Matt Forney
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The Legend of the Great Trek by William Rome

legend-of-the-great-trekWriting an epic poem is a pretty tall—and arrogant—act. The epics that we all know—The Iliad and OdysseyBeowulfThe Poem of the Cid—weren’t conceived as unified books, but originated as tales that were passed down orally from generation to generation, not written down until centuries after they were originally conceived. Additionally, epics were not just an interesting way to pass the time: they were intended to be historical as well. The ancient Greeks regarded Homer’s epics as the origin stories of their civilization, celebrating their virtues and the values that underpinned their people. Even the one major epic poem that was conceived as a conscious literary work—Milton’s Paradise Lost—was not sui generis, but based on pre-existing lore.

Writing not only an epic poem, but one based off a setting you came up with on your own, has to be one of the most conceited writing projects possible, short of writing a new Gospel.

William Rome’s literary debut, The Legend of the Great Trek, is a sprawling and fun epic, but it’s not on the level of the aforementioned classics. Nonetheless, I have to give Rome credit for even attempting a project like this: he nails the genre better than any writer, especially a first-time one, has the right to. Provided you understand how epic poems work, The Great Trek is a worthy way to spend your time.

And to his credit, Rome has the fundamentals of poetry down. His verse flows effortlessly off the page, punching you in the face with its graphic and visual intensity. As we discussed when I interviewed him, his poetry is in part inspired by Roy Campbell’s, and it shows in the vivid landscapes and imagery of The Great Trek. Rome is economical with his words and keeps the story moving, from the opulent palaces of pre-fall Orania to the bloody battlefields of the book’s end:

Then after seemingly hours on end
Andries started the caravan down the bend;
Even slower he moved the trek
Knowing soon they’d pass the wreck.
Before the final few turns
The sight at which stomachs churn:
Broken, bloody wood
Scattered where they could
Be seen the most clear
Around bodies near
That were crushed and shattered and torn
Apart by sharp rocks weatherworn.
Mothers covered their children’s eyes
From the corpses attracting flies
To a grand feast
Of the diseased.

My biggest criticism of Rome’s verse is its uneven meter. Like in some of his other poems, the number of beats per line varies wildly, which disrupts the book’s prosody and looks somewhat amateur in practice. Additionally, Rome uses few if any other rhyme schemes other than the common, simple AABB format. That said, even with these issues, The Great Trek is infinitely more readable and enjoyable than most modern poetry: during the climactic battle scenes near the end of the book, I was nearly pounding my fist in solidarity.

The Great Trek, as mentioned before, is an epic poem set in a world of Rome’s own creation, albeit a world based in real-world history. It concerns the destruction of the kingdom of Orania both by foreign invaders and internal negligence, following the struggles of Prince Andries, the young heir to the Oranian crown, to reunite the survivors and seek out a new land for them to settle:

Still alive but barely breathing,
His hurt chest heavily heaving,
Young Prince Andries never once stirred
During the next nights that occurred.
Sitting beside him steadfast
With his hand in her grasp,
Samantha would never leave
Except for a short reprieve
To go and try and eat
Before she would retreat
Back to her bare chair
Beside his bed there.
Every night she would wait
Silently and sedate
Yet inside her heart
Secretly pulled apart
For love grows most strong
Fearing it’ll soon be gone.

The parallels to our world—particularly South African history—are obvious, not just in the book’s name and subject matter, but in other subtle details that might slip by unnoticed to the average reader. For example, the name “Orania” looked familiar to me, so I Googled it; the real-life Orania is a town in Central South Africa which is focused on preserving Afrikaner identity in the face of the anti-white, genocidal black government. Rome clearly did his homework, and all these details come together to make The Great Trek’s setting believable and interesting.

Which is good, because the character development is… meh.

Admittedly, Rome is constrained by the book’s genre: epic poems don’t allow for fleshing out every minute detail of every character who crosses the protagonist’s path. And to his credit, Prince Andries makes for a compelling main character: a young man, he’s forced into the position of savior after his fat degenerate king father gets killed during the initial invasion. But the other characters who accompany him—the loquacious Bard, the mysterious wanderer Geoffrey, and Andries’ love interest Samantha—aren’t nearly as interesting. Given that The Great Trek’s plot is basically an elaborate version of Joseph Campbell’s “Monomyth,” this hurts the book somewhat.

Finally, like his hero Roy Campbell, Rome has an aggravating tendency to slip into editorializing in his verse. His barely disguised tirades against leftists are delivered with the subtlety of a 21-gun salute, breaking up the book’s flow, though fortunately they’re few in number. For example, early on in the book, Geoffrey goes off on a rant against the decadent entertainers of the old Orania that could have been lifted from a Michael Savage monologue:

“My Lord I understand
Your anger towards my band
Of rhymers and singers
Who acted as bringers
Of doom to our ancient Empire
But I hate them with the same fire.
Those fools who spit and snarled
At our home like a gnarled
Tree ugly and dying
While they’ll also buying
Cheap praise from lewd louses
Infesting our home like diseased mouses.

Additionally, Samantha’s backstory is so sickeningly treacly it reads like rejected silent movie melodrama. I had to stifle a gag while reading through it.

But I feel like all these complaints are nitpicking. William Rome wrote a goddamn epic poem, and it’s the first thing he’s ever published. The Great Trek gets so much right that my issues with it seem petty in comparison. The Legend of the Great Trek is not only radically different from anything else in this part of the Internet, it’s radically different from anything being published today period. If you’re starving for a good story and/or some good contemporary poetry, pick this one up.

Click here to buy The Legend of the Great Trek.

Read Next: Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Failure of Science Fiction

  • Spike Gomes

    Metre is far more important than rhyme. The excerpts were painful to read, especially aloud. Moon, June, spoon perfect rhymes everywhere. You’re being very generous in your criticism here. He likely could have solved both problems by easing up on rhyme (saving it for couplet emphatics, frex) in lieu of using assonance and alliteration and sticking to strict metre.

    I give him credit for trying. It’s very tough to do and with little reward in terms of readers.

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