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April Is Napowrimo (For the Poets Who Didn’t Know It and Those Who Did)

14 April 2019

From Indies Unlimited:

Let’s be real: poetry is often treated like the wayward stepchild of the writing world. It doesn’t sell as well as other genres, so it’s not produced in the same quantities. But sales don’t equal love, and in April, poetry takes center stage in NaPoWriMo (aka National Poetry Writing Month).

Much like its better-known cousin, NaNoWriMo, NaPoWriMo is a month devoted to poetry. While the goal of National Novel Writing Month is to have a completed 50,000-word novel at the end of 30 days, NaPoWriMo wants authors to have 30 poems by month’s end.

Poetry is a medium that can be extremely useful to fiction writers. It requires the author to express a great depth of thought and emotion in a very short turn of phrase. Rather than pages to set a scene, poetry requires simple, vivid imagery and descriptions that can tell a tale in shorter measure.

Famed horror author Stephen King loves poetry, saying, “it takes ordinary life, it takes things that we all see, and concentrates them in this beautiful gem.” Author Alice Walker called poetry “the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.”

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

When PG read the OP, the name Casabianca floated into his head. (Spring floodwaters are particularly high at Casa PG this year.)

Casabianca is a poem by the English poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans, first published in 1826.

During the Victorian era in Britain and the same period in the United States, a staple of the education of young men (and maybe young women as well, although PG honestly doesn’t know for certain) was the memorization and performance of poetry. Those who lived through that experience were often able to recite poems learned in their youth well into old age.

One of the staples during the age of memorization was Casabianca. The poem combined the sort of bloodthirsty heroism and loyalty that appeals to many boys at a certain stage of their lives with regular ba-BUM, ba-BUM, ba BUM meter and unfailing rhymes at the end of each line.

Parents must have liked the idea of a boy who is loyal, reliable and remembers his responsibilities under difficult circumstances (rare though that may be in the real life of an 11-year old).

The poem is short enough to quote in its entirety:

The boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck,
Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud, though childlike form.

The flames rolled on – he would not go,
Without his father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud – ‘Say, father, say
If yet my task is done?’
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.

‘Speak, father!’ once again he cried,
‘If I may yet be gone!’
– And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath
And in his waving hair;
And look’d from that lone post of death,
In still yet brave despair.

And shouted but once more aloud,
‘My father! must I stay?’
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapped the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound –
The boy – oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds that far around
With fragments strewed the sea!

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair,
That well had borne their part,
But the noblest thing which perished there,
Was that young faithful heart.

What’s not to like for a boy? Flames, explosions, fear overcome and valiant death – it just doesn’t get any better than that (unless ice cream is involved).

In addition to Ms. Hemans’ best known work, other examples of similar poetry include, Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” Charles Wolfe’s “Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna,” W. E. Henley’s “Invictus” and Rudyard Kipling’s “If–.”
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While doing a bit of research for this post, PG learned that, unfortunately, the poem has some connection to actual history.

From Find a Grave:

[Giocante Casabianca is a] folk figure.

. . . .

[The poem] was based on an actual incident during the Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Abu Qir Bay), August 1, 1798. Twelve year-old Giocante was serving with his father, Captain Luc-Julien-Joseph Casabianca, aboard the French flagship L’Orient when it came under attack from Horatio Nelson’s British fleet; the ship caught fire and exploded, killing father, son, and 900 of the crew. This is all that is known of the young sailor’s life.

Link to the rest at Find a Grave

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6 Comments to “April Is Napowrimo (For the Poets Who Didn’t Know It and Those Who Did)”

  1. PG, I am shocked, shocked that an erudite student of military history such as yourself was ignorant of Giocante Casabianca’s story. I prescribe an immediate study of Napoleonic naval history with particular attention to the Battle of the Nile.

    Though you refer to the Victorian era, in Britain at least, this tradition continued much longer, certainly into the 1950s. At that time I was also expected to memorize some biblical passages, though the only one I even remotely recall 60 years later is 1 Corinthians 13. For that matter the only poem that I can now recall any part of is Vitai Lampada by Sir Henry Newbolt which I suspect was not on the American curriculum, if only because the cricket references in the first verse would make it too obscure.

    I’m not sure that Gray’s Elegy really counts as a similar poem (though the Victorians probably liked its moral sentiments and it was certainly one of those memorized by schoolchildren) and would suggest something more like The Charge of the Light Brigade would better fit the criteria of regular meter and bloodthirsty heroism.

  2. Does no one remember “Horatius At the Bridge”? Memorized that one when I was mid-teens, on a dare.

    Sigh, I only can remember the outline now, as though it was simply a prose story that I read once

  3. As late as 1973 I was tasked to memorize and recite poetry in high school.

    The Last of the Light Brigade

    There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,
    There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
    They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
    They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

    They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
    That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
    They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
    And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !

    They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
    Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
    And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, “Let us go to the man who writes
    The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.”

    They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
    To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
    And, waiting his servant’s order, by the garden gate they stayed,
    A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

    They strove to stand to attention, to straighen the toil-bowed back;
    They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
    With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
    They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

    The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and “Beggin’ your pardon,” he said,
    “You wrote o’ the Light Brigade, sir. Here’s all that isn’t dead.
    An’ it’s all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin’ the mouth of hell;
    For we’re all of us nigh to the workhouse, an’ we thought we’d call an’ tell.

    “No, thank you, we don’t want food, sir; but couldn’t you take an’ write
    A sort of ‘to be continued’ and ‘see next page’ o’ the fight?
    We think that someone has blundered, an’ couldn’t you tell ’em how?
    You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now.”

    The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
    And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with “the scorn of scorn.”
    And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
    Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

    They sent a cheque to the felon that sprang from an Irish bog;
    They healed the spavined cab-horse; they housed the homeless dog;
    And they sent (you may call me a liar), when felon and beast were paid,
    A cheque, for enough to live on, to the last of the Light Brigade.

    O thirty million English that babble of England’s might,
    Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
    Our children’s children are lisping to “honour the charge they made – ”
    And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

    —–
    Could be worse. Could be Horatius at the Bridge.

  4. One of Kipling’s more neglected poems. I’m surprised it came up for memorization at school. I see you don’t like Lord Macaulay: Horatius does go on a bit so probably not the best assignment to memorize.

    • You misunderstand me. I like Macaulay, but the man never used one word when a hundred would do.

      • Apologies for my misunderstanding. Yes he could be a bit prolix. I actually prefer his The Armada; schools could use it as an adjunct to a geography lesson.

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