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,
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,
Had stolen me away.
I walked in a great golden dream
To and fro from school–
The dusty streets did rule.
I walked home with a gold dark boy,
And never a word I’d say,
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,
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: