Scanning through the poetry section of Riverby Books my eyes stumbled on a small, dusty, black book; upon reading the title, I immediately dragged it down into a chair and began to browse through Edwin Arnold’s work. The Secret of Death and other Poems was published 6 years after Arnold’s successful The Light of Asia and carries some of that influence into this work however; he veers from his focus on India to include a very eclectic selection of poems within this collection. I consider myself very fortunate to have happened upon this author because having lived in Nepal, India’s Canada; I can appreciate the wonder with which he writes upon his experiences living in India in addition to his compassion for the beasts of this world.
Arnold had me at “The Epic of the Lion” a long poem relating the struggle between man and nature through the ransom of a prince at the hands of a lion. Arnold’s detailed descriptions do considerable justice to the physical and emotional complexities of co-existing with nature.
“The Archers drew—and arrow, bolt and dart
Made target of the Beast. He, on his part—
As calm as Pelion in the rain or hail—
Bristled majestic from the nose to tail,
And shook full fifty missiles from his hide;
Yet any meaner brute had found beside
Enough still sticking fast to make him yell
Or fly; the blood was trickling down his fell,
But no heed took he, glaring steadfastly;
And all those men of war, amazed to be
Thus met by so stupendous might and pride
Though him no beast, but some god brutified.” (57)
This is an epic where the Kings of man and beast clash amid the conflicts that have surrounded societies since the emergence of Homo sapiens. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? ….and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” resonates strongly within this poem’s narrative. Transcending the gap between men and their adversaries through the personification of a lion, this poem tells a hauntingly human tale in a tradition similar to Aesop’s fables.
Lets be honest, this far into the semester you’re going to know that I have a penchant for personification, so it comes as no surprise that I am going to rate this work very highly among the collections I’ve read. I’d suggest you pick up this collection if you can find it, for these reasons: if you liked Aesop’s fables, pick up this book, if you enjoy narrative poetry, pick up this book, if you have an obsession with Indian culture, pick up this book and most importantly, if you want to know the Secret of Death, pick up this book. It is an easy read that is as rewarding in its third reading as in it is first.
I don’t think you’ll be able to find a copy, but if you seek me out, I will gladly loan you this treasure from 1885.