Heroic verse: Hour of need

Hour of need

We have no heroes now. The ones who claim
To lead us will not win a lasting fame
For mighty deeds or wisdom. Such small men,
So weak and venal, are forgotten when
The history books are written. So we ask
Why there is no knight equal to the task –
No Galahad or Tristram who can ride
For truth and honour through the country wide;
No Lancelot to lift us, raise our eyes
To higher, greater things. We made our prize
The transient and tawdry, made our goal
Possession of the world, and lost our soul.
And now, the wind we sowed grows swift and strong,
Rips out our shallow roots, blows us along
And all the treasures that we thought we’d won
Are vanished, lost like frost-flowers in the sun.
We need a hero, one who has the power
To stir new hope in this unhappy hour –
A champion who’ll come to take the field
For us, the common folk, and never yield
To avarice, succumb to lust for gold,
Whose honour shines unstained. It was foretold
That when our island stood in dire need
One long lost would awaken and take heed
Of our distress, come to our aid. Maybe
That time has come and, far across the sea,
In Avalon, bright trumpets stir the ghost
Of Arthur and the whole Round Table host
To take up arms, come forth with ringing cries:
Rex quondam rexque futurus, arise.”


After reading The Death of King Arthur, Peter Ackroyd’s masterly retelling of Sir Thomas Mallory’s classic tale, I wanted to write something with an Arthurian theme, and it seemed the ideal opportunity to have a crack at the Heroic Verse form. I’ve enjoyed myself enormously, as you can probably tell. By pure coincidence, I’d just finished the poem when I heard the news that the infamous former RBS chief executive Sir Fred Goodwin had been stripped of his honour. Knights really ain’t what they used to be.


10 thoughts on “Heroic verse: Hour of need

  1. Nick,

    Sometimes you just know when you read something that the person who wrote it was thoroughly enjoying themselves whilst they were writing it.

    That sense of you enjoying yourself shines all the way through this piece.

    I leave it with a smile on my face and a wry grin at the rather more serious message you convey.



    • Ah, then my work here is done – the most enjoyable poems are the ones that bring pleasure to others, too. From a structural/metrical point of view, the Heroic form is a doddle; the fun part is throwing off my usual inhibitions and doing something a bit theatrical and over-the-top!

  2. Hi Nick,

    this is a very clever poem. It reads well and the theatrical bit makes a pleasant irony, the whole is a really nice gem. 🙂 Lovely!

    Heroes, what is a country without them lol. I don’t know who the best English soccer players are at the moment, but I am sure you would have to look there. Not sure we need heroes who take up arms these days lol 🙂

    I hope you will publish this poem in a (local) newspaper 🙂 I think people would enjoy it very much!

    Ina x

    • Oh, don’t get me started on footballers…I’m of that rare species, the English man who detests football, and the idea that any of these overpaid, overhyped, philandering prima donnas could be classed as ‘heroes’…well, you get the picture! I’d love to publish this poem in a local paper – or anywhere, for that matter! – but I’m not sure the Sussex Express is ready for Heroic Verse just yet..! N.xx

  3. I’m afraid in America the only knights are those whose eyeballs are made out of dollars and tongues have long ago turned into gold, mostly spilling coins in their stomachs. I had hopes for Obama for awhile, but I’m afraid he does not have the stomach for Arthurian deeds of courage and fortitude. If only your prophecy would charge out of the mist of an early morning:
    In Avalon, bright trumpets stir the ghost
    Of Arthur and the whole Round Table host
    To take up arms, come forth with ringing cries:
    “Rex quondam rexque futurus, arise.”
    and Greed was not equated with the greatest human value, then my breath would be content. This is truly an heroic poem!

    • I think our political class probably taught yours everything they know…today, for example, we’ll find out whether a Cabinet minister is to be prosecuted for persuading his ex-wife to have HIS motoring penalty applied to HER driving licence. Never mind the Arthurian legends: I think the rich and powerful live in some kind of fantasy world most of the time. I guess the thouight behind the poem was: is it any more ridiculous to hope for a fictional king’s return than to expect honesty and noble deeds from our politicians and top business people?

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