A Tuesday Ten: Poetry in Story

A little delayed on this one–an attack of migraines has kept me unable to type much the last few days.  But for April I wanted to feature some of the stories that  contained poetry.  Either as poems, songs or prophecy, verses are often added into the stories to enrich them, or to simply set things in motion!


Redwall by Brian Jacques (Red Fox, c1986)

Anthropomorphic swashbuckling fantasy stories featuring woodland creatures and plenty of riddle poems!

Who says that I am dead 
Knows nought at all. 
I – am that is, 
Two mice within Redwall. 
The Warrior sleeps 
‘Twixt Hall and Cavern Hole. 
I – am that is, 
Take on my mighty role. 
Look for the sword 
In moonlight streaming forth, 
At night, when day’s first hour 
Reflects the North. 
From o’er the threshold 
Seek and you will see; 
I – am that is, 
My sword will wield for me. 

The entire Redwall series is full of poems, riddles and songs.  You can find more of them here.



Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, c2003)

Beware, Underlanders, time hangs by a thread.

The hunters are hunted, white water runs red.
The Gnawers will strike to extinguish the rest.
The hope of the hopeless resides in a quest.

An Overland warrior, a son of the sun,
May bring us back light, he may bring us back none.
But gather your neighbors and follow his call
Or rats will most surely devour us all.

Two over, two under, of royal descent,
Two flyers, two crawlers, two spinners assent.
One gnawer beside and one lost up ahead.
And eight will be left when we count up the dead.

The last who will die must decide where he stands.
The fate of the eight is contained in his hands.
So bid him take care, bid him look where he leaps,
As life may be death and death life again reaps.” 

The Underland Chronicles have several tricky prophecies in verse,  the immediate interpretations on these verses is not always the right one.


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel (Penguin, c1876)

These classics by Lewis Carroll have several poems, but “The Jabborwocky” remains my favorite.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

Read more of the poem here.


The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (Mariner Books, c1954)

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? 
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing? 
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing? 
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing? 
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow; 
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow. 
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning, 
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?

Tolkien is the master of fantasy story that combines poetry and song within the text. There are so many from the Lord of the Rings epic that it’s hard to choose.  But I picked this one as a favorite.  Check out more selections here.


The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, c1937)

Tolkien’s too amazing not to share another poetic bit from The Hobbit.

Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To seek the pale enchanted gold.

The dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells
In places deep, where dark things sleep,
In hollow halls beneath the fells.

For ancient king and elvish lord
There many a gleaming golden hoard
They shaped and wrought, and light they caught
To hide in gems on hilt of sword.

You can find the rest of this poem here.


The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper (Margaret K. McElderry, c1973)

The second book in The Dark is Rising Sequence. This prophecy is the crux of the entire series and what sets things in motion.

When the Dark comes rising six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; Water, fire, stone;
Five will return and one go alone.

Iron for the birthday; bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning; stone out of song;
Fire in the candle ring; water from the thaw;
Six signs the circle and the grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the sleepers, oldest of old.
Power from the Green Witch, lost beneath the sea.
All shall find the Light at last, silver on the tree.”


Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey (Bantram Spectra, c1976)

This science fiction series features three stories set at Harper Hall, all three are peppered with songs, but it’s the first book where the protagonist creates the song that set things in motion that will change her life.

The Fire Lizard Song
The little queen all golden
Flew hissing at the sea
Against each wave
Her clutch to save
She ventured bravely.

See more of the poem here.


download (18)

The Dream Catcher by Monica Hughes (Atheneum, c1986)

Admittedly I’m stretching things a bit here, but our protagonist receives a tune mentally that prompts her people to go in search of other societies left in their world.  It’s based on an old folk tune, but made over to reflect the current story.

The Freedom Man danced out of the Ark

Over the hills so shady

Into the light and out of the dark

To be with his red-haired lady.



A Wizard Abroad by Diane Duane (HMH, c1993)

In this story, Tualha the bard cat composes a mocking battle song for the enemy that starts like this:

See the great power of Balor, lord of the Fomor!

see the ranks of his unconquerable army!

See how they parade in their pride before him!

See how they trample the earth of Eriu!

but quickly transforms into this:

No army here, just some shattered stonework,

some poor bruised goblins, all running away?

No ships at all, but just the old darkness

the kind that used to scare children at bedtime?

For the entire thing, you’ll have to read the story!


A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle (Laurel-Leaf Books, c1978)

Woven throughout this third book in  The Time Quintet is the following poem/evocation.  It has stuck with me over the years.

At Tara in this fateful hour,
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And the fire with all the strength it hath,
And the lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness:
All these I place,
By God’s almighty help and grace
Between myself and the powers of darkness!

I had trouble coming up with ten for this post, but I know there are other examples out there!  Please comment with any you can add!


About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on April 10, 2014, in General Posts, Lists and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. It’s about twenty years since I last read the Dark if Rising series, but I can still recite that poem by heart it had such an impact on me. A series that really convinced me the world could be a magical place.

    Hope you’re feeling better today!

  2. Ah, good choices! St. Patrick’s Rune has really stuck with me, too.
    “The Princess and the Goblin” (which I’m currently reading to my boy) is full of Curdie’s insulting poem-songs to drive the goblins away.

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