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REH Word of the Week: serpent

Posted by Barbara Barrett on 30th December 2013



1. The dictionary definition of serpent is a large snake; REH’s description in his poetry is far more vivid and varied. In poems such as “The Serpent” shown below and “Eternity” he equates it with timelessness. Others like “All Hallows Eve”, “Laughter in the Gulfs,” and “Destination” serpents are related to horror; on the other hand,  in “Deeps” it sleeps with dragons; in “Dreaming in Israel,” “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming (variant) and “A Song for All Women” it is another name for treachery; but in “A Far Country” and “A Lady’s Chamber” he speaks of golden serpents while in “The Grim Land” they shimmer and weave and rear their heads. in “Lilith,” as well as “The Singer in the Mist” and “Secrets” he speaks of it as a tempter. it becomes a protector of treasure in “Miser’s Gold.” In “The Sea” it lives in the ocean and battles the Kraken; in “The Shadow”(see poem below) it sheds its skin signifying change; in “Who Shall Sing of Babylon” it represents decay that is coiled up within the walls; and in his poems about Vikings he speaks of the Serpent’s Prow.

[origin: 13th century; Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin serpent-, serpens, from present participle of serpere to creep; akin to Greek herpein to creep, Sanskrit sarpati he creeps]


I am the symbol of Creation and Destruction.
I am the beginning and the end.
With my tail in my mouth
I am the Circle of Eternity.
Wisdom is in my eyes
And the dusk of wisdom lurks amid my coils.
My track circles the world
And I loop my coils about the Universe.
My head waves among the stars
And the nations fall prostrate before me.
Coiled, head upright, I am the spirit of the sea.
The world-shaking dinosaur was my henchman
And the flying dragons were my footmen.
The ancients knew me.
They reared shrines and altars
And I taught them dim, dusky wisdom.
I coiled in the ruins of Troy and Babylon
And on the forgotten streets of Nineveh.
The Norse called me Midgaard and built their galleys
Like a sea-serpent.
The Egyptians and the Indians called me Ysis
And the Phoenicians Baal.
I am the sea that girdles the world.
I am the first and I shall be the last.
I am the Serpent of the Ages.

[from “Serpent”; this is the complete poem as it appears in The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 519 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 36]



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REH Word of the Week: nether

Posted by Barbara Barrett on 23rd December 2013



1. located towards the bottom or at more distant parts

[origin: before the 12th century; from Middle English, from Old English nithera, from nither down; akin to Old High German nidar down, Sanskrit ni]


There was a thing of the shadow world,
Shadow conceived and shadow born.
Who roamed through the night on silent feet
And shunned the light of the lifting morn.

A friend of the dim and nether world,
And the sons of man were his grisly feast,
Until one night in the forest haunts,
This thing of the shadows met a priest.

Who by the might of the Light Above
Walked all unscathed through the fiend-dimmed vales.
Who saw the Way with unclouded gaze,
And followed the lure of the dim out-trails.

Lifting souls from the marsh and mire,
Freeing the slave, defying the king,
And bold in battle and unafraid
He faced and conquered the shadow thing.

Conquered it, aye, but held his hand;
Spake to the thing as it were a man,
Strongly wrought with its shadow mind,
Until a strange, new change began.

As the desert serpent flings its skin,
And the buffalo shakes from its hide the mire,
The thing strove strong to change its shape
And its half-soul grew with a magic fire.

And the good priest strove with the Powers Above,
To lift its soul from the foul to the good,
And at last prevailed, but first it must go
And for years wage war with the Devil’s brood.

[from “Shadow Thing”; this is the complete poem as it appears in The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 217 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 322]


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REH Word of the Week: dip

Posted by Barbara Barrett on 16th December 2013




1. a drunkard; someone with an uncontrollable craving for alcoholic liquors

[origin: ca. 1844; slang; from dipsomania; New Latin, from Greek dipsa thirst + Late Latin mania]


I was a prince of China, lord of a million spears;
You were a soak in Brooklyn, shining the bar for beers.
I lolled on a throne of sapphire, you loafed in a dance-hall door;
My love was a Manchu princess, yours was a Harlem whore.

I slumbered on velvet couches, lulled by a fountain’s tune;
You snored on a broken camp cot in the back of Mike Shane’s saloon.
My friends were lords of the Indies, rulers of lands immense;
Your pals were the tout and the con man, the dip, the yegg and the fence.

