Song of an Old Immortal
(Dedicated to the memory of Robert E. Howard—and with sincere condolences to the unfortunate plight of Karl Edward Wagner’s larger-than-legend character Kane.)
The River Styx flows whispering;
Its myst’ry-misted song to sing.
Its waters, black as anthracite,
Trailed sensuous tendrils to invite,
Submerged my soul in darkest night—
(My body it left free.)
Ten thousand years I roamed this land;
Imprudently I tasted life.
And countless times I came to stand
And watch dear friends return to sand;
Watched them fall beneath the knife
Of grave misfortune, age and strife.
So on I wandered, friend to dread,
A shadow-shroud around my head
To ward off enemies and friends
(But everything of course depends
On meanings justifying ends—
Or so it has been said.)
And in my lonely travels I
Found mastery in many things;
Learned that weaker men would die
To clear a way to travel by
Upon the bloody Road of Kings
(For of such deeds brave Legend sings.)
By many names have I been known
And many times have sat the throne
Of kingdoms I have won or reared
And into smoky crystal peered
To see once more what I had feared:
My dreams, turned into lifeless stone.
Yet finally found my soul again
And understood a monstrous shame:
A wisdom won the moment when
I realized the world of men
Like words of men, is but a game
And win or lose, ’tis all the same.
For I have seen the black door gape
And heard fell secrets from serpent’s tongue;
And I have glimpsed the night-gaunt’s shape
And worn the wizard’s conjure-cape;
Gave ear to songs that can’t be sung—
(While yet considered very young.)
Long-gone, a demon’s daughter vowed
Her love for me, and held me near
Her flaming kisses burned my brow
The mark is there e’en a’now
A sign men learned to read and fear
O’er many a dark and bloody year.
For soon with all mankind I warred;
Before my charge great nations fell.
Ten million men have called me lord
And twice that ten died on my sword—
(With fire and steel I served them well
And chased their smould’ring souls to Hell.)
And empires raised and riches heaped
Before me, but to fare and fail…
And vanities and harvests reaped
And legends wrought, in dark blood steeped
I saw obscured ‘neath Time’s dim veil
(Yet hungered on for fruits gone stale.)
So on I wandered, searching for
A way my hungers to appease;
And every beck’ning bolted door
That I from massive hinges tore
Came away with practiced ease—
(I might as well have had the keys.)
I sought a peak, a rarity,
Yet every challenge bowed its head.
A world without disparity,
All bleak familiarity…
Brave Legend’s loves and lusts had fled—
(A conqueror, I’d killed them dead.)
Then seen at last through weary eyes,
I wondered at the things I’d done.
They seemed a sham in dim disguise
A dull conceit, a pack of lies
A phantom shadow in the sun—
(An empty victory is none.)
And so I took myself to bide
In desert wastes, far-flung from men
Where midst the lonely landscape I
Might ponder well the where and why
Of these strange facts—and mayhap then
Breathe Life into this life again.
Through many years of solitude
I harkened to my heart’s grave yearning;
And then one fateful night I viewed
A shower of stars, bright, many-hued,
That fell like snowflakes brightly burning
Heralding my soul’s returning.
For now I heard a voice to cry:
“Pray, listen well unto me now!
You live beneath a starless sky!
You race with time; it passes by!
To idols valueless you bow!
Stand straight! (If you remember how!)
“You’ve stamped your feet on barren earth:
Seek you now a finer dream!
What can these tiny prints be worth’?
Will they contribute to the birth
Of something greater? Do you deem
That they are more than what they seem’?
“You’ve watched great nations rise and fall:
Shanties sinking into dust.
And man upon a platform tall
Hears his own voice, heeds not the call
But tends instead to his own lusts—
It is the only voice he trusts.
“You’ve followed where the legends lead;
Yet still are doors you’ve left untried.
What legends these, of vanities?
What magic in pursuits of greed?
For this a billion men have died?
This voice, and wisdom, lies inside.
“Now open eyes and open ears!
Turn them inward! Learn to feel!
Cast away your prides and fears!
See? The Laughing Light appears!
Life’s a Road and Life’s a Wheel—
Both are equally as real.
“You’ve danced to tunes that chase and hound,
Forgetting well my sweet caress.
Your music has a saddened sound…
Heed me now, lest you be bound
Eternally, to your distress,
In Legend Lands… all legendless.”
‘Twas then I saw myself in eyes
Wiped clean of dreams and deeds uncouth
And mourned this empty life of lies!
This King of Fools! He so unwise
That through ten thousand years of youth
Could not discern this voice of truth.
Since then one thousand years have passed;
I am no more what I have been.
The conqueror, come home at last
To conquer vibrant vistas vast
That stretch out endlessly within—
And ending, once again begin.
So now I sit in peace, and lo!
A universe sits in my hands!
I’m off to far Orion, so
I cannot stay; new worlds to know…
I’ll wander still in Legend Lands
Creating dreams as need demands.
* * *
This poem was originally published in the January 1991 edition of Amazing Stories Magazine. It appears in Lil’ Deaths by D X Stone
Copyright 2013 by Nuance Press/D X Stone. All rights reserved.