A Mythic Rowing Song

Setting: After being separately shipwrecked, Shandon and Golias are earning their way to shore by crewing on a Viking longboat. Shandon is rowing, and the bard Golias is singing a rowing song that plays up and down history and literature.

The skaldic form

East of Agamemnon

East of Agamemnon was a city he had sacked,
West of him his heart went home to Greece.
Good and ill wear each a mask that never can be cracked;
He raced from what he thought was war to what he thought was peace.
He was cuckold by his cousin and he'd find his death blow,
But he made them burn the thole pins, and still he called them slow --
He made them brace and bend their backs and row, ho, ho!

East of Ingcel One-Eye were his kin without their lives,
Westward was a chance to square the loss.
Men will win and men will lose, and only Wyrd survives;
He aimed his fleet for Eriu and flitted it across.
He would conquer mighty Conaire, but that he couldn't know,
He only knew that he must strike and he must not be slow --
He made them brace and bend their backs and row, ho, ho!

East of O. van Kortlandt all the world was traced and known,
West of him the land leapt off the map.
Luck or loss, the dice won't speak till after they are thrown;
He stowed his gear and stepped aboard and braved Ginnunga Gap.
He would come back to Communipaw, but that just happened so;
He turned from men to mystery and did not travel slow --
He made them brace and bend their backs and row, ho, ho!


in myth, history and literature

Summary: Agamemnon was one of the leaders of the Greeks who sacked Troy. His home was Mycenae. When he got back there after the war, his wife Clytaemnestra was living with his cousin Aegisthus, and they axed him. For more information, see Agamemnon for the short version, Agamemnon, Greek Mythology Link for all the twists and turns; or see Agamemnon's Own Home Page.

Thole pins:A pair of pins set in the gunwale to serve in place of an oarlock. The gunwale is the rim around a boat. Don't tell anybody I called it a boat. Here's a picture of thole pins.

Summary: About the beginning of the Christian Era, Ingcel One-Eye was the son of the King of Britain, exiled and turned pirate. He hooked up with the three banished brothers of Conaire, high-king of Ireland, and wreaked havoc, including killing his own family and invading Ireland. He seems an odd choice of a hero, unless Myers is using different sources than I found: The Mythological Cycle (of Ireland); Encyclopaedia of the Celts: D'Aulnoy - Danai De Danaan (See "Da Derga")
O. van Kortlandt: From Fred Lerner: "Oloffe Van Kortlandt, a would-be land speculator in Nieuw Netherlands, led the expedition to Hell gate and back that revealed the attractions of Manhattan island to the Dutchmen who there built Nieuw Amsterdam." (Once more Washington Irving, A History of New York, 1848) Communipaw: A section of Jersey City.

Skaldic Saga, Chantey, or Just Plain Fun?

This song feels like a skaldic chant for several reasons. Golias uses a lot of alliteration, the same sound starting several syllables, which was part of the traditional skaldic form. The Norse were also fond of the rhythms that began on an accent (DAH dah DAH dah DAH dah) while European poetry uses much more of the rhythms that end on an accent (da DAH dah DAH dah DAH). The poem is not, however, a traditional skaldic saga.

This song has a deliberate similarity to chanteys, also -- it is a work song for ship crew, after all. But it is not a traditional chantey form, either.

Myers seems to have invented a form, and had a lot of fun doing it. Each stanza has seven lines, with the seventh being repeated each stanza; the first four lines have an alternating rhyme ABAB (quatrain), followed by two rhyming lines (couplet) with the same rhyme as the repetitive line. The rhythm is seven measures of one accented syllable followed by one unaccented syllable (trochaic septameter).

Once, on a dare, I wrote a ten-line poem in trochaic hexameter (six measures of DAH-dah). Myers has gone an extra measure.

Mark Mandel has written a fourth verse, plus a tune, for this song.

For those Kalliope workshop members who are using this as a primer in allusion, here's an exercise: Silverlock reports that Golias sang the above stanzas "together with some others." Write one or more of the missing stanzas.

Guidelines for critique:

  1. Is the form followed?
    • Seven lines of trochaic seven-meter per stanza:
      • Quatrain ABAB
      • Couplet CC
      • Refrain C


  2. Are the allusions appropriate?


  3. Are the allusions accessible, recognizable by most culturally literate readers?


  4. If you didn't recognize the allusion, were you able to track it down, and did you feel you gained something by doing so?


  5. Could you get sense and enjoyment from the poem even if you didn't recognize an allusion?

For extra exercise, you may critique Myers' poem on the same criteria.

[ More about allusion in poetry ] [ More about rhythm in poetry ]
[ More about patterns of rhyme ] [ My trochaic hexameter ]


by John Myers Myers
ISBN 0-441-76674-9
Ace Fantasy Books
The Berkely Publishing Group
200 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10016

A Silverlock Companion:
The Life and Works of John Myers Myers

edited by Fred Lerner
ISBN 0-910619-02-6
Niekas Publications, 1988
email order from <edmund.meskys@gsel.org>


Tracking the Wild Allusion in Silverlock
Ch. 1-4
Ch. 5-9
Ch. 10
The Ballad of Bowie Gizzardsbane
Ch. 11-22
Ch. 23-30
Welcome to the Commonwealth of Letters