By Michael Lind
351 pp., $25
By Randy Lee Eickhoff
283 pp., $22.95
The very earliest great works of many of the world's literatures
were epics. The "Iliad" and "Odyssey" of Homer, the Sumerian
"Gilgamesh," the Indian "Bhagavad Gita," the Anglo-Saxon "Beowulf,"
all were stories detailing the exploits of heroic figures who
exemplified the most admired values of the cultures which gave
birth to them.
Later authors sought to continue in the epic tradition. Virgil
consciously modeled his epic of Rome, "The Aeneid," on Homer's
masterworks. Dante went so far as to actually incorporate Virgil as
a character - Dante's own personal guide - in his epic, "The Divine
In the Renaissance, some of the most ambitious poets, such as
Edmund Spenser, Ariosto, and Milton, dedicated themselves to
achieving monumental greatness in this form. Certainly, any writer
who declares he is writing an epic nowadays places himself in an
egregious position. The very idea seems so archaic, it is hard to
guess how seriously he intends to be taken.
Now, Michael Lind, a poet, novelist, journalist, and native
Texan, boldly offers us not only a bona fide epic about the
legendary, real-life, historical heroes of Texas' fight for freedom
in The Alamo, but also one that is written in the time-honored epic
form of verse: rhyme royal, employed by Chaucer in his "Troilus and
Criseyde" (Cressida) and by other classic poets.
Clearly, Lind expects - and deserves - some credit merely for
daring to undertake such an enterprise. He is swimming against the
current of the mainstream of most modern and postmodern poetry, not
only in his choice of a traditional (perhaps even archaic) genre
and an old-fashioned verse form, but also in his unabashed
celebration of old-fashioned American freedom fighters, like the
band of stout-hearted Texans who defended the Alamo.
Everyone knows the expression "Remember the Alamo," but one
wonders how many of today's students understand that this was not
some American "imperialist" war against Mexico, but a rebellion
against the tyranny of a Mexican military dictator, Santa Anna, who
was also the bane of Mexican liberals.
All this and more is made vividly clear in Lind's lively and
colorful recreation of the stirring story. Major characters such as
Jim Bowie, William Travis, Stephen Austin, and Sam Houston are
deftly limned in rhyme, whether by narrative description:
"If even Austin, peacefulest of all/ the Texan leaders, could be
seized and penned/ without a hearing, what fate might befall/ those
fellow Texans aching to defend/ their chartered rights with more
than ink and wind?"
Or in dialogue, such as these words spoken by Sam Houston:
"There's nothing in the world that's worse than war,/ with one
exception, and that is defeat. …