At first they were called epic poems; now they are likely to be called novels in verse. Usually I find that when a story is told in verse, that provides an extra dimension to the work, an added attraction. The discipline of rhyme causes the author to try harder to find the exact wording to convey their thoughts more precisely, more rhythmically. Kat at mirabile dictu has entirely convinced me to read ‘The Aeneid’ by Virgil, the Robert Fagles translation. In the meantime, these are the novels in verse that I have liked the best.
The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth (1986) – This San Francisco story was my first novel in verse, a complete delight. The entire novel is 690 sonnets. I still look back warmly on the humor and style of this book.
- Only her cats provide distraction,
- Twin paradigms of lazy action.
- It’s Friday night. The unfettered city
- Resounds with hedonistic glee
- John holds a cold cast of self pity.
If you appreciate the above, you will enjoy ‘The Golden Gate’.
The Inferno by Dante Aleghieri (1308 – 1321) Translated by Robert Pinsky – A guided tour through the nine circles of hell, all in verse. This epic poem is very readable and enjoyable, even though it is a trip through hell. Someday I’ll read the entire Divine Comedy.
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson (1999 ) A story from the Greek myth of Herakles and the monster Geryon. This is an original work by Anne Carson, not a translation. This book is both humorous and moving.
Don Juan by Lord Byron (1819 – 1824) – Most of the poetry of Keats and Shelley just flies over my head, but this satiric epic poem by Lord Byron is very easy to follow and a complete joy.
Fredy Neptune by Les Murray (1998) – an action packed Australian adventure novel in verse. This novel covers so much ground, I won’t try to summarize it.
Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (1825 – 1932) Translated by Vladimir Nabokov. I came to this book after about covering the rest of 19th century Russian literature. Originally the fact that it was in verse kept me from reading this book. When I finally did read it, the verse only made the book more interesting.
Beowulf (8th to 11th century) translated by Seamus Heaney – Believed to be composed by Anglo-Saxons during the Viking age, our hero fights monsters like Grendel and dragons. Seamus Heaney did a great job re-creating this work.
Ludlow by David Mason (2007) – a true American story in a verse novel. The coal miners of Ludlow, Colorado go on strike in 1914, one of the cruelest, bloodiest chapters in the history of American labor. The verse novel strategy works brilliantly. This book which I only read two years ago makes me long for new verse novels.
The Oresteia by Aeschylus translated by Ted Hughes (5th century BC) – I’ve read both the Anne Carson version and the Ted Hughes version of the Oresteia, and I loved them both. Since Anne Carson already has a place on my list, I want to also give a place to Ted Hughes who is also a poet I really like.
As you can see, I’ve only come up with nine favorite verse novels. I hope some of you out there can recommend more.