A long while ago I came across the name of William Ernest Henley. I do believe that it was while reading something about Robert E Howard when this happened. Of course I could be completely wrong considering how many books I have read.
One of the shortcomings of this book was the lack of a biography of the author. I honestly think it would of helped quite a bit. Of course on the flip side of the argument anybody searching for this author would of already knew at least something about him already. Nonetheless I think it would of benefited from it immensely.
One thing to take notice of this volume is that it doesn’t seem to follow the order of when he wrote the poems. This isn’t a problem unless one is a stickler for such things of course. So lets begin to dig into the poems.
In Hospital was written between 1873-75. The poems deal with life while as a patient. Most were decent but not quite to my liking. Several were well done and were as follows: Casualty (powerfully sucks you in), Ave Caesar!, Visitor, Romance (a nice fiction), and Nocturn.
Song of the Sword from 1890 was an awesome poem. I think he was talking about Jesus Christ, I could be wrong, but it is the feeling I got.
Arabian Nights Entertainment from 1893 was also really enjoyable. Between this one and Song of the Sword I think I will be rereading them again soon.
Next we come to Bric-a-brac written between 1877-88. Many ballads with double refrain appear here, and a lot of which I am not necessarily a fan of. There are exceptions though: Ballad mad in the hot weather, was super cool, I almost felt myself there with the visuals. Double ballade of life and fate was a fiery straightforward examination of life and fate. I love its forwardness. Orientale, I can only say I wish I could see the sight which inspired this poem. To F.W. was such that it had me writing poetry in the book in its honor.
The poems in Echoes were written in 1872-89. He is again exploring more about life and death. Most poems are filled with scenes of nature, wind and sun, stars and moon. Descriptive and quite visual. Several stand out on the first reading: To My Mother, IV R. T. Hamilton Bruce this I particularly loved. Shows the strength and pride of one who will stand despite all that comes. VII gives one a look at how we are all every moment through every action propelling ourselves closer to our doom whether for good or ill. XX is so visual very nice. XXIV, XXVI, XXIX to R.L.S. was powerful and so very true. Even as adults we are yet children in the greater scheme of things. XXXIX and XLVII are both nice as well.
Rhymes & Rhythms were written between 1889-92. I feel a wave of morbidness with these poems. He has come to a greatness, a maturity with his writing in this period. It is fuller and more impactful. This also is around the time of the earlier poems in the book Arabian Nights Entertainments and Song of the Sword which I loved as well. In II to R.F.B. at the beginning of the poem you seem to have an allusion to Song of the Sword. Perhaps the beginning of the idea to that poem? By the end of this poem I was literally yelling Britannia! Britannia! in my living room and then laughing at myself the poem is so patriotic in feeling to me. All the poems in this section are good in their own way. Like I said they are so much more mature it is hard to sit there in pick favorites.
Hawthorn and Lavender was written in 1901. The feeling of this to me is he sounds so very old in life. It is almost as if he is in mourning over it and is now looking forward to his death. His usage of wind and roses is overmuch. A few of the poems stand out to me such as XV for its discussion of flowers. XVII gives me the feeling of one being in love with another man’s woman and is strongly worded indeed. XIX, XXXI round out the notables to me.
London Voluntaries written between 1890-92. These poems about London are dark, morbid, and on the edge. I almost see him as part of the decadence movement at this point or on the edge of it just due to the obsession on death although there is more to decadence than that. The poems are massive compared to his earlier poems and I just couldn’t really get into them.
London Types is reminiscent of Les Fleurs de Mal Parisian Scenes but not nearly as good.
Three Prologues were written with others. Two of the best ones, I and III, were written with R. L. Stevenson and were really good.
For England’s Sake, to me whose ancestry came from England partly I couldn’t help but have a growing feeling of pride when reading these poems. It was an ancestral pride in the accomplishments of our people on whole. So yes I would have to say I enjoyed reading these though I have none that stand out exclusively.
Epicedia are all funeral odes. The longest of which was for Queen Victoria. Interesting to read but other than for the Queen’s not something I would read again.
The final poem was called A Song of Speed, of which I can’t say much for I simply couldn’t get into the poem at all. By the end of it was I was just thanking God that it was over. I don’t even know why, it just didn’t move me at all.
Overall this is a interesting period work. I would recommend reading it in this volume because you have everything, poems-wise, he has written and you can see his evolution as a writer. That is what I enjoy the most. You can get it in hardcover, paperback and e-book here at the following link, Poems. Enjoy!