There is a form of art that has always inspired me. When I think of the amount of work that would be put into such a piece, it humbles me. This form is the epic poem, or epic ballad.
The form demands a few features. First it is written in verse. Often there is a rhyme pattern with a meter. It is sizable in length. No epic poem is ten pages long. An epic is usually long enough to demand a few reading sessions at least. It possesses a heroic figure, a man or woman on a mission. He or she makes a journey of sorts that is fraught with struggles and set backs. And an epic poem is of elevated subject matter.
It’s these last two we need to focus on for a moment. Let me back up a bit.
I am writing a poem called The Goats of Breastion. It is a feasting song and it tells the story of a tribe celebrating the life of their chief. The feast takes place after his funeral when his wife is cooking the goats he loved so much in life. The tribe hated the goats, and they are delighting in devouring them.
My poem has 65 verses and two choruses. Most of the verses describe a goat’s personality and how he or she is prepared for feasting. It is a big project and it has been an endurance trial. As I now enter the final stages of the piece, I am forced to look back at what I am working on and weigh exactly what it is.
The Goats of Breastion is not an epic ballad, no matter how much I want it to be. I had originally said it was, in my glee at finally doing something similar to the art form I love so much. To join the ranks of greats like Edmund Spenser, John Milton, and Lord Byron had me drunk. However, I talked to an expert on the form, who had spent her entire career teaching and reading epic poetry, and I found out I was wrong. The form demands certain things that my goats just do not have.
First of all it does not have a hero. Now, within the song are bridges. These are built differently than the rest of the verses, with a similar rhyme pattern but with a different meter. These bridges tell why Breastion loved goats so much and depict four times in his life when these goats were a boon to him. Although this does present as a protagonist, it does not define him as a hero as he is not on any sort of journey.
Finally, there is the elevated subject matter. This element is simply not present. We are not talking about the salvation of a tribe or nation as you find in Beowulf with overtones of Christianity and the presentation of a hero’s journey. This is not the telling of the fall of man as you find in Milton’s Paradise Lost. This is the humorous telling of a feast where we eat a bunch of goats.
Although it is very entertaining and impossible to walk away from, it is by no stretch of the imagination elevated. Nor does it possess a strong hero. So I must confess my “Epic Ballad” does not fit the definition, and therefore is simply a ballad.
This does not bother me at all.
If given the chance, I would not change a word of my ballad to try to shove and heave it into an epic. It is exactly what I set out to do. It is a humorous snapshot into the life of what has been depicted as a very serious and intense culture. It proves they were not always at war, as my books depict, and that their culture is often times fun and funny. It humanizes these people in a way that none of the other work can.
When it is finished, I will print out in book form five copies of this poem. One will stay with me, one will be shipped to my diligent beta reader, two will go to teachers I’ve had in the past, and I will have one more. That one I plan on giving away to a subscriber to my newsletter. If you want a chance to win this, you can sign up for my newsletter here.
So let’s talk about the future. I have a notion that epic poetry is not a form I want to turn away from. It has been, for a very long time, a high form of art I never believed I could ever attain. This ballad, no matter how silly, has proven to me I have the tools to make it work.
I have chosen an elevated subject matter. I have crafted a hero for task. I have in mind every aspect I want in my piece and I have the time in my day to make this dream a reality. An epic poem is in my future.
It will be a project I work on for a very long time. I will take it slow and get it exactly how I want it. I will not be giving updates, as this is not a piece that will progress very fast at all. This will be a pet project I guard covetously. And it will likely be published late in my career. Very late.
So wish me luck. You will not hear of this again. This will be a long, arduous journey I must make in near solitude.
A trip of epic proportions.
Much like Alighieri, and Virgil’s.