Saturday, January 22, 2022

Says the Dreamer

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:


My dream foresees the wilderness
of a future Atlantis
wherein the fiery phoenix will build
his necromantic nest.

It beholds in Mars the waterless
canals where frolic wantonly
the salamanders that flame
like internal fires.

It knows how the dragons,
spawn of a saffron sun
shake a wooded plain
with their enormous copulations.

It sips the bitterness
of the Mercurial lakes,
and proves the savor
of winter honeycombs in Venus.

It hears the unbreathing flowers
that sing in Jupiter
the doom of conquerors
that come from another firmament.

It assumes the wings of the seraph
and shares his blissful retreat;
it suffers the thirst of the vampire
And the hunger of the lycanthrope....

But whether my mooted fate
is a fable of my fear,
or is the dream of another Dreamer
my dreams have never known.


CAS also wrote a Spanish-language version of this poem entitled "Dice el soñador".

It's interesting to compare this poem to one that CAS wrote much earlier in his life with a similar title: "Said the Dreamer".  I blogged about that poem a few years ago:

https://www.desertdweller.net/2018/12/said-dreamer.html

Both poems document the fantastic encounters of a vivid dream, and both works  exult in weird imagery.  But where "Said the Dreamer" presents an apocalyptic vision ("Then in the dream I dreamt that Time was done"), "Says the Dreamer" focuses instead on alien exoticism ("winter honeycombs in Venus"), ending with a speculation as to the source of the incredible dream voyage described.  

Comparing the two poems, written almost forty years apart, provides an insight to CAS' maturing vision, where vast destructive powers at work on a cosmic level have given way to a musing on the forces that inspire the very act of dreaming.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Eros in the Desert


Here's another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was never published in his lifetime, and since it's not available on The Eldritch Dark, here's the complete text: 


I am the Love that wandereth alone
In weary lands beside a weary sea.
Grey reefs whereon the shoaling waters moan,

Marshes where salt and sterile blossoms be,
And all the sleep of mountain-ending sands,
Are mine to range, and roam eternally.

But emptier than these mine idle hands,
And hot as my insatiable soul,
Fulfilled with light, the fiery desert stands;

And roofed with flame, the mighty skies unroll.


This is a beautiful poem of romantic exile, describing a psychic landscape that is reminiscent of CAS' fictional realm of Zothique.  The intermingling of wastage with spiritual vastness imparts a dance-like progression to this poem; the third stanza particularly builds its image piece-wise, as in this edited excerpt: "hot as my insatiable soul, / ...the fiery desert stands".

It's a wonder to me that CAS did not publish this poem, or include it in the planned contents of his omnibus Selected Poems (1971).  For such a short work, it packs a lot of gorgeous poetry into ten near-perfect lines.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Song

This is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:


When in the desert
shine the saline waters,
I see the green eyes
of my saucy lass.

When amid thorns
ripen the bramble-berries,
I behold the ruddy nipples
of my pagan love.

When flies the moth
beyond the marish
seeking the flowers of nightfall,
I know her volatile soul.

When I hear at midnight
the owl in his pine,
I understand a prudent warning
that I soon forget.


CAS also created a Spanish-language version of this same poem entitled "Cantar".

This piece strikes me as a decidedly mature view of romantic entanglements, as might be expected from a poet who was in his late fifties when he wrote this.  The speaker has passionate memories of his beloved, and yet has no illusions as to "her volatile soul."  But the path of love does not follow the rules of logic, and thus the poignant final stanza:


When I hear at midnight
the owl in his pine,
I understand a prudent warning
that I soon forget.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Lost Farmsteads



Here is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the full text:


I love the fields and gardens
invaded by the wilderness,
retaken by weeds and herbs
that open their faithful flowerets
full of perfumes and honies.

I love the desolate apple-orchards --
the dying trees
lined with lichens --
I love the vines in the fruit-trees -- 
the mistletoe in the pear-tops.

I find, in some woodland bower,
the stones of a fallen fire-place
where springs a forsaken rose-bush
to which from all the country-side
voyage the vivid humming-birds.

At the edge of the cat-tails,
I know an ancient shed
with moss-grown reddish wall --
a house for vermin and fungi,
a factory of cobwebs.

Enisled among the bramble thickets,
I have seen a pathless meadow
where an aged quince-tree
bequeathes its wintry fruit
to the water of quagmires.

I have seen in the twilight,
beside a roofless pavement,
the flowers of the plum-tree whiten
like a pale phantom
called up by some grey magician.

And when the flickering bats
veer though the evenfall,
I scent the flying petals
of former life
in the mystic boughs.


CAS also wrote a Spanish version of this poem entitled "Las Alquerías perdidas".

It's unusual to find a poem from CAS that includes the phrase "I love"; for although he wrote quite a number of love lyrics, he rarely used the word itself in such direct terms.  

Of course, "Lost Farmsteads" is not a love poem, but a more of a pastoral musing on time passing.  Even when tackling such bucolic subject matter, CAS still manages to find a place for the weird imagery that he is known for:


I have seen in the twilight,
beside a roofless pavement,
the flowers of the plum-tree whiten
like a pale phantom
called up by some grey magician.


"Lost Farmsteads" is not one of CAS' greatest verses, but it has a quiet charm all its own.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Parnassus




This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:


At the foot of Parnassus
from pasture to pasture roam the herds
of she-kids, of sheep
and of swine
rooting and ruminating 
in the fens and moorlands
full of mud
that their herders have discovered.

But, elevating it summits
filled with flowers and clouds,
with buds and jewels,
the mountain of the Muses,
still unclimbed,
soars immaculate and lone
in a zenith held
by the golden hawks.



CAS also wrote a Spanish-language version of this poem entitled "Parnaso".

Given that Mount Parnassus (in central Greece) is the mythological home of the Muses, one can easily read CAS' own sympathies in this poem.  "At the foot of Parnassus" he presents "swine / rooting" in "mud / that their herders have discovered."

But up on the summits where the goddesses of music and poetry dwell, we find a land of "flowers and clouds, / with buds and jewels".  The drab ordinariness of lives led down below is easily forgotten amongst the peaks "held / by the golden hawks."  

The spirit of the Muses infused everything that CAS created, whether in words or in visual media.  In his case, this went beyond the usual workings of the creative self into an almost polemic belief in the primacy of the creative life over that of industry, the marketplace, and the professional world.  Mount Parnassus is referenced not infrequently in his poetry, and provides a notable metaphor for his own values as a person and an artist.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Dominium in Excelsis

Read "Dominium in Excelsis" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/135/dominium-in-excelsis

The Latin title of this poem can be translated into English as "The Lord in the Highest".

I take this to be an exaltation of Satan, in the tradition of John Milton and Paradise Lost.  But it seems to me that it also speaks directly to the reader, calling for an engagement of the bold creative spirit within all of us:


Thy feet shall tread the Scorpion's lair,
Thy hands shall catch the comet's hair;
Or over Endor thou shalt ride
Unfrighted on the tamed Nightmare.


Although the many encounters described in the poem are weird, dark, and supernatural, the speaker sees the possibility for greater things beyond all that travail:


Till stones and atoms, shadow-wrought,
Dissolving shall return to naught,
Or into fairer shapes be brought.


It's not one of CAS' very best poems, but the grand cosmic sweep on display recalls the huge scope of his youthful works from the Star-Treader era, albeit expressed with a certain mature restraint that does not diminish the overall impact.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Where Sleepest Thou, O Eldorado?

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:


Mistress mine, in thy loftiness
Forget never our love;

In thy sweetness and grace
Reject not my grief.

I am still an exile
From the magic shores

Beautiful and pagan.
(Where Sleepest Thou, O Eldorado?)

Forget not this love
In future kisses...

And remember the heart
Upon the laurelled hills;

And remember our sea
Sleeping in the distance

And the bliss of a pagan day...
Reject not my repentance.


This poem also exists in a Spanish version entitled "¿Dónde duermes, Eldorado?".

As a paean to the memory of a past romance, "Where Sleepest Thou, O Eldorado?" rings with all of the bold emotion of a lover who has come to see the error of his ways, and now finds himself prostrating himself before the object of his affections: "Reject not my grief."

The lines at the heart of this poem are powerfully expressive in a way that often eludes CAS' other romantic verses:


And remember the heart
Upon the laurelled hills;

And remember our sea
Sleeping in the distance

And the bliss of a pagan day...


That closing phrase "the bliss of a pagan day..." is CAS at his best, articulating the primal forces that animate the most joyful parts of the human experience.