T: Much has been said about the epic fail that is Eragon’s epic poem in Book Two of Christopher Paolini’s “Inheritance Cycle,” and, having said our bit about it, we turn our thoughts to the under-acknowledged smaller failures of poetry scattered throughout the series. Where they don’t have a name, I’m calling them as I see them.

E: Before we really get into this…be warned. There’s a lot of fail in these poems. I mean a lot. Maybe even more than in the “EPIC!paoem.” Prepare yourselves, readers.

T: At least the Epic paoem had a proper continuous narrative.

Paoem the First: Song for the Road

O liquid temptress ‘neath the azure sky

T: Okay, stop right there. What? Not only does this completely lack any sense of single-line rhythm, but the imagery this conjures is simply absurd.

E: Oh, dear. This is just such a strange description, not to mention a way to start off a poem and/or song. “Liquid temptress?” Is that supposed to be the ocean? Because it’s not. It sounds like a badly-named club drink.

Your gilded expanse calls me, calls me.

E: This poem makes me nauseous, nauseous.

T: If I ever refer to something by its “gilded expanse”, I expect to be immediately shot for the benefit of humanity.

E: If you ever do, I’ll shoot you.

For I would sail ever on,
Were it not for the elven maid
Who calls me, calls me.

T: The next two lines are quite nice, which would be a credit to Paolini if the first line wasn’t ripped almost directly from Tolkien (“The road goes ever on and on”, from Lord of the Rings). The last line completely throws off any fragile sense of rhythm we might have imagined. It’s simply too short. Where the very first line was about a half a foot too long, this line is a full foot short. That’s 12 whole inches!

E: I’m starting to notice a trend with the Paoems here. What’s with him and repeating the last line twice? It doesn’t drive home any particular point or emphasize the importance of a line (as in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland: “This is the way the world ends.”) He just does it…for the sake of doing it. And that’s just wrong.

T: Also Robert Frost: “And miles to go before we sleep”. These repetitions are powerful because they focus our attention on an emotion that the rest of the poem has been building towards.

She binds my heart with a lily-white tie,

T: record-scratch Hold it! Why, when the previous lines manage to drift between three and five feet, is this one so much longer? Paolini once excused his prose by saying he is tone deaf. Even if that’s so, it doesn’t take a musical genius to write poetry with a consistent metre. Especially since it requires less “natural talent” and more mathematical skill.

E: Poetry schematics aside, I’m still reeling in confusion over what this line even means. Why is she binding your heart? Is that a metaphor for…um…love? And why is the tie lily-white – or any white, to be exact? Is it a symbol? If so, for what? Paolini, obscure metaphors don’t work IF THEY DON’T EVEN MAKE SENSE. Also, isn’t the literal interpretation pretty macabre?

Never to be broken, save by the sea,
Ever to be torn twixt the trees and the waves

E: I’d make some comment about the metre or the rhythm, but really I’m just cracking up over the image of Paolini sitting at his desk. Writing this poem. And thinking to himself, “Yes, yes! This is truly the epitome of poetry!”

T: Lookit me, I can use fancy words like “twixt!” No matter that it messes up the line and doesn’t make sense even in context. The last three lines of this poem could easily be a different poem altogether. This time, we don’t have the excuse that Eragon’s new to the language and doesn’t really know much about Elvish linguistics or folklore. This was supposed to be written by a great master of poetry, and translated by someone fluent in both languages who masquerades as a bard!

E: And fails at being both.

Paoem the Second: Blacksmith Song

. . . hey O!
And a ringing and a dinging
Rang from old iron! Wily old iron
With a beat and a bang on the bones of the land
I conquered wily old iron!

E: The poem sucks, but I really can’t get past the “hey-o” bit. That’s something I say. As in, “Hey-o! Lame pun!” Though, I will admit…I like the bit about “bones of the land.” That’s it. The rest sounds nothing like a song a blacksmith would actually sing.

T: I don’t think this guy was saying “hey-o!” in the same way that you or George Burns would say it.
While I will admit this mostly does sound like something a blacksmith might sing while they’re working, I feel the need to point out that no self-respecting blacksmith would be caught uttering the phrase “a ringing and a dinging”. That sort of thing is for affected minstrels in tights and tunics with scalloped edges, skipping through the woods and feeding the bunny rabbits with corn from their pockets. Not for a muscle-bound village blacksmith who works with fire and bellows and hammers and tongs and very hot metal. Also, the line about “the bones of the land” is something I’d expect from a miner, not a blacksmith.

Paoem the Third: Down the Rushing Mere-Wash

Down the rushing mere-wash
Of Kilf’s welling blood
We ride the twisting timbers
For hearth, clan and honour.

T: Not a bad beginning, I guess. It does, shockingly, have an interesting (and almost consistent!) rhythm. The imagery used is a little strange. “Mere-wash” in particular is needlessly unconventional. “mare” in Latin means “sea”, so “mere-wash” must mean a river that empties into the sea, but this strikes me as forcefully old-fashioned (like much of Paolini’s dialogue) rather than a natural poetic element.

