King Alfred’s Jewel

Poetry of the Imagination and Imaginative Photography

David Hamilton


King Alfred’s Jewel commences with an in-depth analysis of a diverse selection of poetry ranging from Wordsworth to Elliot. Hamilton here raises the erudite point that “New literary movements announce their arrival by denouncing the contemporary orthodoxy.”[1] Even in traditional forms of art and literature, a vague nuance has to eventually occur lest the style itself becomes stagnant. However slight the transition though, to a certain extent there is always at least a covert or furtive denunciation of the older form. After Wordworth’s influence over the Romantic generation, Hamilton leads us onto Shelley, whose ideas were indeed quite radical for the time and he was expelled from Oxford for his pamphlet “The Necessity of Atheism”.[2] Later the reader is then introduced to Eliot who drew his main inspiration from the fin-de-siècle irony of Laforgue, the symbolism of Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Verlaine, and Baudelaire.[3] Hamilton also reminds us that,

Inspiration is from the Latin inspirare, ‘to breathe into’ is a burst of artistic, literary or poetic creativity that is not consciously controlled. Stream of consciousness is regarded as individual psychology, but inspiration, as divinely received. To the ancient Greeks, inspiration or enthusiasm was sent by the Muses and the gods Apollo and Dionysus. In the old Norse religions, inspiration came from gods like Odin. John Milton prayed nightly to God for inspiration. [4]

Following this, the main part of the book commences, beginning with the piece the book is named after, King Alfred’s Jewel. The poem is a long and epic piece, bringing a touch of national sentiment, and then taking the reader on a long spiritual odyssey, though dimly lit corridors, until finally, the light appears. To set the tone of the poem, we quote the opening passage below.

Once upon a time, many years ago,
The prophet of the morning,
The star of hope, appeared to the
Wild Woman of Oteley, telling of how,
In days to come, an eagle soaring aloft
Would lose a feather from a golden wing,
And who saw it downward spiralling,
Glinting in the early sun, should follow,
Where it touched and the way it pointed,
To seek King Alfred’s Jewel [5]

This piece is followed by The Journey, which takes the reader on a soul searching voyage through claustrophobic catacombs. As with King Alfred’s Jewel the underlying force is the ‘rebirth archetype’, which consists of death, and consequently, rebirth. Both pieces serve as metaphors for the superficial and soullessness of modernity. This is immediately apparent in the following extract.

Stumbling through the brake in a turgid gloom,
Choking in the thick atmosphere.
As above cawing crows, and ravens croaked
Warnings of impending death.
Impending death! What is this? I asked.
“This the dark tunnel all must travel,” they told.
“When you leave, you will ascend to the spheres,
By the sun, breathing pure air.” [6]

The Journey is followed by the epic Wolfshead, a dramatic monologue with the opening setting in Sherwood Forest. The palinode in Wolfshead was consciously influenced by the author’s recollections of the palinode of Troilus in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Cresseyde. Aside from the obvious references to Robin Hood, the piece also features a number of other references to British history and mythology, as we see here with the reference to Jack-in-the-Green.

He wears all green bedecked
With symbols of life and
Renewal, on his garb:
A Phoenix rising from flames,
A Red Admiral flying from the
Chrysalis, a flower bursting
From the bud, an egg cracking
Open, a chick emerging.
I am the verdant time of the year,
And drove away the snows and ice
For the new year to begin. Our world
Has to live again, awaken from winter
Slumbers, shake off sheets of glassy ice
And push life forward when my cycle comes
Back, in autumn, the trees and bushes will be shorn
Of leaves. Snow and ice blanket the earth while life rests
Before May comes again. When hoar frosts cast great spectral
Beauty on trees, bushes, and shrubs, harsh winter comes, creeping
Close behind, on deft toes. [7]

The book then draws to a close with an explanation of the author’s use of style, composition, and influences. Over all the book has a very ‘British’ vibe to it, and is recommended for anyone with an interest in European poetry.

Our Score


[1] David Hamilton, King Alfred’s Jewel: Poetry of the Imagination and Imaginative Photography (UK: Troubadour, 2014), 5.
[2 ] Ibid., 7.
[3] Ibid., 12.
[4] Ibid., 23.
[5] Ibid., 25.
[6] Ibid., 27.
[7] Ibid., 65.