« ZurückWeiter »
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,
The tallest near them, and clomb upward, branch by branch,
The steep-down forest, on his wondering eyes
Vowed that, God helping, he would one day plough
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,
Mother and love, fair England, hear my prayer;
And cast its feudal chains before the seat
He fought for the soul's freedom, fought the fight
If my poor song
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.
SUGGESTIONS TO STUDENTS
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.
Why take the style of those heroic times?
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."
SUGGESTIONS TO STUDENTS
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.”