The World’s Best English Epic Poetry – Italicus’ Punic War (in English Translation)

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The world’s best English epic and narrative poetry includes Henry Tytler’s rhymed verse translation of Italicus‘ The Punica a.k.a. The Punic War.  Written in Latin in the first century AD, Italicus recounts in superb verse the epic struggle of Rome with Carthage in the Second Punic War: which ends in the eventual overthrow and destruction of Carthage.

The stage is set as Hannibal crosses the Alps and ravages up and down the Italian peninsula – wasting up to the very gates of Rome. The senate attempts to calm the people of Rome while the wise tactics of Fabius’ generalship start to tell against Hannibal: who is pressed for time, despite the fame of his early victories. However, Hannibal’s tactical genius makes him unstoppable: that is, until command of Romean legions is granted to the younger Scipio Africanus.

  • Hannibal has cut to pieces successive Roman armies: at Trebia, at Trasimene, and finally at Cannae. Still the Romans are gluttons for punishment: and don’t know when to quit. How many more legions does Hannibal have to crush before the Romans see sense and conclude an advantageous peace with a benevolent Carthage?
  • Scipio is a young patrician general with a vengeance: volunteering to lead a relief army to Hispania after a disasterous Roman defeat in which his own father and uncle were killed by forces commanded by Hannibal’s brother, Hasdrubal. Scipio is brave, no doubt: but surely the youth has no chance against the experienced generalship of one so closely related to Hannibal himself?

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Roman Legion

 

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The World’s Best English Epic Poetry – Swinburne’s Tale of Balen

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The world’s best English epic and narrative poetry includes Swinburne‘s The Tale of Balen. In superlative verse, Swinburne recounts the life and deeds of Sir Balen of Arthur’s court: and how his fate is caught up irrevocably with that of his brother, Sir Balan.

Balen and Balan are both brothers and friends: sworn to service in King Arthur’s court. Sworn to serve and honour Arthur: blood however proves thicker than water – for Sir Balan loyally accompanies his brother into exile when the king’s judgement falls adversely upon Sir Balen over his slaying of a witch in Arthur’s court.

For a time, the twain continue questing together: until one day they separate – never to behold the features of the other until their death-day.

  • Balen is valiant but impetuous. Can his brother Balan succeed in moderating Balen’s temper and mitigating his rash judgements?
  • Balen has sworn never to raise sword or weapon against his brother. But is mere human resolution proof against the wiles of Fate?

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Knight in armour

 

 

The World’s Best English Epic Poetry – Swinburne’s Tristram of Lyonesse

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The world’s best English epic and narrative poetry includes Swinburne‘s Tristram of Lyonesse. In fantastic verse, Swinburne recounts the life and loves of Sir Tristram: and how his life is torn apart by his conflicting loyalties to his king (King Mark), his queen (Queen Iseult of Cornwall), and his wife (Queen Iseult of Brittany).

Tristram initially serves his king faithfully: successfully completing many hazardous quests on his behalf. However, by singular misfortune, Tristram and Iseult unwittingly imbibe together a love-potion that causes them to fall irretrievably in love with each other. In this way begins Tristram’s ill-fated love-affair with his queen: until King Mark’s latent suspicious are aroused and he vows to catch Tristram in the act. King Mark succeeds in catching the lovers together and lays violent hands upon Tristram: who barely escapes with his life to take refuge in Brittany, safely beyond his king’s clutches.

Tristram – apparently – is now completely safe and secure: the beautiful daughter of his benefactor, King Hoel, falls in love with him – and they are betrothed. What can go wrong?

And indeed, for a time, Tristram believes that he can forget his previous adulterous liaison in his lovely new wife’s embraces. Until Tristram’s Doom once more overtakes him…

  • Can Tristram ever break free of the ancient love-potion’s power?
  • Tristram is honoured, wealthy, and married to the lovely Iseult of Brittany. So then why is Tristram therefore not the happiest man alive?

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Tristram & Iseult

 

The World’s Best English Epic Poetry – Klopstock’s Messiah (in English Translation)

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The world’s best English epic and narrative poetry includes Egestorff’s blank verse translation of Klopstock‘s Messiah. Written in German, The Messiah in effect continues the compelling narrative of Jesus’ life on earth begun by Milton in Paradise Regained: when Jesus the Christ became incarnate to preached the Good News – routing the powers of darkness whilst pursuing God’s plan to redeem the elect of mankind.

In The Messiah we pierce beyond the veils of mortal vision to witness at first hand: the combats between good and bad angels;  the delights of heaven, and the eternal torments of hell. As Satan continues his perpetual guerrilla war upon God and all His works, a clarion call of triumph resounds throughout every sphere of creation: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has occurred which dooms to failure all Satan’s efforts.

  • What role do the Guardian angels play in safeguarding the elect?
  • Can angels die? Can angels repent? And how do they themselves view the death of the Son of God?

