Tuesday, July 31, 2018


Read "Illusion" at The Eldritch Dark: 

This short poem has an almost hallucinogenic quality.  The progression from sunset (in the first line) to evening (the "graveyard-loving moon" in line six) leads us to end on the word "tomb", which adds a dramatic impact.

It's worth noting that in the Hippocampus Press edition of the poems, the last line is rendered:

Or cerements of a riven tomb.

Whereas The Eldritch Dark has:

Or silver cerements on a tomb.

The former seems much more powerful to me, since it creates the image of a violated tomb with the cerements scattered about, suggesting the work of a ghoul, a grave-robber, or something even more terrible.

Monday, July 30, 2018


This is another item from among Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) early poems that were not published in his lifetime, so let's start with the text itself:

The summit won at last, I stopped,
          And turned to trace, through wood and dale,
Where, robed in pine, the hill-side dropped,
          My devious, toilsome, upward trail.

In air of midday, warm and still,
          Alone above the world I stood, 
And held the silence of the hill,
          That reared in rugged solitude.

Yet not alone, for overhead
          An eagle rose and skyward flew,
With wings against the sun outspread --
          A climber of the hills of blue.

This is a simple but evocative lyric of solitary adventure in nature that captures the phenomenon that one really never can be alone in a natural setting.  As an avid hiker myself, I've had many such incidents where the absence of other human beings makes one more sensitive to all of the other life that is around you, and indeed it is a type of welcome companionship.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A diversion: Behrends on the poetry

As I go along this journey of reading through the poems of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), I'll be taking some parallel paths to read what critics and reviewers have had to say about the writer and his work in poetry.

I'm going to focus on commentary that came along after CAS' death, since those folks have had the opportunity to consider the body of work as a whole.  

For those interested in reviews that appeared while CAS was still alive, a great place to start is Scott Connors' "The Coming Singer: Early Critical Responses to Clark Ashton Smith" in the journal Dead Reckonings or via Scott's Patreon project.

First up for consideration is Steve Behrends, simply because his was the first critical analysis of CAS' writing that I ever read.  His Clark Ashton Smith: A Critical Guide to the Man and His Work first came out in 1990, but has been re-issued and expanded by the Borgo Press.  

Behrends' volume is mostly concerned with CAS' fiction, and the chapter on "Verse" is one of the shortest in the book.  Not surprisingly, the chapter focuses primarily on CAS' most famous poem, "The Hashish-Eater".  Since I won't be reading that particular work until much later in my journey (I'm proceeding more-or-less chronologically), what I can take away from my reading of Behrends is his identification of core themes in CAS' poetry:

  • A fascination with classical myth and fable
  • Cosmic consciousness
  • Loss
  • Love
  • The macabre
  • "The peace of oblivion, a shelter from the horrors of the world"
  • Reality vs. illusion
  • Reincarnation and past lives
Even though Behrends gives a very brief overview of the poems, I think this list of themes is useful and is something that I will be re-visiting as I continue my journey.  I am interested in learning how the poems reflect CAS' personal philosophy, and keeping these central themes in mind can help me with that investigation. 

Saturday, July 28, 2018


Read "Death" at the Eldritch Dark:

In an earlier post on this blog, I looked at a poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) called "Reincarnation" which suggested a certain defiance of death.  

And now with this poem "Death" we essentially re-visit the same notion, but this time with a focus on nature's cycles of renewal:

But from of old
Hath not the tree new leaves put forth?

CAS presents the idea that Death is not something to be feared, since the end of an existence is part of something larger enduring beyond the span of any one life.  He invokes the cycle of the seasons in a really wonderful passage:

So may
The soul fresh forms assume another day;
Thus testifies the miracle of spring,
Wherewith the leafless brumal world is rife.

I like the directness of the title "Death", which right up front suggests a certain morbidity, which the author then defies with his appreciation for the phenomenon of Life as a whole:

Who can the bare earth's time of blossoming
Behold, and say Death is the end of Life?

