6 Fantastic Epic Poems That Are Hidden Gems

Epic poetry is a genre associated with the far past. However, there have been some exciting contemporary epics. Read on to learn about modern epics.

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Book covers of Zorgamazoo, The Battlefield, and Victory for the Slain.

When people think of epic poems, they often think of works written centuries ago as relics of history. They think of The Epic of Gilgamesh or The Odyssey or something like Beowulf from the 10th century as the most modern people can get. However, that is not the full truth when it comes to epic poems. While there are not a lot of epic poems written in the modern world, there still have been plenty of epic poems written in the past century or two. They still have rich stories in a format that readers often do not explore that much. These epic poems from relatively recent times show different ways that the format has been used.

The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel by Nikos Kazantzakis

Considering The Odyssey is one of the most famous written works in history, many writers have decided to build off of this epic poem in their own work. Those can be complete retellings of the story or continuing where the story left off. A unique take on the story was one that decided to use a similar writing style as the original. The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel was written by Nikos Kazantzakis and published in 1938. The English translation from Greek came out in 1958.

The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel Cover by Nikos Kazantzakis, a man holding a cross bow.

Like the original Odyssey, Kazantzakis’s sequel is an epic poem made up of 24 rhapsodies, and it also has 33,333 verses. This epic follows Odysseus’s great return to Ithaca and the new adventures that come his way. He then explores new lands and meets new people until his unfortunate death. Even though this epic was written over two thousand years after its predecessor, it still tries to capture the original structure, and Kazantzakis uses his talents to create an adventurous story that brings back a memorable world and main character.

Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston

While epic poems may seem daunting due to their length and style, there are ways to make them seem more approachable. For instance, what if there was an epic poem with a fantastical story that was geared toward children? That was the goal of Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston, which came out in 2008. This epic is considered to be a fantasy adventure told in anapestic tetrameter.

Book cover of Zorgamazoo with a young girl running and smiling in red boots holding silver balloons.

The epic follows Katrin Katrell, who decides to run away from home. When she runs away, she makes friends with Mortimer Yorgle. Yorgle is part of a group of creatures called the Zorgles, who come from Zorgamazoo. Mortimer is trying to solve the mystery of what happened to the rest of the Zorgles, and Katrin is now by his side to help. This is an epic that is full of energy and alien expeditions, showing how epics work in the 21st century.

The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You by Frank Stanford

In general, poetry is often seen as an emotional medium of writing. That is due to its thoughtful words and the passion that leaps off of the page. Because of that fact, epic poems should have that emotional power as well. That is why Frank Stanford wrote The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. This epic came out in 1978, around the time of Stanford’s death. The poem demonstrates the power that Stanford had in his writing and makes readers think about what could have been if Stanford had not died at 29.

Book cover of The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You with a man staring straight forward holding a mirror ball with bushes in the background and the bottom half being completely black with a red rectangle.

The epic follows Francis, a twelve-year-old white boy who finds himself often surrounded by a community of Black people. Francis talks a lot about this community, his cousin Jimmy, and the adventures that they all go on. The poem is told without any punctuation or stanzas. Later copies have added line numbers for the poem. While it is known for being a complicated read, this epic poem is a commentary on the journey of adolescence and the connections that can be made across backgrounds.

John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benét

Epic poems are often implied to be completely based on fiction. They tell stories of great escapades that often have more excitement than real life. However, that does not mean a true story cannot be told in an epic as well. That was the purpose of John Brown’s Body by Stephen Vincent Benét, which came out in 1928. It was an epic that told of the fascinating history of the Civil War.

Book cover of John Brown's Body with big red letters on a black square on a white background with two cannons facing each other on the bottom.

The epic poem’s title refers to famous abolitionist John Brown who was killed for his cause. The epic follows the excitement that occurred during the Civil War. It explores the different battles, conflicts, sides, and everything else that made this war what it was. The epic poetry style allows for vivid storytelling so that the reader can fully understand what these times were like for everyone involved. With an epic like this one, the deep imagery of history can live on.

Paterson by William Carlos Williams

Some epic poems seem so long that it feels like they should be divided into multiple books. However, multiple books may not stop the story from being an epic poem. That was the case for Paterson by William Carlos Williams. The poem was originally told across five books. The first book came out in 1946, and the last book came out in 1948. In 1963, the poem was combined under one cover to be read as a true singular epic poem.

Book cover of Paterson with a picture of a big waterfall and a green town in the background, and a pale green background for the whole background.

The poem’s name comes from the town of Paterson, New Jersey, and its story travels along the Passaic River. Williams wanted to celebrate American culture through this poem and the importance of honoring local identity. It is about a man exploring the town and all of the people that he meets while going on a journey of self-discovery. It may not be the grandest tale, which is kind of the point. It is an epic poem that celebrates the beauty of everyday life.

Victory for the Slain by Hugh John Lofting

The beauty of art is the different messages that it can convey. Making a statement with art allows the viewer to look at an important subject in a creative light to bring a new understanding. That is what led to Hugh John Lofting’s epic Victory for the Slain, a poem that was published in 1942. In Lofting’s eyes, the importance of this poem was so that he could spread his message of pacifism and so readers could understand the brutality of war.

Book cover of Victory for the Slain with a bright red background and white peace sign in the center.

Lofting was a soldier in World War I. During his time fighting, Lofting saw unimaginable horrors, which is what led to his pacifist beliefs and inspired this poem. This epic poem came out in the middle of World War II when the topic of war was fresh on everyone’s minds. Therefore, it was the most necessary time for the poem to be released. It follows an unnamed narrator on the way to a cathedral, but he passes some dangerous scenes of war along the way, which makes him think about what the war is doing to everyone. The point that Lofting wanted to make is that war is not always about glory, as there are many dark elements lurking.

Epic poems may look complicated and tedious, but they can contain some fascinating stories. They are not always stories stuck in the past of several centuries ago; many contemporary writers have demonstrated their skills in this medium. Epic poems allow for the expansion of the beautiful language of poetry in order to create a thrilling narrative. As the name suggests, these poems can be truly epic.

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