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Jesus Crucified

The World’s Best English Epic Poetry – May’s Reign of King Henry the Second

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The world’s best English epic and narrative poetry includes May‘s retelling of the rise and fall of King Henry II of England: in stirring English verse.

Mercurial, abusive, violent: the military and diplomatic genius of Henry II secured his many early triumphs, while covertly completing the recipe for destruction: the fracturing and dissolution of England’s overseas dominions in the next generation.

The murder of Beckett at the king’s instigation – if not by his own direct command – leveled the spiritual thunders of the papacy at King Henry’s head. Although the papacy’s wrath was appeased by a shrewd display of public repentance and a penitentiary flogging: Henry’s four grown sons would not be bought off so easily.

The four princes were young men of tempestuous character: brave to fault (where their own best interests were concerned), ruthlessly cunningly, and as immovably stubborn as their father. Incited to open rebellion by their mother, the mercurial Queen Eleanor, the princes intended to have their kingdoms now: with or without their father’s approval.

  • Henry has outwitted and outmaneuvered his enemies for decades. But can he outwit and outmaneuver his own family? And his own wife?
  • The four princes love and admire their father, the king. The four princes hate and revile their father, the king. Which will ultimately prove the stronger their love – or hate?

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Beckett's Murder

 

The World’s Best English Epic Poetry – Bagnall’s Telemachus

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The world’s best English epic and narrative poetry includes Bagnall‘s retelling of Fenelon‘s TelemachusInspired by Fenelon’s prose novel The Adventures of Telemachus, Bagnall retells Fenelon’s narrative in stirring English verse.

The goddess Minerva – in the guise of an elderly tutor, Mentor – guides the young Telemachus through an Odyssey of his own: as they search the surrounding countries for some word or sign of Odysseus, who remains missing years after the triumphant conclusion of the Trojan war. Their search takes them into Egypt, then to: Phoenicia, Crete, and lastly Hesperia. In each place Telemachus and Mentor must overcome the disasters that threaten to end their quest: shipwreck, slavery, deception, bandits, and the dangers of the battlefield.

Minerva must often exert her divine powers to protect her protege from physical harm: but her foremost task remains to mould his character into the quintessential god-fearing prince and dutiful son. For Minerva knows that in time his father will shortly return: and Telemachus must then be ready and by his side to support Odysseus’ bid to reclaim the Ithacan throne.

  • Telemachus – like his father – is shipwrecked upon the island of the sorceress Calypso. While Mentor’s divinity can overmatch Calypso’s magic: can even he persuade a reluctant Telemachus to leave the island paradise, with its nubile nymphs and its beguiling queen?
  • Telemachus is offered the kingship in Crete and Selentum: kingdoms both more populous and wealthy than his native Ithaca. What possible reasons can there be for him to refuse either crown? Indeed, why give up riches honestly earned overseas in the hopes of someday ruling an indigent Ithacan patrimony?

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Greek battle

 

The World’s Best English Epic Poetry – Robinson’s Lancelot

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Another great poetry must read includes Edwin Alington Robinson‘s Lancelot.

Fixated upon his adulterous love-affair with the wife of his best friend: Lancelot realises things cannot go on indefinitely. Thus, when Mordred springs his trap – catching Lancelot in bed with Guinevere: the stern reality check sends his world crashing down. Lancelot gains a reprieve for himself by fighting free from Mordred’s clutches: but Guinevere is left behind to be sent to the stake and burnt for infidelity.

Lancelot, however, refuses to back down. Knowing further concealment is useless, he openly recruits his blood-relations to his side: mounting a daring rescue of Guinevere as she is led to the  pyre on the day set for her execution. Lancelot and his knights mercilessly strike down everyone in their way: their swords forcing a bloody path over the cobblestones of Camelot. But while Lancelot claims the victory: his bloody actions have already sown the seeds of his downfall: as Sir Gawain’s two unarmed brothers are soon discovered lying underneath a heap of the slain.

Gawain’s sorrow quickly turns to fury to avenge the death of his brothers: and it is Sir Gawain who animates King Arthur’s campaign to bring Sir Lancelot to justice and drive his kinsfolk out of Britain. Lancelot and his numerous relatives arm in self-defence for the upcoming retaliation: splitting Arthur’s kingdom into two opposing factions, armed and ready for a bitter civil war.

  • Gawain hates Lancelot, but Lancelot is by far the better knight. What lengths will Gawain go to to prosecute his revenge?
  • Arthur understands Lancelot’s actions – but cannot forgive losing Guinevere’s love. Is a noble death in battle perhaps the best way to permanently escape the contradictions of kingship?
  • Queen Guinevere has sent many knights to their deaths – and this weighs heavily upon her conscience. Has her time come to leave the world for the cloister, to expiate her sins, and prepare her soul to meet her Maker?

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Lancelot