E: I agree…though it doesn’t make much sense in a contemporary context, the rhythm of the first two lines isn’t bad. “Mere-wash” is unconventional, sure, but it has a nice ring to it, I’ll admit. The last line ruins it, though. I’m not as good as explaining the schematics of a how a poem works as Taku here, but the first three lines are action-oriented, and kind of “free” – describing the movement of a mighty river that empties into an ocean. Then it’s ruined by the “hearth/clan/honour” bit. It stops the rhythm completely. Kills it dead.

Under the erne’s sky-vat,
Through the ice-wolves’ forest bowls,
We ride the gory wood,
For iron, gold and diamond.

E: What the hell is a sky-vat?

T: I don’t know if “erne” is supposed to be a proper noun, but the first lines make little to no sense. “sky-vat”? “forest bowls”? It’s almost like Paolini’s just throwing random words together, like playing with “Magnetic Poetry” while blindfolded. And what exactly is so gory about the boat? Was somebody disembowelled in it? If so, why didn’t they clean it out before they started their journey? Or maybe Eragon really doesn’t have the stomach for white-water rafting.

E: I just can’t get past the sky-vat and the forest bowls…what? What do those even mean? WHAT DO THEY MEAN, PAOLINI?

T: It also seems odd they would value iron as equal to gold and diamonds. Iron is such a common element, especially in large rocky hills, that is should be almost worthless to the civilization of Dwarves who live almost exclusively underground and make a living from digging up previous metals and gems.

E: SKY-VAT?!

Let hand-ringer and bearded gaper fill my grip
And battle-leaf guard my stone
As I leave the hall of my fathers
For the empty land beyond.

T: It took me a while to work out that Paolini’s probably referring to an axe in the first line. If only he paid this amount of attention to his riddles (below). “Bearded” axes are a particular style favoured by the Vikings. It adds length to the blade without adding too much weight. Still, “hand-ringer” and “bearded gaper” are far too obscure (I still don’t know what the first thing means) for a poem in a fiction book aimed at teenagers. As for the second line, the only thing I can come up with is a Roman-style cingulum belt to protect the wearer’s, ahem, stones.

E: knows absolutely nothing about weapons But, um, the rhythm’s not that bad. Read it aloud. You can kind of get a rhythm going in there. But when you get to the actual poem, it’s very minimal, and kind of empty. Basically it’s saying “I’m gonna take my weapons and leave home.” Poetry should do the opposite – it should say as much as possible with only a few words. This fails absolutely at that.

T: Well, yes, the rhythm’s not bad, if you sort of chant and hope people mistake the awkward pause for an extra gulp of air… but the lack of absolutely anything worth saying sort of spoils it.

Paoem the Fourth: Nari’s song

O!

The day is done; the stars are bright;
The leaves are still; the moon is white!
Laugh at woe and laugh at foe,
Menoa’s scion now is safe this night!

T: Now, I genuinely like the first two lines of this verse. It’s a good start. This proves that Paolini isn’t as tone-deaf as his previous (and following) poems suggest. The first lines have good rhythm, actual rhyme and metric consistency. I was quite pleasantly surprised. The only this that ruins an otherwise really nice stanza is the awkward final line, which is about half a beat too long and loses that natural grammatical flow by reversing the article. A shame, really.

E: I’m sorry, but I have to rant a little here. In every poem – every single freaking poem – Paolini makes a reference to some god, or ancient person, or some myth from Alewhatthehellumlaut. I get why he’s doing this – it’s in the line of epic poetry and all that shiz. The problem is, though, is that nobody knows what the hell he’s referencing? Who’s Menoa? I don’t know. I don’t care. Yeah, I know – Tolkien did the same thing in LoTR. The difference is that he spent years coming up with the language and the world of Middle Earth and so forth, and there are the appendices and supporting books that explain all the mythos of his world. I’m not even a fan of LoTR (much) and I know that. Paolini’s just farting out random “mythical” names at this point in an effort to make his writing look more distinguished. It. Doesn’t. Work. Rant over.

T: That’s a good point, but his worst pseudo-namedropping crimes are yet to come. Menoa actually turns up at some point, which is more than you can say for poor Geda or Erne.

A forest child we lost to strife;
A sylvan daughter caught by life!

E: Caught by life? What does that even mean? Is that a metaphor for death? Life finally caught her…so she died? What?

T: Wait, what? What was all that about laughing at woe and the moon is bright? Is this a celebration of evening, or a requiem?

Freed of fear and freed of flame,
She tore a Rider from the shadows rife!

T: ;___; I think Paolini’s mocking me. “Here, have a nice poem for a change! Ha ha, just joking!” I mean, “the shadows rife”? Rife with what? Fleas? As far as I know, “rife” either needs something to be rife with, or needs to be used differently from this. And still, I don’t know if we’re meant to be celebrating or mourning.

E: I’m going to go with mourning.

Again the dragons rise on wing
And we avenge their suffering

E: Hey…wait a moment. These lines don’t suck! There must be something wrong.

T: What kills me is that this is a brilliant couplet with a creative rhyme and absolutely flawless rhythm. Paolini clearly is capable, unless this is the biggest fluke since Einstein forgot to carry the remainder.

