Photograph of a reconstructed Viking ship at Roskilde, Denmark. Taken by Terry Barry

The Rhyme of the Viking Path

The below poem has been given two titles at various times, both “The Rhyme of the Viking Path” and “Thor’s Son,” in both cases referring to the subject of the poem, a Viking sailor who’s been on many travels.

Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tales (September 1934, vol. 24, no. 3) featuring The People of the Black Circle by Robert E. Howard. Cover by Margaret Brundage depicting the Devi of Vendhya in the hands of the wizard called The Master of Yimsha.
Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tales (September 1934, vol. 24, no. 3) featuring The People of the Black Circle by Robert E. Howard. Cover by Margaret Brundage depicting the Devi of Vendhya in the hands of the wizard called The Master of Yimsha.
Many of you will be familiar with the author, Robert E. Howard, who is well-known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, King Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane, and who was a correspondent of H.P. Lovecraft who wrote stories in Lovecraft’s universe. This work, like many others, represents Howard’s fascination with a more primitive, “barbaric” age, something he believed to be the natural state to which humanity would eventually return. A few of Howard’s stories and poems touched on the Viking Age, though he was much more focused on original tales of barbarians and pre-history. He is often credited as the originator of the “sword and sorcery” subgenre of fiction.

Despite the cultural impact of his characters and stories, Howard was not particularly successful in his own time, and took his own life in 1936 when he was just 30 years old.

“Thor’s Son” was not published during Howard’s life, but rather taken from correspondence with his friend Tevis Clyde Smith in 1930 and published in a collection of Howard’s works in 1969, 33 years after his death.

The Rhyme of the Viking Path

Serpent prow on the Afric coast,
Doom on the Moorish town;
And this is the song the steersman sang
As the dragonship swept down:

I followed Asgrimm Snorri’s son around the world and half-way back,
And ‘scaped the hate of Galdjerhrun who sank our ship off Skagerack.
I lent my sword to Hrothgar then; his eyes were ice, his heart was hard;
He fell with half his weapon-men to our own kin at Mikligard.

And then for many a weary moon I labored at the galley’s oar
Where men grow maddened by the rune of row-locks clacking ever more.
But I survived the reeking rack, the toil, the whips that burned and gashed,
The spiteful Greeks that scarred my back and trembled even while they lashed.

They sold me on the Eastern block; in silver coins their price was paid;
They girt me with a chain and lock, I laughed and they were sore afraid.
I toiled among the olive trees until a night of hot desire
Blew me a breath of outer seas and filled my veins with curious fire.

Then I arose and broke my chain and laughed to know that I was free,
And battered out my master’s brain and fled and gained the open sea.
Beneath a copper sun adrift, I shunned the proa and the dhow,
Until I saw a sail uplift, and saw and knew the dragon prow.

Oh, East of sands and sunlit gulf, your blood is thin, your gods are few;
You could not break the Northern wolf and now the wolf has turned on you.
The fires that light the coasts of Spain fling shadows on the Eastern strand.
Master, your slave has come again with torch and axe in his right hand!

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