A cool wind whispered through the green woodlands. A silver thread of a brook wound among great tree boles, whence hung large vines and gayly festooned creepers. A bird sang and the soft late summer sunlight was sifted through the interlocking branches to fall in gold and black velvet patterns of shade and light on the grass-covered earth. In the midst of this pastoral quietude, a little slave girl lay with her face between her soft white arms, and wept as if her little heart would break. (By This Axe I Rule)
“Weep not, little girl of the forest; through the darkest mists of gloom and night, dawn yet rises on the world. My clan shall reverence you in the long days to come. And go now, for the night wanes toward morn and I would make my peace with God.” (Spears of Clontarf)
The extent to which Howard’s fantasy is enfolded in the delicacy and quietness of natural forms can’t be overlooked and acts as a counterpoint and staging to a lot of the scenes of action. Delicacy, and the sorrowful airs of music will – from Kull’s own lips – outlast dynasties and their ilk.
The viscosity of experience, of sensation, in his descriptive prose is for sure not all “blood-and-thunder melodrama”, in his own phrase, but is actually composed of the rhythms of melodious nature. BWS’s prints follow this template admirably, as in the fen-like Bran Mack Morn, lilies leering through matted fronds.
BWS went on to do other prints such as Psyche where there is a very literal evocation of viscosity and sensation in the orchid-like ambiance. This aspect of Howard may have transmitted itself by osmosis as you can see it in early Conan.
These notions of musical spirit, melodiousness and rich-abundance of natural forms – which BWS later made his own in art-nouveau – give the stories a poetic lustre others lack. Poetry is a way of echoing the rhythms and symmetries of nature in words. It goes beyond sensation (which you could say is experience) into the sorrowful, languid, touching psyche of the situation where the action is held, as in the Kull scene with the slave-girl. So the reality of the situation is given much more poetic force with descriptions of age-old boughs and so on.
If I can do a quick comparison with Philip K Dick, he is a much more mental writer and his descriptions of reality take place almost as a mental hypothesis. This is quite a vital distinction as human beings aren’t mental hypotheses, they’re flesh and blood and Howard’s descriptions of languid nature tug at your hearstrings, as in the slave-girl in the woods. In Dick it could be your understanding (or lack thereof) or your sensation, but in Howard it is somewhat deeper. Nature has subtle symmetries, the sort of thing BWS brings out in art-deco and Celtic design. It’s not a powerful sensation but it is something subtle that touches your psyche. The interweaving boughs in BWS’s Cimmeria are a good example.
It may touch on some psychic memory of groves of yore. Spirit, the melodic sense of ancient place. This type of reality is quite deeply felt but it’s also sort of formal in its floral attributes. It has a pleasing simplicity that gardens make good use of. In Dick, his realities are excessively complicated, but actually that’s only one type of future. If you can say he represents “our” reality, then it degrades the experience of subtle symmetries and rhythms that occur in nature. If you listen to ancient music, the formal simplicity evokes those types of subtle symmetries. It’s not that sensational, but it touches your heartstrings and maybe your sense of ancient melancholy is brought into play.
LESCUREL (14TH c)
The vision and spirit of the social round of a place is seemingly evoked; not sensation or feeling only, but deep symmetries of awareness somewhere in our selves. These types of reality are rhythmic and melodic and so forth but also have a floral simplicity that is very evocative. Howard was obviously aware of the charms of music (to soothe the savage breast). If our experience of this reality is degraded there is a reason for this.
We are fed this idea that future realities will be Dick-like in complexity, but this is a completely artificial idea. In nature things degrade and then revive; in effect, degradation revives experience because that is what spring is (Ceres). The irony is a Dick-like future degrades experience – almost the opposite of what “they” tell us of the electric-green clockwork land of tomorrow.
Coming at this from a classical perspective, it’s easier to see why Dick’s futures are so fantastically negative while Howard’s grimness isn’t. Dick’s futures are somewhat like the false Apollo(CH3) while Howard’s are vastly more Dionysian. As I think I wrote somewhere before (), the followers of Dionysus, The Bacchae, are a gay festive lot and will indulge in ecstatic partying and make love on the vine, guzzling, singing and dancing into the small hours.
However, in the play by Euripides, the Thebian king Pentheus denies Dionysus in his ambition for pure order – in other words, a modern politician. The nature god is offended and starts to corrupt the holier-than-though king, while his rampant followers initiate a cult that seduces his daughters, who finally tear him limb from limb.
Attic red figure vase (in b&w) The Maenads celebrate while Dionysus drinks and listens to the flute
Nietzsche, by the way, thought Euripides went too far in bloodlust and demonization; but from a Howardian perspective it makes good sense. There is a limit to civilization and the Thebean king went beyond the limit into a false kingdom. Our modern politicians – to a man and woman – are in this false situation. They are not ruling reality; they are ruling a false reality that denies Man’s instinctive cravings.
Politicians are not active people – unlike kings who might lead warriors into battle, they just talk. I’m currently reading Edmund Cooper’s Seahorse in the Sky which places a politician in an alternate reality of knights and savages, where he survives by his wits, lusty friendships and muscular feats. I can only think of two politicians offhand who might cope, Putin and McCain, the rest would die in a day.
They can talk the hind leg off a donkey but they can’t actually ride the donkey. That’s why the modern world is so fantastically moribund, They are constantly creating sterility when what you want is dilapidation, intrusions by nature and laissez-faire abandon.
Abandon is the word, because things left abandoned become fertile, have you noticed? That is the cycle of degradation at work, the very thing the powers that be don’t care to talk about. Why? Because they are rationalists who think there is such a thing as pure aseptic order. Read Euripides. It doesn’t exist. The disgruntled followers of Dionysus know that and they are probably out there somewhere.
Birth is a delirius bloodbath that is the result of pure luck (Weird 7, 8). It’s just not ordered in the slightest, pure order doesn’t exist in nature, there is always disorder. Fortune; the exact timing of the myriads of processes entailed in birth; the nigh-sacred proportions of the human figure tie Man and his psyche to the cosmos.
Physique and psyche, a symphony of disorder. If you try to make order out of the human body or the psyche you will usher in a robot with a psychosis. Everything is balance. We, with our physique and psyche, have to take back the sombre places of this earth from those who would pave over in asphalt. We do not desire the complex, aseptic kingdom that is written in electric-light by Musk and his allies; we crave what is ours by right. Fertility and abandon .