Thursday, September 9, 2010

The unbelievable we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer. (U.S. Marine Corps saying)

When I was young my parents bought a 20-volume set of The Book of Knowledge and a 20-volume set of Grolier Encyclopedia from a passing salesman. During the years I lived at home, I spent many an hour leafing through those books. Every once in a while something really grabbed my attention.

One such item was a painting (published in the book in black and white, so perhaps it was a lithograph) of King Canute at the edge of the sea with some of his courtiers in the eleventh century. It showed the king speaking to the sea, telling it to stop pounding the shore with waves. I was fascinated by his temerity.

Late breaking news: The sea ignored King Canute and kept doing what it has always done (helped along, no doubt, by the gravity of the moon). Film at eleven.

Time passes.

A few years later I composed a poem about the scene in the painting/lithograph. Here it is (William Makepeace Thackeray, eat your heart out):

Canute (994?-1035)
by Robert H. Brague

I, King of all the Britons, and Denmark mine as well!
My star approaches zenith! In Caesar’s train I dwell!
More kingdoms to be conquered! And all shall be laid low!
And feudal lords shall bear me liege wherever I may go!

And shall I stop at kingdoms? Nay, tarry here and see!
The winds and waves shall hearken, and both bow down to me!
No more shall raging ocean erode this harried shore!
But it shall do my bidding, as Christ’s in days of yore!

No more shall sea advance upon the gray and shifting sand!
Now cease your endless churning! Subside at my command!
It is Divinely ordered! You must obey my will!
In God’s name I command you! Hear and hearken: “Peace! Be still!

But can I be mistaken? And can I be denied?
My words have no effect! Still onward comes the tide!
The swirling eddy rises! The tide attacks my knees!
It hears commands more regal than this lowly creature’s pleas!

God’s kingdom is eternal, mine but of measured span!
What foolishness emerges from the haughty heart of man!
I am but mortal monarch! O, hear my fool’s heart cry!
‘Tis chastened by the deafness of a greater king than I!

Okay, so William Makepeace Thackeray probably has nothing to worry about. Scout’s honor, I was not aware of Thackeray’s poem when I wrote mine.


  1. Thanks, Carolina! I would say, in retrospect, that I must have been in my exclamatory period at the time. Such a lot of punctuation!

  2. You were definitely not in your 'Billy Ray Barnwell' period.

  3. I enjoyed the rhyme and rhythm of this poem, but would prefer the exclamation marks to be less in evidence, please, as you asked for my thoughts on it...

  4. When I was a kid, in the 60's, my folks bough a set of 1934 encyclopedias at an auction. I read them from a-z although the set was in ten volumes so they weren't by letters like the World Book encyclopedias we had at school. I read the World Book encyclopedias all the way through also.

    An Arkies Musings

  5. Lovely poem.
    I remember my Mom getting sections of an Oxford Dictionary from Steinberg's. I had to wait 24 weeks before I got the whole thing.They gave out coupons in those days as well for things.
    I still love and treasure my Oxford Dictionary. It's old and the cover is torn but I love it.
    Good things never die.

  6. its an awesome one...the kinda we see published in english textbooks in India!! :)

  7. I'm! impressed! by the flow! and the uncontrived! rhyme! but a bit! exclaimed-out!