Remember the Epic Tale: Be It the Alamo or Celtic Cattle Thieves

By Rubin, Merle | The Christian Science Monitor, May 21, 1997 | Go to article overview

Remember the Epic Tale: Be It the Alamo or Celtic Cattle Thieves


Rubin, Merle, The Christian Science Monitor


The Alamo

By Michael Lind

Houghton Mifflin 351 pp., $25 The Raid By Randy Lee Eickhoff Forge 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 Comedy." 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. …

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