I took a children’s literature class in my second year of University. It wasn’t my favourite class.
However, our midterm was to write either a short children’s story or yet another boring essay. I asked my children’s lit prof if I could, instead, write an epic poem. Epic as in:
“An epic (from the Ancient Greek adjective ἐπικός (epikos), from ἔπος (epos) “word, story, poem”) is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. (source)
Also, epic as in awesome.
Anyway, she said no. I told her I’d write a bit of it anyway and she could veto it once she saw some. She kind of shrugged it off.
Not dissuaded, I wrote the first five stanzas and started writing her an email saying that I was using the rhyme scheme and meter from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s classic “The Lady of Shalott.” This is a very challenging meter. The first four lines rhyme, lines 6 through 8 rhyme, and the 5th and 9th lines of each stanza throughout the entire poem have to rhyme with each other. Also it’s not the classic iambic pentameter (poetry has specific rules about how and where stresses on words fall), and has consistently shorter lines. Short lines means less space to make your points.
I attached the five stanzas as a word document, clicked “send,” and waited.
I got an email back fairly quickly saying that writing a satire of “The Lady of Shalott” wasn’t what she wanted.
It’s been a while, but I imagine that I dramatically raised my eyebrows and refreshed my inbox.
Shortly afterwards, I got a much longer email gushing about the stanzas written so far. Apparently she hadn’t noticed the attachment. But, she finally said yes.
I handed the poem in but, ahem, missed the class where she handed the midterms back. When I showed up the week after, a couple classmates who I’d never met came up to me and asked if I was the guy who had written the poem.
They told me that our prof read the whole thing in class and that the ending made someone cry. Aww.
Personally, I like it, but I gave up poetry a long time ago. I pulled it out of the poetry box just in case you enjoy it.
I hope you do!
The Tale of a Knight And His Adventures
As a preface, Prost and Naust are pronounced to rhyme with “toast.”
On smiling lips of children told
The oft remembered tales of old,
The shining knights of Arthur, bold,
The gusting breaths of demons, cold,
Oh children, listen close;
My darling son of twelve, no more,
Sits in the still and musky store
Leaning near and listening for
The daring do of Prost.
Ser Prost, the youngest of the knights,
Has fought and won a million fights,
Has sought the farthest, darkest sights,
And battled through a sea of wights
To defeat their evil host.
In waking he straps on his sword,
(That great steel that held the ford,
‘Gainst the mighty goblin horde)
That mighty son, Ser Prost.
This little man of great renown
Our Prost, his course to glory bound,
Did quick discover a needy town,
Where giants destroy and maim and drown,
A village known as Naust.
No task too big, he fast did say,
“I will aid thee, thy Giants slay,
Save thee in a glorious way,
For I am brave Ser Prost.”
The village men a council struck
And did not find this any luck
To have a boy now run amuck,
Anger the Giants with his foolish pluck,
But ‘twas his death they feared the most.
“Oh Prost is naught but a boy,”
The people of Naust did say,
“His death we’ll hinder in our way,”
Those silly men of Naust.
And since the people of this land
Had yet to hear, nor understand
The might and main of the little hand,
(Fifty bandits he did disband)
Oh, the hero, our Ser Prost.
Three silly ways those men did try
To push away their saviour boy
And thrice did he show them why
Men sing of brave Ser Prost.
Prost walked into the village square
(Twas his intent to swift declare
His journey to the Giant’s lair)
When cried a maid of golden hair,
“My sister, she is lost!”
Hearing this, his heart did break,
No homely maid could he forsake,
This simple task he’d surely take
To save the girl of Naust.
Two rivers East and West did lie,
And North the road he’d travelled by,
So south the maid was wont to fly,
In the haunted forest, men raised cry,
He’d find the girl of Naust.
His courser followed no beaten path,
Brambles caught and struck in wrath,
For this way had no mortal passed!
But forged on little Prost.
