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Drake. The last English great epic, "Drake," written in 1906, is the only successful completed representative, in modern times, of this type of literature. The author, Alfred Noyes, was but twenty-six years of age when he wrote it. The central figure is the great English Admiral, Sir Francis Drake, but the poem sums up Elizabethan civilization as a whole. The poem lacks, however, the supernatural element usually found in great epics. It may not be possible to study this epic in class, but it will prove very interesting and profitable outside reading. A few lines, taken from the Exordium, will serve to show something of the spirit with which the poem is written:

When on the highest ridge of that strange land,
Under the cloudless, blinding tropie blue,
Drake and his band of swarthy seamen stood
With dazed eyes gazing round them, emerald fans
Of palm that fell like fountains over cliffs
Of gorgeous red anana bloom obscured
Their sight on every side. Illustrious gleams
Of rose and green and gold streamed from the plumes
That flashed like living rainbows through the glades.
Piratic glints of musketoon and sword,
The scarlet scarves around the tawny throats,
The bright brass ear-rings in the sun-black ears,
And the calm faces of the negro guides
Opposed their barbarous bravery to the noon:
Yet a deep silence dreadfully beseiged
Even those mighty hearts upon the verge
Of the undiscovered world. Behind them lay
The old earth they knew. In front they could not see
What lay beyond the ridge. Only they heard
Cries of the painted birds troubling the heat
And shivering through the woods; till Francis Drake
Plunged through the hush, took hold upon a tree,

The tallest near them, and clomb upward, branch by branch,
And lo! as he swung clear above

The steep-down forest, on his wondering eyes
Mile upon mile of rugged shimmering gold
Burst through the unknown immeasurable sea.
Then he descended; and with a new voice


Vowed that, God helping, he would one day plough
Those virgin waters with an English keel.






1 See note on the new American great epic, by John Neihardt, at end of this section

* Used by permission of, and by special arrangement with, the Frederick A. Stokes Company, owners of the copyright.

So here before the unattempted task,
Above the Golden Ocean of my dream
I clomb and saw in splendid pageant pass
The wild adventures and heroic deeds
Of England's epic age-a vision lit
With mighty prophecies, fraught with
Worthy the great Homeric roll of song,
Yet all unsung and unrecorded quite
By those who might have touched with Raphael's hand
The large imperial legend of our race.


Mother and love, fair England, hear my prayer;
Help me that I may tell the enduring tale
Of that great seaman, good at need, who first
Sailed round this globe and made one little isle,
One little isle against that huge Empire
Of Spain, whose might was paramount on earth,
O'ertopping Babylon, Nineveh, Greece and Rome,
Carthage and all huge Empires of the past-
He made this little isle, against the world,
Queen of the earth and sea. Nor this alone
The theme; for, in a mightier strife engaged
Even than he knew, he fought for the new faiths,
Championing our manhood as it rose

And cast its feudal chains before the seat
Of kings;-nay, in a mightier battle yet

He fought for the soul's freedom, fought the fight
Which, though it still rings in our wondering ears,
Was won then and for ever.

If my poor song
Now spread too wide a sail, forgive thy son
And lover, for thy love was ever wont
To lift men up in pride above themselves.
To do great deeds which of themselves alone
They could not, thou hast led the unfaltering feet
Of even thy meanest heroes down to death,
Lifted poor knights to many a great emprise,

Taught them high thoughts, and though they kept their souls

Lowly as little children, bidden them lift

Eyes unappalled by all the myriad stars

That wheel around the great white throne of God.

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1. See if you can discover from these lines of the Exordium of "Drake" what the great epic struggle is and how it ends. Can you also see what will tend to unify the series of adventures or episodes that will be treated in the longer poem? 2. You will be interested in reading the whole epic, for the movement is rapid and the adventures thrilling. It will have an added interest for you if you have studied the Elizabethan period in your history class. 3. In what marked respects does this epic, written in the twentieth century, differ from those of an earlier time? Can you explain why? 4. What material for a great epic can you find in the World War of the twentieth century? In what respects is this another heroic age? What is the great epic cause or struggle? What are the powerful opposing forces? How and why are they overcome? 5. Show that the theme is of epic magnitude. What are the deep, elemental passions involved? 6. Show that the moral lies deeply embedded in the events. 7. What elements of twentieth century civilization are shown? 8. Who are the great characters that further or hinder the accomplishment of the struggle in which they are engaged? What especially causes our interest in them? 9. Name some of the distinct episodes. What binds them together? 10. What other epic characteristics can you find? 11. Why is it not possible for such a poem to be adequately treated before a lapse of years?

Note. The first true American great epic seems to be in the process of realization in the cycle of poems which Mr. John Neihardt is now weaving about the region between the British possessions and Mexico, and westward from the Missouri river to the Pacific coast. He has chosen as the general time of his epic the days of the Ashley-Henry furtrading expeditions of the first part of the nineteenth century. Two poems of the cycle that have already been evolved, "The Song of Three Friends" and "The Song of Hugh Glass," show what may be anticipated from the finished work. These have been published separately, but will later, it seems, become parts of the larger whole. They are exceedingly fascinating, and well worth reading.



Some Other Works Closely Allied to the Great Epic.There are several other works that come near the great epic in general spirit and yet are not, truly speaking, great epics. Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" are "a series of epical episodes" rather than a closely welded, unified epic. This material might have been treated so that it would have become a great epic of Arthurian or Celtic England. Tennyson, however, deliberately gave up this idea, for he says:

1 Published by the Macmillan Company.

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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.1

Longfellow's "Iliawatha" is almost a great epic of early American Indian life.

"The Robin Hood Ballads" are also not closely enough woven together and unified to become a true epic, although here again is material that might have been made into an epic of Norman England. There are some thirty-five or forty of these short poems that grew up among the people, and they are mentioned in this connection because the material in them is the kind out of which folk-epics have been made. Indeed here we may really see a great epic in the process of development, although, unfortunately, it was never fully completed. Some poet, it is true, saw the larger significance behind the many stories and attempted to unite them into one. Although he told an interesting story for the most part, he failed, however, to set forth a great epic purpose toward which the action tended, and the poem falls away into confusion at the end. Today we think of the Robin Hood poems more as separate ballads, a type which will be understood more fully through the study of the chapter on ballads.

Pope, in his "Rape of the Lock," wrote a mock-epic purely for the sake of ridicule. In this poem he imitated the style and movement of the great epic, but made the theme, characters, and cause utterly trivial. De Quincey said of it, "The Rape of the Lock' is the most exquisite monument of playful fancy that universal literature offers."


1. Since you, no doubt, have some knowledge of "The Idylls of the King" and "Hiawatha" from the work of other years of your course, try to see for yourselves why these are not truly great epics. Although Arthur is the central figure of "The Idylls of the King." for instance, and the scenes are laid at his court, among the Knights of the Round Table,

1 "The Epic" by Tennyson.


"The Geste of Robin Hood.”

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