Burke’s Fingal – An Epic Poem


Another great poetry must read includes Burke’s Fingal: An Epic Poem. 

In grand epic style, Burke retells key events in the life of the Celtic hero Fingal: a heroic chieftain who turns back an invasion of Ireland by King Swaran of Scandinavia.

The first Irish forces on the spot are led by the redoubtable Cudulin – who fights stubbornly to repel Swaran, only to see his army broken and destroyed by Swaran’s doughty warriors. Cudulin is forced to retire, grudgingly acknowledging the necessity of Fingal’s promised aid.

Fingal arrives with his warriors the following morning, fighting with such ferocity that he turns  the tide of the invasion. This time it is Swaran’s army that is broken, with Swaran himself being captured. Victory has been snatched from the jaws of defeat. Or so it seems.

But now blood cries for blood in an ever-escalating cycle of vengeance and destruction. Can even a hero like Fingal bring about the most difficult victory of all: that of reconciling sworn foes to a lasting peace?

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Cottle’s Alfred


King Alfred vs the Danes

Another great poetry must read includes Cottle‘s Alfred. 

Cottle retells the legend of King Alfred the Great in stirring blank verse. The epic includes many well-known episodes , including Alfred’s: narrow escape from being slaughtered when the Danes stormed the royal stronghold at Chippenham, his taking refuge in the marshland stronghold in Somerset, and his reemerging at Egbert’s Stone to once more take the offensive which will finally culminate in Anglo-Saxon victory at the Battle of Edington.

The first scene is set in Denmark: with Ivar swearing to wreak a bloody vengeance on England for the death of his father, Rgnar, at the hands of Ælla of Northumbria.  The second book shifts back to Alfred in Somersetshire: dispersing his army with orders to rendezvous later that year at Selwood Forest.

  • Ragnar had been previously captured by Ælla and thrown into a snakepit to perish. What is the dread revenge Ivar has sworn to carry out on Ælla? Will Ivar succeed?
  • Guthrum’s army fails finally to prevail against Alfred in the field. By the brutal customs of the Norse religion Guthrum must immolate himself on the field of battle. Or can the genius and temperance of Alfred offer his enemy a second alternative?

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Bulwer-Lytton’s The New Timon

London Street


Another great poetry must read includes Bulwer-Lytton‘s The New Timon.

Narrated in excellent verse, Bulwer-Lytton tells the story of the live, loves and struggles of the half-caste orphan Morvale in nineteenth century London.

Morvale is rich – but grown bitter against the racist English elite and coldly cynical towards the world in general. His heart is softened only towards his half-sister – Calantha, whom he maintains in his own house; and the poor – for he himself had known extreme poverty in his youth.

Morvale fosters a poor orphaned street-girl named Lucy – bringing her into his home and introducing her as a female companion for his sister. But all is not as it first appears: Lucy is no ordinary poor orphaned-girl: she quickly proves to be both well educated and intelligent. As time unfolds, – Lucy is revealed to possess a previously unsuspected and altogether surprising connection to her new protectors: unknown by all concerned and certainly unsuspected by herself.

  • Lucy was raised by her mother, Mary. But who is her father? Would Lucy really wish to even know his identity: seeing he abandoned the family before her birth?
  • Why does Calantha faint at every mention of the name of Morvale’s good friend, Lord Arden?
  • How do the sins of Lord Arden’s youth – revealed in confidence to Morvale himself – tie himself, Morvale, Calantha, and even Lucy into an inextricable web of lies, deceit, and blood-debt?

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Bulwer-Lytton’s Glenaveril


Swiss Alps

Another great poetry must read includes Bulwer-Lytton‘s Glenaveril.

Lord Ivor Glenaveril is born into tragedy: his father dies in a hunting accidnet the day he is born – the latest death in a long series of mortal calamities afflicting the Lords Gelenaveril over generations: so notes his studious but kindly grandfather, Professor Ludwig Elderath.