Deeper he rode, less could he see,
So little light fought through the trees
That moaned and fluttered their darkling leaves
And crushed all beauty with writhing reeds
Yet pressed on our Ser Prost
Soft, a light that dimly shines
A porch-light hid through closèd blinds
And whispers in a chorus fine,
“Hither, the maid of Naust!”
When this light the knight had found
He beheld a maid, spinning round
Spinning, spinning her Diamond gown
With, at her throat, a Ruby bound,
This goddess so softly spoke;
“Prost, ye darling boy of twelve,
Fight no more, no more this forest delve,
Give off thyne arms for me to shelve,
And I’ll be thy maid of Naust.”
Perhaps a man of greater age
In this task would quick engage
And see his armour as a cage,
Doff it thus, the lass assuage.
Not so our good Ser Prost!
He, with a heave, drew forth his sword
And froze the spinning maid, “Abhorred
Nymph, now with your cries ignored,
Show me the girl of Naust!”
Prost had seen the fey, Diamond dress,
That shimmering stone upon her chest,
He’d seen right through the ignoble test
The moment she’d voiced her unfair request:
This was no maid of Naust.
The snapping wood hissed and swayed
When, farther down the darkling way,
Begged soft, a voice, “Help, I pray,”
And thus did young Ser Prost.
Out and out the two did ride
Before the forest’s angry tide
Of murd’rous roots and biting flies
They wound up on the riverside,
Safely returned to Naust.
Shocked, all had thought the maiden lost,
Or thought the knight’s quest unjust,
Now some few men expressed their trust
In the might of little Prost.
In the tiny house of the tiny girl
– Who, over night, had quick unfurled
Her honest plot to dance and whirl
And pronounce this hap to all the world –
Slept soundly little Prost.
But soft he made himself to rouse
And soft he left the tiny house
Yet afore he could his cause espouse
Woke swift the men of Naust.
Men came from every walk and way
And stopped the ‘little boy’ to say
“Wait now,” and, “Lad, won’t you stay?”
“There is a man who has need to-day,
Would you leave him, good Ser Prost?”
And thus a tale they did relate,
One of troubles both mean and great,
That sent our Prost over straight
To a stormy hill in Naust.
There was a house upon the hill
Belonging to a man of skill;
A crafter of sword, of hat and bill ;
And his little family clinging still
To that stricken house of Naust.
It seems that every season rain
And lightening with unerring aim
Would strike and strike and strike again
And burn this house of Naust.
Now men who had journeyed ‘til,
No! Passed the edge of world, still,
Had yet to meet such unholy will
That shook the house upon that hill
Now warded by Ser Prost.
And all the men of Naust would hide
Deep in their homes and there abide
The storm until it then subside
To send away Ser Prost.
Now the silence of the night
Seemed much disturbed by ghost and wight
And shrieking, three, three bursts of light
Cackling came into his sight,
And spoke the brave Ser Prost;
“Now comes the terror of the house,
Aloft and merry as to carouse,
But thou shall never pass because
Here stands the mighty Prost!”
“Why tiny one,” one spark bespoke
“We come because we’re called,” another stroke
“Like Prost to honour,” the third choked,
Then off toward the hill they broke,
To burn the house of Naust.
Then what, to his undeceivèd eye,
Glowed upon the rafter’s nigh
The outreached hand of the boy
But a well-metalled birdly roust.
Inside he found one baby bird,
And next an egg beside it gird
And as the strokes toward the metal spurred
He quick stole egg and nettlebird
From their metal roust.
But ‘lo the strokes still swift approached
And Prost, with bird and egg encouched,
Drew the nest upon his sword, and touched
The cackling strokes of Naust.
And with a touch each spark disdained
To any further there remain.
Now any time come wind or rain
Even the meekest man was fain
To save that house of Naust.
And how each man would file through,
Shake his hand with much ado,
Pronounce to all that they now knew
That hero named Ser Prost.
Now days have passed since that affair –
In dancing and singing and prayer –
And Prost was making his way to the square
When one last silly man screamed, “Bear!
