Poetry Reads: Romance by WJ Turner

WJ Turner (1889-1946) grew up in Melbourne, he later moved to London where his first collection, The Hunter and other Poems (1916) was published. The book begins with his most famous and enduring work – Romance.

The poem left me blank on first reading it in my preteens. Yet an image rose like a halo back then, conveying a rush that went beyond words. It emanates of that feeling, where a poem writes itself down, rather than a poet consciously composing it.
Romance, be deceived not, dear Romeos and Juliets, talks of travel, childhood, daydreaming and three scenic volcanoes. To quote the WordWeb online dictionary, apart from the apparent meaning:
2. An exciting and mysterious quality (as of a heroic time or adventure)

As the verse reveals, WJ Turner had this constant daydream or vision when he was 13, doing his school-home-school routine. He had already lost his father and younger brother, as is mentioned in the poem. Prominent in these dreams, as clear as day were Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, Ecuadorian volcanoes. The former, at the time of writing, is inactive and the latter, a potentially active one. The third volcano, Popocatapetl, is located in Mexico and presently active.

Either the poet had visited these places or heard vivid descriptions of them, there is no definitive proof on either aspect. But whatever unforgettable and soul-stealing it conveyed to Turner, his verse has passed it on, for posterity.

by WJ 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!
(Article by Snehith Kumbla

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