1 November 2021 Susannah

W.J. Turner & Romance

Chimborazo, Riobamba, Ecuador

Sometimes it is the sheer love of an unusual word or name which can inspire a poem. That’s certainly the case with W.J. Turner’s poem Romance which simply revels in the names of volcanoes.

Romance by W.J. Turner

When I was but thirteen or so
I went into a golden land,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Took me by the hand.

My father died, my brother too,
They passed like fleeting dreams,
I stood where Popocatapetl
In the sunlight gleams.

I dimly heard the master’s voice
And boys far-off at play,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Had stolen me away.

I walked in a great golden dream
To and fro from school–
Shining Popocatapetl
The dusty streets did rule.

I walked home with a gold dark boy,
And never a word I’d say,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
Had taken my speech away:

I gazed entranced upon his face
Fairer than any flower–
O shining Popocatapetl
It was thy magic hour:

The houses, people, traffic seemed
Thin fading dreams by day,
Chimborazo, Cotopaxi
They had stolen my soul away!

Walter James Turner (1884 – 1946) was born in Australia and grew up in Melbourne. He left for England in 1907 to pursue a literary career. He had a deep love of music and wrote many books on that subject, gaining a reputation as an esteemed musical biographer. His poetry was greatly admired by W.B. Yeats.

Romance, the best known of his poems, was written in 1916.

The poem repeatedly mentions the names of three mountains – Chimborazo and Cotopaxi are in Ecuador, while Popocatépetl is in Mexico. In the poem, the poet is a thirteen-year-old boy, doing his schoolwork. He has lost his father and his brother. We don’t know if he had actually seen the volcanoes, or simply heard vivid descriptions of them, but their names are sheer magic to the boy. They are such fabulously evocative names, with Popocatépetl a nice counterpoint to the other two.

Some critics have said it is a poem memorable only for those three names, but I feel that, like the volcanoes, it has a deep power, paying tribute to the magic of words and the strength of the imagination to take us away from our ordinary surroundings and tasks. It also makes us feel the power and majesty of peaks. According to one account I found on-line, it inspired one boy reader to become a mountain climber. I’ve no desire whatsoever to scale mountains, but I would love to see these three peaks, simply because of their names and this poem. Its wonderful musicality meant that it was a favourite with teachers setting it for rote-learning in schools.

Does nature inspire your love of literature? Have you ever wanted to climb mountains? Tell me what you think by leaving a comment.

You can listen to the poem being read here:

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Featured image credit- Chimborazo in Riobamba, Ecuador, by Dabit100 / David Torres, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74422402
Body image credit- Walter James Redfern Turner by Lady Ottoline Morrell, 1926, https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw91654/
Body image credit- Chimborazo from the south, by Kilobug – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7508841
Body image credit- Cotopaxi Volcano, by Gerard Prins – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4893067
Body image credit- Popocatépetl Volcano Mexico, by AlejandroLinaresGarciaderivative work: Ricraider (talk)by ricraider – by-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14191319

Comments (19)

  1. John Mathew

    It is a gem. A lonely bereaved boy gifs solace in a vivid evocative dream of a foreign land, which becomes personified. I am pretty sure Turner never visited latin America but I suspect his father and brother died as we tells us.
    I have some access to the archives of Scotch Colege in Melbourne, which he attended. I will try to find out more.

  2. sundarika

    I was about fourteen years when my teacher recited this poem and I learnt it by heart.
    I loved it, so romantic and also a bit sad. I will never forget Chimabarazo cotapaxi and Popacatapetl-they were a part of my young life. I am so grateful to my teacher who inculcated a love of poetry in me. Thank you for this.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Poems learned and loved at school really do stick with us, and bring back fabulous memories.I’m so glad you enjoyed reaidng this wonderful poem again. If you sign up for my free newsletter, Notes from a Book Addict, you will get a great poem every month.

  3. Yvonne b

    Lying in my bed as an 84 year old was won’t d
    To do.i remembered to words chimborazo Cotopaxi. Ì grew up in a British colony and learnt different styles of poetry.those words heat haunting me.a friend googled them for me.ifound the poem thank you thank you

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so thrileld that the poem brought back good memories for you. Thank you for your kind words.

      • Penny Doorbar

        I heard this poem when I was at school and so loved the word Popacatapetl that I eventually got to see it with my husband in 1973. We went by bus with all the locals and their animals but unfortunately the volcano was covered in cloud when we arrived. My husband was used to five star travel with his job so never forgave me for all the places I made him see in Mexico and Guatemala!

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Oh you are lucky to have Popacatapetl. I so love the name!!! I think your husband was actually very lucky indeed!

  4. Maureen Watson

    Thank you Susannah
    It is truly wonderful the way you open
    up so many interesting things and people.

    I really like the words in this poem and the
    presentation was so masterful

    from Maureen Watson

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it a wonderful poem – so glad you enjoyed it and I’ve introduced you to something new.

  5. Penny Morris

    Lovely poem, thank you. Not a poet I am familiar with but will look into more.

  6. Helen

    Thanks for the poem Susan – when I was little (a looooong time ago) we had a guinea pig which we called Popacatapetl. I had no idea it was the name of a mountain. The word must have come from something my mother read, perhaps this very poem as she loved poetry, but reading this evoked memories of my childhood and of course the guinea pigs, another of whom was called bizarrely, Tosherunavitchonberg 🙂

    • Susannah Fullerton

      What absolutely fabulous names for guinea pigs!!! Surely your Mum must have read the poem. Anyway, I am delighted you enjoyed it.

  7. YES I ptoo say a big thankyou dear Susannah. Loved hearing that beautiful poem recited so meaningfully …….you continually open a treasure chest for us
    Janet Leighton

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Janet, you are so kind. I am getting a great response to the poem, so it has clearly struck a chord with my newsletter readers.
      Hope you are well?

  8. Maria

    Thank you Susannah for introducing me to this marvellous poem and the gloriously named volcanoes.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Isn’t it fabulous.
      By an amazing coincidence, my screesaver picture as from yesterday was of the mountain Cotopaxi, so I will be reminded of the poem every time I open my laptop.

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