Throughout the ages, heroes and heroines have been idolized. Poetry, music, drama, art—all types of creative sorts turn to heroism to inspire their work and their audiences. From Achilles to the Red Baron, from Odysseus to astronauts, we put heroes on stage for children to emulate and adults to admire or, perhaps, to envy.
Today’s heroes include persons such as Gandhi or the first responders at 911. Too often, parents have cause to rue the heroes idolized by their children: sports heroes who blend skill and human failure such as infidelity or doping, rock stars whose lives come to an unfortunate end because of drug abuse.
Poets have at hand a number of tools to help them represent heroism:
• attention to detail can create a powerful effect;
• metaphoric gesture can generate an atmosphere of danger and response
• use of certain poetic forms (ballads, sonnets, lyrics) lend themselves to memorization and are thus handed down through the ages;
• poetic allusions to beauty, strength, warfare and love abound;
• rhythm and pacing, such as that found in couplets or tercets confer dignity upon the subject;
• comparison to heroes of the past lends credence to those of the present.
Let’s look at a poem from the past that characterizes the heroic motif:
Alfred Lord Tennyson
It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch where through
Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all to little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads you and I are old;
Old age had yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
For our prompt today, consider writing a poem in praise of a present-day hero, someone who has made a difference in your own life, or in our own times. You may want to sing of those who are not widely recognized: a parent, a friend who is dealing with a terminal disease, an older person who must face declining health, mental acuity or loneliness, a merchant who reaches out to assist the homeless, any person, real or imagined, whose being inspires.
As you write, evaluate your choice of form (free verse or narrative poetry is fine, too), your inclusion of metaphor, allusions to widely recognized heroes of the past. Of course, singing the praises of someone already renowned is fine, too. But keep in mind, let it be a person you would hold out to a child as a figure to be imitated.
• Write your poem and post it on your blog;
• Copy and Paste the direct URL to your poem in the Mr. Linky at the bottom of this page;
• Take time to visit and comment on the work of other participants—at the least, those who have done the same for you;
• Belly up to the bar for some good companionship, outstanding poetry and a toast to all our everyday heroes of past and present.
For dVerse Poets, Meeting the Bar, I’m Victoria C. Slotto, happy to be your hostess for today. What’s your preference? Ale, Champagne, or….? We’ve got it!
Credits: Tennyson image: Public Domain; Red Cross Worker with Special Needs Child: Public Domain