Strong of blade and strong of arm,
The time is ripe to kill a king!

T: What? I still don’t know how I as the audience is supposed to react. Am I celebrating, mourning or rising up in rebellion? This poem lacks thematic focus, which is actually a common problem with all of Paolini’s works, now that I think about it. Including his novel, poetry and that Urgal folktale he embedded in Brisingr. He simply lacks focus.

E: I definitely agree. This calls back to what I said above – poems are supposed to use minimal language and say as much as possible. There should be some kind of focus. These are just… scattered words and phrases loosely bound together, and it doesn’t work.

O!

T: What is up with that unassigned vocative tense? If it’s an exclamation, it should be spelled “Oh”, to differentiate it from the vocative tense O, as in “O mouse, where art thou?”. As it is, it’s just silly and pretentious.

The wind is soft; the river deep;
The trees are tall; the birds do sleep!

E: This poem sucks; I hate this thing/This stuff is obvious; it’s really annoying. SEE PAOLINI? I CAN DO IT TOO.

T: And now we’re back to this. If we simply got rid of the last two stanzas, I wouldn’t have anything to complain about. It would have been nice if he’d tried a mid-rhyme instead of just throwing “soft” and “tall” in there without second thought.

Laugh at woe and laugh at foe;
The hour has come for joy to reap!

T: To reap what? TO REAP WHAT?!

E: Our IQ points. And my sanity.

E: This is the end of the first part – there are several more Paoems to go, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity we decided to stop here for now. To sum it up in my thoughts…I think these poems are actually worse than the Epic Poem in Eldest. Not because the rhythm’s necessarily awful or anything like that, but simply because they’re so damn hazy. Half the time I have no idea what Paolini’s trying to talk about. When I do understand, it’s still confusing simply because Paolini has no idea what kind of emotions he wants to evoke. Poetry is supposed to evoke feelings in us. No, scratch that – good poetry’s supposed to evoke feelings in us. Strong feelings. Whether they’re good feelings like happiness of affectionate nostalgia, or negative feelings like bitterness or even despair – we feel something. Poetry is taking emotion and putting them into words. It’s about taking something ugly or unnoticed in life and making it beautiful. This is not poetry. This is garbled words strewn together in an effort to sound “deep” and “cool” and make it seem like Alawhatever has a rich history a la Middle Earth. And it fails miserably.

T: I definitely agree. Poetry is supposed to be emotion made verbal. It’s supposedly characterised by intense language and heightened expression, which not only Paolini’s poetry, but also his prose, almost completely lacks. It’s not hard to evoke emotion. Henry Lawson managed without a single “O!” or “twixt”: “They thought of the far-away grave on the plain,/They thought of the comrade who came not again,/They lifted their glasses, and sadly they said:/‘We drink to the name of the mate who is dead’.” (from The Glass On The Bar) .

Tune in for Part Three, in which we continue to spiral towards insanity (or alcoholism).

Tagged as:

Comment

  1. LoneWolf on 9 May 2012, 14:54 said:

    Paolini’s poetry is weird. He seems to understand rhythm, why does he constantly violate it? He doesn’t have the talent to write good free verse!

  2. Karamazova on 9 May 2012, 15:02 said:

    UGH I HAVE TO BE PEDANTIC

    “This is the way the world ends” is from The Hollow Men, not the Wasteland.

    sorrysorrrysorry I’m such a stuck up pretentious nerd arg.

  3. Fireshark on 9 May 2012, 16:26 said:

    The wind is soft; the river deep; The trees are tall; the birds do sleep!

    This feels good, being back in Alagaesia! The trees are the right height!

  4. Oculus_Reparo on 9 May 2012, 19:07 said:

    “sorrysorrrysorry I’m such a stuck up pretentious nerd arg.”

    I bet you wear white flannel trousers and walk along the beach, too, don’t you? Don’t you?!

  5. Karamazova on 10 May 2012, 01:46 said:

    I bet you wear white flannel trousers and walk along the beach, too, don’t you? Don’t you?!

    On occasion, yeah.

    Not sure about those peaches, though.

  6. VikingBoyBilly on 10 May 2012, 22:34 said:

    Are you guys going to analyze the poem that Paolini wrote as a “preview” for Eldest that he sent to book stores along with that contest to meet the author?

    You know, the one where we know nothing about what happens in Eldest before reading it, and it has gems like this: “A hammer sails through the eye of a boar.”

    HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO KNOW THE “Hammer” IS RORAN AND THE “eye of a boar” IS A FREAKING WHIRLPOOL? WE HAVEN’T READ IT YET! IT JUST MAKES NO SENSE!

    And the whirlpool thing was totally lifted from the Oddessey.

  7. Taku on 11 May 2012, 07:53 said:

    Sorry VikingBoy, we’re only doing poems published in his actual books, not semi-related marketing ploys. The poems that Paolini, Frey et al. thought were good enough to be worth including in something that people are paying money for.

    Karamazova, sorry we didn’t pick that up. I admit I’m not as familiar with TS Eliot’s work as I would like to be. Had we but world enough, and time, and all that.