Monday, January 25, 2021

Harvest Evening

Read "Harvest Evening" at The Eldritch Dark:

In this haiku, Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) paints a landscape in the red and yellow coloration of day's end.  

Until reading this short poem, I had never previously encountered the verb "raddle", one definition of which is to "color coarsely with red or rouge."  CAS' use of that word demonstrates the careful way he approached diction, since the short length of the haiku form demands that each word is significant.  

Combined with alliteration on the letter "b", the musicality of "raddled" in the closing line of "Harvest Evening" gives the reading a momentum that echoes the movement of the cows through the sunset.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Abandoned Plum-Orchard

Read "Abandoned Plum-Orchard" at The Eldritch Dark:

This simple nature study from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) paints a vivid image of neglected fruit trees in decline, enhanced by the reference to mistletoe, which is parasitic to host trees.  The "dying croft" that the poet describes is beautiful despite the evidence of decline, a reminder of the temporary span of all organic life.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Cats in Winter Sunlight

Read "Cats in Winter Sunlight" at The Eldritch Dark:

Anyone who has ever lived with cats will recognize the scenario Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) describes in "Cats in Winter Sunlight".  Cats are true sun worshippers, and my own cat migrates through my home during the short winter days as he follows the scant rays of sunlight as they move from east to west.

I believe that CAS had cats when he lived in his cabin near Auburn, California.  His "Experiments in Haiku" are dated to 1947, several years before he met and married Carol Jones Dorman, so we can assume he was still living in the cabin when he wrote this poem.  

In that setting, one can assume the felines performed a practical function in helping with rodent control.  But there is an undeniable touch of affection in "Cats in Winter Sunlight", indicating that CAS saw his cats as true companions.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Growth of Lichen

Read "Growth of Lichen" at The Eldritch Dark:

Lichens are mentioned in several poems from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), and this haiku makes for an interesting companion piece to the longer poem "Lichens" (see my blog post on that poem).

In that post I mentioned "CAS' ability to see the inherent magic in the lowly (and easily-ignored) lichens", which applies as well to the haiku "Growth of Lichen".  In this short verse, CAS tracks the many days that have passed over a slow-growing patch of lichen.  

These unusual life forms (the composite of a fungus with either algae or cyanobacteria) have annual growth rates of just one or two millimeters, so CAS is not exaggerating in his closing line "Ten thousand suns have gone."

Lichens hold a special interest for me, since in years previous I was on the verge of becoming a graduate student in lichenology, but was lured away by better opportunities in the software industry.  Despite not pursuing that particular path, I've never lost my interest in one of this planet's most unusual organisms, so CAS' careful observations of the lowly lichen have a real resonance for me.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Fence And Wall

Read "Fence And Wall" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the first of a series of haiku that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) grouped together under the heading "Distillations".  That grouping was included both in Spells and Philtres (1958) and in the omnibus Selected Poems (1971).

Compared to the short poems that CAS included in the grouping titled "Strange Miniatures" (see preceding entries on this blog), "Fence And Wall" more closely adheres to the conventions of the haiku form in English, particularly in following the pattern of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables.  However, he does use an end rhyme between the first and last lines, whereas haiku in English are typically unrhymed.

I really enjoy poems from CAS that have the quality of a nature study, and the haiku form gave him an ideal way to capture a fleeting element of the physical world in the literary equivalent of a single brush stroke.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Ghost of Theseus

Read "The Ghost of Theseus" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is the last in a grouping of poems labeled "Strange Miniatures" from his omnibus Selected Poems (1971).  It is of course inspired by the well-known story of the legendary Athenian hero exploring the labyrinth in order to confront the fearsome Minotaur.  

CAS describes the aftermath of that famous event, suggesting that upon Theseus' own death, he was doomed to haunt the maze-like interior of the labyrinth, essentially taking the place of the Minotaur, although in a spectral form.  It does speak to a sort of poetic justice, given that the Minotaur was an innocent, the unnatural offspring of a bull and King Minos' wife PasiphaĆ«, a coupling triggered by the god Poseidon as an act of revenge on PasiphaĆ«'s husband.  

Monday, January 18, 2021

Odysseus in Eternity

Read "Odysseus in Eternity" at The Eldritch Dark:

While Homer's Odyssey provides great detail on a particular part of the life of Odysseus, that long narrative ends before the hero's death.  So the ultimate fate of one of mythology's most famous names remains obscure.  

In this haiku, Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) elegantly fills the gap by suggesting that even in aged decline, the hero will seek new adventures in the realm beyond this life, questing evermore for glorious exploits.