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.

Stormy weather

Donner und Blitzen

All day
It’s been building up to this.
Now impatient Lightning,
Weary of waiting,
Runs on ahead
A million miles
While the lumbering laggard Thunder
Is still lacing up his boots.

You can try
To drown out the old tales
With talk of vapour, latent heat
Charged particles and ions;
Facts and equations all laid out
In quick, brilliant strokes
Across a blackboard sky.

But when the stuffed and swollen night
Bursts and splits
Zeus still rages round his realm;
Jupiter hurls the blazing bolts
That Vulcan forged for him;
Red-bearded Thor takes another ride
Swinging Mjöllnir in one mighty fist
Smiting the Jotun at Asgard’s gates and
Warming the earth
With sparks struck from the mountain-tops.
And God decides the sofa
Would look better over there.