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Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry

The Epic Poem (from Greek- epos a story, to tell a tale) is long a narrative in verse. This genre of poetry has taken many forms over the centuries however, they all have a few things in common. The epic focuses on a single hero or heroic group and the impact that such heroes have on a historical event, mythical or real and usually emerges during a period of unrest or change. It also takes a look at an event and its effect on the lives of ordinary people and how that event changes the course of a culture or nation.

Because of the length and scope, the Epic often includes not only a narrative but lyrical and dramatic poetry within its content. "Epic poems are hard to come by, and no wonder. Traditionally they are long, dense, stern, heroic, imbued with sentiment, written in language ranging from dignified to majestic, charged with conflict and all but impervious to anything coarse to comic." Norman Corwin in a poetry review in the Los Angeles Times, December 2002.

In the epic, the narrative usually opens within a happening event, often with a formal invocation or plea to a muse or gods concerning that event. Eloquent language is often used as well as all manner of poetic techniques. Often used is the extended simile, sometimes termed the Homeric simile because of Homer's effective use of the device.

Certainly, the earliest epics developed from oral traditions however there is evidence of recorded epics as far back as 2000 BC. Epics are meant to be read out loud and sometimes even performed. They carry the reader into another world with a compelling rhythm. Heroic verse is custom made for the epic and is even named for it. The earliest being the Gilgamesh Saga of Babylonia, the Sanskrit, Mahabharata, and Ramayana of India, and the Illiad, Odyssey and fragments of the epic Cycle of Greece right through to more modern epics such as Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The Gilgamesh saga is found on 12 tablets and in its surviving form has approximately 3000 lines.

The epic's length may turn some away from reading, myself included. And even though I have not read all of the ancient epics in full, I know many of the events and characters they portray because of the poems' impact on the culture in which I live today. But if on a rainy day you find yourself with a little time on your hands, pick up a classic epic, read it out loud and step into another world.

The elements of Epics are:

  1. usually long, often stanzaic with the number of lines per stanza at the discretion of the poet.
  2. in English often metric, using the heroic couplet in iambic pentameter as a standard.
  3. often rhymed with all manner of rhyme such as alliteration, assonance, near and true rhyme, to emphasize the rhythm.
  4. used for political, heroic, social, and fantasy tales.
    An excerpt from: 

    Out I went, into the world, but there was none better, none whom he, Gilgamesh, could not best.
    And so, with his arms, he returned to Uruk. But in their houses, the men of Uruk muttered:
    'Gilgamesh, noisy Gilgamesh! Arrogant Gilgamesh!'
    All young men gone - Defeated by Gilgamesh and no son was left to his father.
    All young girls made women by Gilgamesh
    His lusts are such, and no virgin left to her lover!
    Not the daughter of a warrior,
    Nor the wife of a nobleman!
    Yet he is king and should be
    The people's careful shepherd.
    He is king and should be
    Shepherd of the city.
    He is wise, he is handsome, he is firm as a rock.
    In heaven the gods heard
    Heard the lament of the people,
    And the gods cried out to the Great God, higher king of Uruk:
    'Strong as a wild bull is this Gilgamesh
    So he was made by Aruru, the goddess
    None there is who can - not one
    None who can survive him in fighting.
    No son left to his father.
    Gilgamesh, he takes them all, and is he
    He the king? Shepherd of the people?
    No virgin left to her lover, For he lusts strongly!
    No, nor the wife of the nobleman!
    The Great God heard this, then
    To the Goddess of Creation, Aruru -
    Cried all the gods:
    'You created this Gilgamesh! Well, create him his equal!
    Let him look as into mirrors - Give a second self to him, yes;
    Rushing winds meet rushing winds!
    Let them flow heart to heart against -
    Give them each other to fight,
    Leaving Uruk in peace!'
    So the Goddess of Creation took and formed in her mind
    This image, and there it was conceived -
    in her mind, and it was made of material
    That composes the Great God,
    He of the Firmament.
    She then plunged her hands down into water and pinched off a little clay.
    She let it drop in the wilderness
    Thus the noble Enkidu was made.
    For this was he the very strength of Ninurta, the God of War, was his form,
    rough bodied, long hair,
    His hair waved like corn filaments -
    Yes, like the hair of that goddess
    Who is the corn, she , Nisaba.
    Matted hair was all over his body, like the skins of the cattle.
    Yes, like the body of that god.
    Who is the cattle, he, Samugan.
    This Enkidu was innocent of mankind.
    He knew not the cultivated land.
    Enkidu was in the hills
    With the gazelles -
    They jostled each other
    With all the herds
    He too loved the water-hole.
    But one day by a water hole
    A trapper met him
    Yes, face to face,
    Because the herds of wild game
    Had strayed into his territory.
    On three days face to face -
    Each day the trapper wa terrified,
    Frozen stiff with fear.
    With his game he went home,
    Unable to speak, numb with fright.
    The trapper's face altered, new -
    A long journey does that to one,
    Gives a new visage upon returning -
    The trapper, his heart all awe, told his father:
    'Father, what a man! No other like him!
    He comes from the hills, strongest alive!
    A star in heaven his strength,
    Of the star essence of An, the Sky Father
    Over the hills with the beasts
    Eating grass
    Ranges across all your land,
    Goes to the wells.
    I fear him, stay far away.
    He fills in my pits
    Tears up my game traps
    Helps the beasts escape;
    Now all the game slips away -
    Through my fingers.'
    His father opened his mouth,
    Told the son, the trapper:
    'My son, in Uruk lives Gilgamesh.
    None can withstand him,
    None has surpassed him,
    As a star in heaven his strength
    Of the star-essence of An, the Sky Father.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

The Illiad

Some epic forms are:

~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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