This isn’t so much an essay as it is an opinion piece where I shoot off a few words in praise of narrative poetry or, in other words, poetry that tells a story. From Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, to Virgil’s Aeneid, to the Song of Roland, the Song of El Cid, and the chantefable of Aucassin and Nicolette; from Dante’s Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso), to Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Regained, and Longfellow’s Evangeline and Song of Hiawatha, the legacy of narrative poetry has been to entertain, inspire, and inform those who read the poems or listen to them being recited or sung. Such poetry has frequently been used to create and celebrate national, political, and religious mythology, to define and redefine history for a cultural or national audience, or to simply tell a whopping good story. Most of the poems just cited fall into the category of “Epic Poetry,” meaning they are long (the Iliad, for example, has over 15,000 lines of dactylic hexameter verse) and tell a story with a mixture of historical, mythological and allegorical characters. Most narrative poems are not “Epic,” of course. Burn’s Tam O’Shanter, Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, Poe’s Annabel Lee, Service’s Cremation of Sam Magee, and Patterson’s Man from Snowy River are examples of well-known narrative poems of more modest lengths. Fortunately, contemporary music has helped to keep the tradition of narrative poetry alive with songs such as Dylan’s Lily, Rosemary & the Jack of Hearts, Lightfoot’s Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Roger’s The Gambler, Daniel’s The Devil Went Down to Georgia, and the traditional Frankie & Johnnie. Such narrative songs are often referred to a “ballads.” Hundreds of other examples could be cited but, like I said, this is more of an opinion piece than a research paper. In any case, while popular music is by far the most accessible source of rhyming/rhythmic poetry these days, pop music lyrics generally fall far short of the quality and sophistication of Classical poetic forms. Here is my tongue-in-cheek read on the subject. Poetic License My iambs are imperfect and my trochees even worse. My syntax is so bad some have described it as a curse. My rhymes are lame as well with some exact, but most just “near.” And missing feet cause lines to limp in ways un-linear. And yet I am successful; my career is going strong. And millions memorize my words as lyrics for a song. So, if you write bad poetry and want to make some dough, Then lyrics for pop music is the only way to go. Outside the musical scene, it seems to me that narrative poetry has fallen by the wayside. Frost wrote a good number of such poems as did E.A. Robinson, but who is doing this today? My guess is that its current neglect is largely due to the fact that free verse—which has overwhelmed, inundated, buried, and crowded out traditional poetry—does not lend itself to narrative storytelling since the attempt invariably ends up being indistinguishable from prose. Although I do not have either the patience or inclination to attempt “Epic Poetry,” I am often inspired to tell a story in verse, as I do here in Oenophile. Oenophile Our Rescue Mission’s food is offered free To those we know and those who wander in; A gift of love to our community To help out those whose resources are thin. A hundred people come to eat each night And often many more at the month’s end When money’s short and budgets can be tight. Both single folks and families attend. Each night a man comes in and eats alone, Unkempt, unshaven, old, and weary worn. His voice a softly-whispered baritone With accents hinting he was foreign-born. One night I sat with him to talk and eat, Assuming he was poor and indigent; The sort who lives his life out on the street And sleeps wrapped up inside a cardboard tent. At first, he didn’t even look at me, And only spoke while chewing on his food. He said he didn’t want my company And only came because the food was good. But when I asked him if he had a name He paused and raised his eyes to lock on mine. “Just call me John or Jim, it’s all the same. I only wish I had a glass of wine.” He didn’t seem the sort who had a nose For anything with Grand Cru on its tag. I pictured him with Wild Irish Rose Wrapped neatly in a small brown paper bag. To my surprise he said, “A Zinfandel— A hearty, fruity one that’s not too light— If slightly chilled would go extremely well With the spaghetti that you served tonight.” “You seem to know your wine,” I said. “How so?” And he replied, “I am a oenophile Who recommends spring lamb with a Merlot When braised and seasoned in a Grecian style.” “And if your kitchen had been more advanced The chicken salad you served yesterday Could well have been exquisitely enhanced By a Barossa Valley Chardonnay.” Although,” he said, “I may look like a bum, When I was young and living in Beauvais, I learned all that was needed to become A trained and certified sommelier. “Well-known for my esprit de corps Within the Beauvais culinary scene, I served a famous café noted for Its one-star listed Michelin cuisine.” “And now?” I asked. “What happened after that?” “It is,” he answered, “time for me to go.” He stood and, after he was gone, I sat And dreamed of sipping a Chateau Margaux. I doubted what he told me had been true, But later, drunk and face down in the sand, I couldn’t help but see that, in plain view, A vintage Haut-Brion was in his hand. As a musician, I often leverage my verse into lyrics and set them to music as I did with the following narrative poem/song written to commemorate the heritage of my particular corner of southwest Washington State. Please excuse the brief flaw in the recording. The poem is set around the year 1900. Columbia, Reach Out Your Arms Cape Disappointment stands above a river deep and wide. I stand and watch the river follow out the ebbing tide. Beyond the bar the river joins a troubled, storm-tossed sea And somewhere on those waters sails a lass who’s dear to me. Columbia—mighty and free; Columbia, reach out your arms and bring her home to me. Four years ago, I sailed away from Finland’s Baltic shore. I turned my back on poverty in search of something more. My one true love I kissed goodbye and pledged on bended knee That one day I would find a way for her to come to me. I sailed far and wide across the ocean’s frothy foam, And landed in Astoria and there I made my home. I found a job filleting in a salmon cannery And saved all that I could so my true love could come to me. Columbia—mighty and free; Columbia, reach out your arms and bring her home to me. The days are long, the work is hard, I’ve made it on my own. I’m proud of what I’ve done but I am tired of being alone. I long to feel my true love’s kiss and share her company. I long to hear her voice and long to hold her close to me. The money that I saved I spent it all six months ago. I sent it to my love and told her it was time to go. She booked a one-way ticket and set sail across the sea, And someday soon, I pray my one true love will come to me. Columbia—mighty and free; Columbia, reach out your arms and bring her home to me. Cape Disappointment stands above a river deep and wide. I stand and watch the river follow out the ebbing tide. Beyond the bar the river joins a troubled, storm-tossed sea And somewhere on those waters sails a lass who’s dear to me. Columbia—mighty and free; Columbia, reach out your arms and bring her home to me. Columbia, reach out your arms and bring her home to me. I suppose what I am trying to say is, 1. I enjoy both reading and creating narrative poetry and, 2. Few people seem to be doing it well or even doing it at all these days. Since narrative poetry is part and parcel of the Classical Poetry tradition, I have been pleased to see more of them showing up on the SCP site over the past few months. Even so, I’m hungry for even more. So, if you are reading this and have never written a narrative poem (or haven’t written one for a long time), I challenge you to create one and send it in. I suspect, however, that our intrepid SCP Editor will prefer it to be shorter than The Iliad. James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers.