Updated: Oct 4, 2022
Greetings from the Garish Grackle. My intent for this blog is to highlight those enigmatic qualities of the old masters by discussing and deciphering one poem a month. This month I have chosen to examine Jame Elroy Flecker's War Song of the Saracens.
Table of Contents
Caesura- Flecker's Mocking use of the Pause in the Rhythm
Flecker made use of a poetic device called a "caesura."
Caesura is a technique used in Latin poetry that is critiqued for creating a monotonous effect.
However, Flecker's use of this technique is deliberate.
This noticeable pause is employed to fashion a constant rhythm.
It is believed and argued that, as the eye travels from left to right across the page, the continually placed caesura creates a subtle, imperceptible shift.
This does not disturb the rhythm, only emphasizes it.
Imagine horses galloping at a constant rate. Imagine the thundering of hooves the 1,2,3 : 1,2,3. The pause is regularly placed, and the words are regularly metered. The resulting rhythm does assist in depicting a vivid picture of this warring, nomadic lifestyle. The cadence generates a specific set of moods, and with the accompanying rhyming words, fear is successfully struck at the heart of those readers alien to this culture.
Flecker employed an anapaestic meter – we are they/ who come fast/ter than fate: We are they/ who ride ear/ly or late. This is a sublime example of how anapaestic meter structures a poem to convey a galloping rhythm. The entire poem is composed in anapaestic hexameter.
A hexameter is a line of verse that is composed of six feet.
Feet determine the meter of the poem and is structured on stressed or unstressed syllables.
The length is relevant as it truly brings to mind those long-limbed horses riding tirelessly throughout the middle eastern landscape.
Compare then the staple English iambic pentameter. From fairest creatures we desire increase, 1,2 1,2 1,2, 1,2, 1,2.
This first line from Shakespeare's sonnet number one has power, but not by reclaiming space through movement. The Shakespearean line is an assertion, a force of will through a gentleman's walk.
The caesura, while some argued is a needless break in the rhythm, only offsets the mood of anticipated victory.
Almost as if their victory is an echoed certainty written in destiny by the gods of the Saracens.
The caesura is a mockery to those idle Pale Kings so familiar with rest dictated by a sedentary lifestyle.
Believe what you want; you'll never see the Saracen's ruthless victory coming.
Professors Saeed and Dabbagh- The Semantic Gap of Western Literature
A study done by professors Saeed and Dabbagh researched the historical allusions woven into the fabric of this poem.
Accordingly, Flecker alludes to deep historical contexts and makes use of "patterns of lexical clusters" to create this poem. Flecker is conveying a message, orientating the general public to the timeless mysteries of the east.
Through this he allows us to imbibe certain victory when saluting glory to god through annihilation. Line nine, the centered pulse of this poem states "We have marched through the Indus to Spain, and by God, we will go there again."
Dabbagh and Saeed reference F.W. Baston's examination of a "semantic gap" abandoned by English poetry.
Line nine- is it not implied that these constant wanderers know the western landscape? Line 15 "And the shield was a grief to the fool and as bright as a desolate pool."
A desert-faring people, would not use "pool" effortlessly and without consequence. The western light as it reflects off a shield-bearing warrior is "bright" but ephemeral.
Unlike "the rock of Stamboul" and its eternal salutations to the heavens. The shield is straight indeed, a reckoning of what it is to be the other, yet orient yourself to god, that single certainty.
A War Cry Carried by Meter- to the Heart of the Idle Pale King
The word Saracen- is disputed to have its etymology in Arabic Sharq - East and Sharaqa- Rising/Rose Sun. The reach of this poem deliberately extends beyond geography to the inner warrior in the reader.
What is it to possess strength beyond measure?
To knowingly reckon with this fiercest quality where none can rival?
Let me know in the comment section below.
The spoken word, a cry carried and governed by this meter does more than tell a story or simply sing a song. It echoes across a seemingly endless, barren wasteland to the heart of the protected, isolated Pale King. It questions of him "don't you want more of yourself?" It's almost an invitation.
Flecker died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty. His passing is lamented to be "unquestionably the greatest premature loss that English literature has suffered since the death of Keats."
What poem inspires you to reach past your material protections and find qualities granted by the "Waters of Destiny?" Please let me know in the comment section below.