For Ivor’s birth, his mother – Eleanor – was staying in the guest-house of a recently widowed friend – Mary Muller. A strong, mutual friendship had sprung up between the two women: and as both were pregnant and near their time: they had intended to remain near at hand to lend mutual support during their respective childbirths. As it happened, the two mothers give birth on the same day: but to Eleanor’s sorrow, Mary dies shortly after delivering a healthy newborn son – who she names Emanuel. Although Eleanor is willing – even eager – to foster and raise Emanuel as her own: Emanuel’s relatives quickly intervene, and Emanuel is given to be raised by his spinster aunt – Martha Muller. Martha insists that her nephew be raised to become a Lutheran pastor and  take the place of his deceased father: so saying, she thanks the Countess Eleanor, and returns to the continent with her swaddling nephew.

But Eleanor does not forget Emanuel: and over the years she contrives opportunities for the her son to remain in contact with Emanuel: inviting Emanuel over to stay on various occasions. A fast friendship springs up between the two young men: which remains steadfast over time, despite differences in temperament, outlook, and upbringing.

And so it comes about that when both men are new-come into their majority: the pair decide to travel abroad together for a time: commencing with a walking tour of the Alps. As a friendship-pact they exchange names: Emanuel everywhere introducing himself – and acting the part of – Lord Glenaveril, while Ivor answers only Reverend Muller. But what will be the consequences of such play-acting?

  • Emanuel is being courted by Cordelia – but Emanuel cares for her not at all. When Ivor sees her he himself becomes quickly enamoured: but how can Ivor satisfy the simultaneous demands of friendship and romance?
  • Emanuel enjoys immensely playing at being a Lord: being tired of the constraints of the pastorate. Ivor similarly enjoys shedding the burdens of lordship: which he finds dull and enervating. Can their voluntary role-swop ever become anything more than a temporary reprieve from crushing responsibilities? Even if it could: would either of the twain welcome the change if it were to become permanent?

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Lytton’s Apple of Life


King Solomon

Another great poetry must read includes Lytton‘s The Apple of Life, published under the pseudonym “Owen Meredith“. In this fantastic poem, King Solomon is presented with a most peculiar problem.

King Solomon is at the height of his power and glory: monarch of mighty kingdom situated at the trading crossroads of the Orient – Solomon has everything he desires. Or has he? For when the Angel of Death presents the king with an apple from the Tree of Life in Eden – saying that whosoever eats thereof will live forever – Solomon is presented with a precarious choice.

Solomon – wisest amongst the rulers of his age – quickly realises the potential – and the perils – of such a gift. As Solomon ponders what to do, he poses to himself the following questions:

  • Is living forever in a fallen world a blessing to be envied? Or a curse to be shunned?
  • Will living forever on earth be a blessing of greater wisdom and perspective – or a greater suffering as everyone and everything one knows gradually passes out of existence?

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Khayyám’s Rubáiyát

Book into another world

Another great poetry must read includes Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát. Translated from the original medieval Persian by Edward Fitzgerald, Khayyám’s beautiful quatrains continue to charm and inspire readers worldwide.

Khayyám’s writings are pervaded by the consciousness of the transient quality of life. Speaking to us via his Rubáiyát, the author ponders the limits of human knowledge and morality: and confronts his readers with the more difficult questions that arise in every generation:

  • what are the ultimate benefits to be derived from human knowledge?
  • what happens to my soul when I die?
  • why did God – the Creator – give me existence?

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Claudian’s Rape of Proserpine


Proserpine & Hades

Another great poetry must read includes Claudian‘s unfinished Rape of Proserpine. Translated from the original Latin, Hawkins relates the captivating narrative of the abduction of Proserpina by Hades, who carries her off into the underworld to become his queen.

Ceres – Proserpine’s mother – is not amused. Finding her daughter abducted, she neglects her meaner occupations of sowing and reaping to search the world over for news of Proserpina. As Ceres – the goddess of agriculture – entirely neglects her other responsibilties whilst undertaking her search: crops the world over begin to fail – threatening mankind with wholesale starvation.

But truth cannot be forever hidden – especially from a goddess seeking to uncover it in earnest. And so Ceres in time learns what she desires from other deities: who inform her of where her daughter is, and by whom she was taken.

  • What excuse can Hades give to justify his abduction? How can Hades clear himself before Jupiter’s  tribunal on Olympus when Ceres herself comes to plead her case?
  • Jupiter’s ultimate decision is doubtful: and Ceres is desperate. If Jupiter’s decision goes against her: will Ceres in revenge give men over all the world into the power of Famine?

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