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26 June, 2013
The Interdependence of Literature
Heroic Poetry
by Curtis, Georgina Pell


The traditions of all nations go back to an age of heroes. Nature, also, has had her time of stupendous greatness, a period of great revolutions in nature, of which we can see traces to this day; and of huge animals, whose bones are still being dug up. The history of civilization also has its period of great achievements, and poetry has had its time of the wonderful and gigantic. In numerous heroic poems of different nations we can trace the unity of all heroic personages, as in the Iliad and the Odyssey of Greece, the Sagas of the North in the Nibelungen-lied, and the Ramayon of the Orient. Freedom, greatness and heroism are embodied in these poems, and many of them breathe a martial spirit.

We find the same character, however touched by local color, in all these beautiful traditions of whatever nation or clime; at the zenith of success, in the spring-time of youth and hope, on the very eve of joy unutterable, there often seizes on the soul of man an overwhelming sense of the hollowness and fleetingness of life. It is this touch of the spiritual which raises these old heroic poems to such sublime beauty and power. Poetry of this kind implies a nation, one which is still, or has been, great; one which has a past, a legendary history, vivid recollections, and an original and poetical manner of thought, as well as a clearly defined mythology.

Poetry of this order--lyric as well as epic--is much more the child of nature than of art. These great mythological poems for hundreds of years were never written; but were committed to memory, sung by the bards, and handed down from one generation to another until in time they were merged, after the Christian era, into the historical heroic poems. These in turn were the origin of the chivalrous poetry which is peculiar to Christian Europe, and has produced such remarkable effect on the national spirit of the noblest inhabitants of the world. Nor has this oral poetry entirely died out. In the present day Mr. Stephen Gwynne has astonished the world by telling of how he heard aged peasants in Kerry reciting the classics of Irish-Gaelic literature, legendary poems and histories that had descended from father to son by oral tradition; and the same phenomena was found by Mr. Alexander Carmichael among the Gaelic peasants in the Scottish Highlands and surrounding islands. It has been said that heroic poetry is of the people, and that dramatic poetry is the production of city and society; and cannot exist unless it has a great metropolis to be the central point of its development, and it is only by the study of the literature of all nations that we see how essentially these heroic poems were the foundation of all that followed them in later ages.

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