Song of the Galley-slaves

(notes by John Radcliffe)


This poem was first published in July 1891 in the Contemporary Review within the text of “The Finest Story in the World” . It is listed in ORG as No. 498.

It is collected in

  • Many Inventions (1893)
  • Songs from Books (1912)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vols v and xxxiv
  • The Burwash Edition vols v and xxvii.
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 855.

The poem

Peter Havholm writes in his notes on “The Finest Story in the World” :

The narrator meets a young bank clerk, Charlie Mears, who longs to be a writer and seeks his advice. Charlie seems a commonplace and not particularly imaginative young man, but – partly written and partly in conversation – he produces strangely powerful accounts of sea voyages in the ancient world, by a Viking adventurer on a voyage to America, and by a Greek galley slave. He gives vivid details, including fragments of script which turn out to be corrupt Greek. The narrator becomes convinced that – rather than creating these stories – Charlie is remembering past lives, and that it is such recollections that feed the mysterious processes of creative ‘imagination’.

©John Radcliffe 2018 All rights reserved