Sunday, January 31, 2010

Poetry and Songs in the Works of Stephen R. Donaldson

Stephen R. Donaldson is a best-selling author. Among his most recognized works would be the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever novels.

At some time in the future, I will write a reviews of the first two trilogies in the series. Mr. Donaldson is currently completing The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, but I won’t start reading them until he has completed The Last Chronicles—I don’t like waiting once I start a good series.

One of the many things I find interesting in Donaldson’s writing are some of the songs and poems that appear in his works. The two listed below appear in the first Thomas Covenant novel, Lord Foul’s Bane:

These are the pale deaths
which men miscall their lives:
for all the scents of green things growing,
each breath is but an exhalation of the grave.
bodies jerk like puppet corpses,
and hell walks laughing.

Something there is in beauty
which grows in the soul of the beholder
like a flower:
for many are the blights
which may waste
the beauty
or the beholder—
and imperishable—
for the beauty may die,
or the beholder may die,
or the world may die,
but the soul in which the follower grows

Both appear early in the Lord Foul’s Bane and set the tone for the first trilogy, if not the entire series. The first poem included in this post is one thought of and pondered by Thomas Covenant, a leper and main character. The second example is a song sung by Lena, a young girl of the Land who first finds and befriends Thomas Covenant.

Both are grim, yet the second offers hope. They reflect Covenant’s mind-set as opposed to that of the defenders of the Land fending off despair as the conflict with Lord Foul the Despiser grows, foreshadowing the utter destruction faced by all that is beautiful, healthy and free. The complicating factor is that Thomas Covenant is the one tasked to defend the Land and its people against their ancient foe, something Covenant has no desire to do.

As a writer, I admire Donaldson’s ability to craft poems and songs that blend so well with the history, characters, and conflicts in his works, adding to their depth and quality. For me, writing poetry is a difficult thing, and those who know me know my knowledge of music and ability carry a tune, let alone write one—it’s nil.

Note: The cover I posted is my favorite of the many editions of Lord Foul’s Bane that have been published over the years.


  1. There has been many fantasy stories that have poetry and songs, and when it comes to them, I'm really bad because I skip them, especially if they are not directly linked to the story.

  2. I understand your view, but Donaldson's poems are directly related to the story, which is what I think makes them memorable.