I gambled with lands and armies, castles and crowns and thrones;
You risked your jack in the crap games and beefed when you dropped three bones.
I died ’neath the spears of the Tartars on a wild war-trampled ridge;
You went on a bum one evening and fell off the Brooklyn Bridge.

Yet down through the sweeping ages the ego’s tendrils twine,
Linking the prince to the beggar and the lordling to the swine.
And body is linked to body, though strange it is to say
That the I of some dim tomorrow is the I of yesterday.
But the soul wears many garments as is written in the stars,
And I that was prince of China, was the soak of the Brooklyn bars.

[from “Prince and Beggar”; this is the complete poem as it appears in The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 550 and Always Comes Evening; p. 77]



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REH Word of the Week: pennon

Posted by Barbara Barrett on 9th December 2013



1. a long usually triangular or swallow-tailed streamer typically attached to the head of a lance as an ensign

[origin: 14th century; Middle English, from Anglo-French penun, diminutive of penne quill, wing feather]


The shadows were black around him,
The dripping jaws gaped wide,
Thicker than rain the red drops fell;
But my love was fiercer than Death’s black spell,
Nor all the iron walls of hell
Could keep me from his side.
—The Song of Bêlit.

Now we are done with roaming, evermore;
No more the oars, the windy harp’s refrain;
Nor crimson pennon frights the dusky shore;
Blue girdle of the world, receive again
Her whom thou gavest me.
—The Song of Bêlit.

[from “Queen of the Black Coast”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 48; Always Comes Evening, p. 68 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 435]



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REH Word of the Week: hinterland

Posted by Barbara Barrett on 2nd December 2013




1. a remote region; an area beyond what is visible or known.

[origin: 1890; German, from hinter hinder + Land]


The stars come blinking  in a dusky sky,
Like yellow eyes of vast Bubastes cats
And dim and shadowy the restless bats
Against the creeping twilight wheel and fly.
Grey shadows mask the sands, the desert shrinks,
And yet, unseen, seems still more dim and vast,
Against the stars rears up the silent Sphinx
A brooding monster of forgotten past.

A shadow ’mid those ruins glides and creeps,
A thing from which the shuddering moonlight leaps;
Like witch-rid wind from out of  the hinterlands
A fog-like aura haunts the sombre sands.
Grim, dreaming monstrous dreams of naked feet
That danced in worship many a frightful feast;
Unhallowed rites that for such god were meet,
Unholy neophyte and grisly priest.

Egypt, thou land still chained unto the past,
Thy ghost gods in the deserts still are massed
And many a fearful shape still glides and leers.
The phantom, stealing down the slaughtered years
From out the fastness of some unthought Thule,
Brooding upon his ancient bestial rule—
Freedom is naught, till men have conquered this,
This undying fiend, the Cat of Anubis!

[from “The Cats of Anubis 2.”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 179; Night Images, p. 15 and Robert E. Howard  Selected Poems, p. 147]


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REH Word of the Week: sendings

Posted by Barbara Barrett on 25th November 2013


(fantasy tower concept by Zack Fowler)


1. an unpleasant or evil thing or creature supposedly sent by someone with paranormal or magical powers to warn, punish, or take revenge on a person.

[origin: mid-19th century; from Old Norse]


High in his dim, ghost-haunted tower
Zukala sits alone;
Like a spider spinning his webs of power
Upon his moon-pale throne.

All through the long, star-spectral night
The tower knows no tread
Save for, sometimes, the eery, light
Swift footfalls of the dead.

He does not sleep and his eyes are deep
As the Seas of Falgarai;
And he moves his sceptre but to sweep
The dim stars out of the sky.

And when the wind is out of the east
And the silver moon’s agleam
That pales the stars and dims the least,
Zukala sits a-dream.

But when the wind is out of the north
And the grey light lifts for morn,
Zukala harries his sendings forth
To know if a child be born.

And the babe that is born in that ghostly hour
In the time of the paling light
Is cursed with the gift of Zukala’s power—
The gift of second sight.

For an unseen web from the ghostly shores
Upon his soul is thrown
And though his brothers may number scores
That babe must walk alone.

[from “Zukala’s Hour”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 129; Singers in the Shadows, p. 15; Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 450]

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REH Word of the Week: ebon

Posted by Barbara Barrett on 18th November 2013

Black river


1. dark brown or black; from ebony: a hard heavy blackish wood yielded by various tropical chiefly southeast Asian trees

[origin: 15th century; Middle English eban, ebony wood, from Old French, from Latin hebenus, ebenus, ebony tree, from Greek ebenos]


The Black Door gapes and the Black Wall rises;
Twilight gasps in the grip of Night.
Paper and dust are the gems man prizes—
Torches toss in my waning sight.

Drums of glory are lost in the ages,
Bare feet fail on a broken trail—
Let my name fade from the printed pages;
Dreams and visions are growing pale.

Twilight gathers and none can save me.
Well and well, for I would not stay.
Let me speak through the stone you gave me:
He never could say what he wished to say.
What of the world that I leave for ever?
Phantom forms in a fading sight—
Carry me out on the ebon river
Into the Night.

[from “Lines Written in the Realization That I Must Die”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 401; Always Comes Evening, p. 49 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 221]

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REH Word of the Week: spur

Posted by Barbara Barrett on 11th November 2013

No man's land2

(A French and German soldier clash in hand-to-hand combat in No Man’s Land on the Western Front, after a work by Georges Scott, from ‘L’Illustration’, published in 1916 by French School


1. something that prompts or encourages someone; an incentive

[origin: before 12th century; Middle English spure, from Old English spura; akin to Old English spurnan to kick]


I pinned him hard in a vacant trench,
he corporal who had my hate.
The rats ran through the reeking stench,
And he blanched before his fate.

The skies were dim with the birth of dawn,
And the wind was thin and bitter.
The stars were bleak as a woman’s lies,
And he shrank from the horror of the skies
And the red death in my bitter eyes,
And my bayonet’s cold glitter.

Long be the trail of vengeance,
But the spurs of hate thrust on!
“This for the curse at Ypres,
This for the blow at Toulon!”

The blood burst from his sagging lips.
The stars dimmed and were gone;
And over the wastes of No Man’s Land,
The wind blew up the dawn.

[from “Hate’s Dawn”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 105; Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 42]

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REH Word of the Week: blent

Posted by Barbara Barrett on 4th November 2013


Beheading Facsimile of a Miniature on Wood in the
Cosmographie Universelle” of Munster in folio Basle 1552

past or past participle of blend

1. a mixture of different substances or qualities

[origin: 14th century; Middle English, probably from Old Norse blend-, present stem of blanda to mix; akin to Old English blandan to mix, Lithuanian blandus impure, cloudy]


Sir Thomas Doughty, executed at St. Julian’s Bay, 1578

They carried him out on the barren sand where the rebel captains died;
Where the grim grey rotting gibbets stand as Magellan reared them on the strand,
And the gulls that haunt the lonesome land wail to the lonely tide.

Drake faced them all like a lion at bay, with his lion head upflung:
“Dare ye my word of law defy, to say that this traitor shall not die?”
And his captains dared not meet his eye but each man held his tongue.
The axe flashed silver in the sun, a red arch slashed the sand;
A voice cried out as the head fell clear, and the watchers flinched in sudden fear,
Though ’twas but a sea-bird wheeling near above the lonely strand.

“This be every traitor’s end!” Drake cried, and yet again;
Slowly his captains turned and went, and the admiral’s stare was elsewhere bent
Than where cold scorn with anger blent in the eyes of Solomon Kane.

Night fell on the crawling waves; the admiral’s door was closed;
Solomon lay in the stenching hole; his irons clashed as the ship rolled,
And his guard, grown weary and overbold, laid down his pike and dozed.

He woke with a hand at his corded throat that gripped him like a vise;
Trembling he yielded up the key, and the sombre Puritan stood up free,
His cold eyes gleaming murderously with the wrath that is slow to rise.

[from “The One Black Stain”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 28; Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 431]

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REH Word of the Week: ane

Posted by Barbara Barrett on 28th October 2013



1. one; [according to the Scottish-English translation website, it can also be used to avoid repeating a noun of the kind already mentioned, e.g., REH’s usage below could be: The world’s my world, I’ll gang!]

[origin: before the 12th century; Middle English an, variant of on one]


“I’ve hands and a tongue and I am young
“And aye, the road is long,
“Shall I bide at home like a moss-co’ered stone?
“The world’s my ane, I’ll gang!”

Over the rolling oceans,
The Scotchman wandered wide,
As free as the singing sea winds,
As free as the wandering tide.

[from “The Rover”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 631 and Rhymes of Salem Town, p. 129]

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