A Bear is down in Naust!”
All turned to scowl at the man
(Whose clothes had faded and ran)
But some stood firm and asked a plan
A plan from good Ser Prost.
And this last brought out a darker side
(Some of the men nearest shied
From the anger in his righteous might)
Yet cooled the boy who embodies Right,
And spoke he thus, Ser Prost:
“Sit the children in their seats
Lock your doors, guard the streets,
And seek no more for my defeats,
You silly men of Naust!”
And off he went with impatient care
Unforgiving to the doubtful air,
He searched now for the darkest lair
He searched – too quick! – for the great Bear
That Bear who found him first!
Rippling hide and red red teeth
Claws that slid from bloodied sheaths
And his mere size would crush beneath
That angry boy named Prost.
As if to match him mood for mood
The great Bear growled! Declared the feud
Showed his teeth to the boy-shaped food,
And, in the name of all that’s good,
Draw forth your blade, Ser Prost!
And yet anger now played its part,
And wounded pride foretold the start,
Yet no sword from sheath did part,
Ducked and dodged Ser Prost.
And anger in the Bear did rise,
So charged it forth ‘neath hidden skies
Yet ducked and dodged its final prize
And what – Dazed! – A tree between its eyes,
Ah, now, draw your sword Ser Prost!
Sword in hand the boy moved close…
And… slowly… anger, and sword, deposed,
As silky fur moved, in sweet repose,
And peaceful sat Ser Prost.
And peaceful woke the injured Bear
To find his wounds dressed, with food to share,
Himself intact, yet under the stare
Of his enemy, who sat calmly there,
And brooding, little Prost.
“Why livest I, thou, little knight?
I see thyne dagger in the light
By reason, thou hast won the fight,
And conquered the Bear of Naust.”
“Yet… There is honour in you, great Bear,
And though you cause men great despair,
And though you kill and maim and tear,
The same as the Giants in their lair,
I cannot kill the Bear of Naust.
’Tis Man’s logic that gives him sin,
Not unreasoned bears and their kin,
Thus all I ask is that you win
Your kills from aught than Naust.”
And so the Bear rolled to his feet
Bowed deep his head into flowers sweet,
Yet questioned the Bear afore his retreat,
“What other beasts will you defeat,
Oh bravest knight in Naust?”
“Fair folk all have quiet wept
While others had me busy kept
And no more shall I vain accept,
Quest aught but for Giants of Naust!”
So through forest and to town he walked,
His armour battered, bruised and blacked
Men and women stood aside and talked,
Of only him who here had stalked;
The village square in Naust.
And quiet now, that village square,
The hero stood, centered here,
Young, noble face exposed and bare,
Yet spoke no word, Ser Prost.
And now stood up a ragged man,
His clothes destroyed and wan,
The colours therein dripped and ran,
He called himself a silly man,
And kindly asked Ser Prost:
“Now foolish we who held ye back,
We ask ye now, forgive us that,
And now forthwith our Giants whack!
We ask you, brave Ser Prost!”
And all the village men raised cheer,
And all those women gathered near,
And all the children’s eyes were clear,
Such a glorious racket for one to hear,
Filled the repentant town of Naust.
And a smile had cracked upon his face,
And with no further ado his courser raced,
Into the mountains to make chase,
The Giants in the hills of Naust.
His sword he checked, his lance erect,
His stirrups full and reins all-necked
His shield held all the world reflect
And now he promptly did direct,
His course to the hills of Naust.
In his glory, he found them there,
Those Giants with their stringy hair,
Their ugly bodies that filled the lair,
In the highest mount of Naust.
And yet… The story ends right here,
For fast asleep I see my dear,
His lips, a valley, filled with cheer,
His face, so artless and sincere,
He dreams the rest of Prost;
For what fairy-tale should have an end?
We all have more adventures, friend,
Than ever could I, to you, pretend
So now, with trumpets, should you descend,
To sleep – and dream – of Prost.