hundred yards behind
While we emptied our six-shooters on the bushrangers at bay
In the creek, with stunted box-tree for a blind.

There you grappled with the leader, man to man and horse to horse,
And you rolled together when the chestnut reared:
He blazed away and missed you in that shallow water-course –
A narrow shave!–his powder singed your beard.

In these hours when life is ebbing, how those days when life was young
Come back to us! how clearly I recall
Even the yarns Jack Hall invented, and the songs Jem Roper sung
– And where are now Jem Roper and Jack Hall?

Ay, nearly all our comrades of the old colonial school,
Our ancient boon companions, Ned, are gone:
Hard livers for the most part! somewhat reckless as a rule!–
It seems that you and I are left alone.

– excerpted from The Sick Stockrider

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