From what I know of CAS' biography, it seems that he was not a religious man, but his oft-mentioned cosmic outlook implies a spirituality unencumbered by the artifice of religion. In my quest to see what the poems can teach me about the writer's philosophy, I feel like I am starting to make some progress.

Friday, July 27, 2018

A White Rose

Today's poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is almost haiku-like in presenting an image of something beautiful and ephemeral:

Emblem of beauty thou shouldst be,
          That of all roses art most fair;
One day thou bloomest regally,
          Upon the morrow all is bare.

The brief lifespan of something beautiful seems like natural territory for CAS given what I know of his outlook and inclinations.  

CAS' poetry is often compared to that of John Keats (among others), and I can't help but think of some lines from Keats' "The Day is Gone":

Faded the flower and all its budded charms, 
Faded the sight of beauty from my eyes, 
Faded the shape of beauty from my arms, 
Faded the voice, warmth, whiteness, paradise...

The evocation of intense beauty in the very process of disappearing from sight seems thematically simpatico with CAS' "A White Rose".

Thursday, July 26, 2018


Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote several poems with the title "Lethe" (including a haiku).  The one under consideration here is not from any of the collections published during his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so let's start with the complete poem:

Seekst thou that Lethe of whose depths profound
One drinking shall his sorrows all forget?
Not on this earth are Lethe's waters found:
That pool beyond the gates of Death is set.

I think this is the least interesting poem I have read so far, since CAS hasn't really given us anything particularly original.  He presents a fairly straightforward description of the river of forgetfulness from Greek mythology.  

CAS was a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, and may have encountered some lines about Lethe in Poe's "The Sleeper", but reading this short piece from CAS mostly leaves me curious as to how he'll make use of the Lethe trope in later, more mature poems.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Another short poem this time around, so it's worth quoting the complete text:

When one for who a space has lived 'mong men
Some morn shall sudden pass beyond our ken,
Say not with sobs and tears that he is dead.
Say but that he to some new star is sped.

When I read "The Road of Pain" yesterday (see previous blog entry), I focused on the phrase "surcease or death", and the implication that there is perhaps something other than death at the end of the road.

So here we have the idea of reincarnation, and more specifically reincarnation out there in the wider cosmos, far beyond the limits of our native sphere.  Clark Ashton Smith is known for his cosmic outlook, and I suspect this short text is but a first taste of a theme that will become much more prominent in later poems.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Road of Pain

As with the other poems discussed so far, this one was never published during CAS' lifetime, and does not appear to be available on The Eldritch Dark.  So let's start with the poem itself:

A haggard scar across Life's verdant plain
          Straight runs the Road of Pain,
The road of anguish, despair and dread
          Whereon all feet must tread.

Prince, merchant, mendicant must all essay
          That long and thorny way.
Through pitiless days each shall with gasping breath
          Implore surcease or death.

At last shall come the long withheld release,
          The Road shall lead to peace.

At first blush, this is a rather morbid piece, but perhaps not unexpected from a writer who was only around seventeen when he wrote it.  I think we're all a little dramatic at that age.

But my attention is drawn to the phrase "surcease or death".  Although living beings must all accept death as the ultimate finality, CAS is clearing implying two alternatives.  The noun "surcease" has a less specific meaning than "death", so the poet has suggested that death may not be the only way out.  The possibilities are left for the reader to ponder.

The poem ends with the word "peace", so we exit with a slight uplift.  We are left with a smidgin of something more hopeful than "anguish, despair, and dread".

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Fountain of Youth

This is a very short poem, so let's start with the complete text (which I was not able to find on The Eldritch Dark):

Men sought a magic spring long years ago,
          One draught of which would youth fore'er renew
What need to seek afar? That fountain's flow
          Runs ever Nature's dales and forests through.

A short work, but one that appeals to me with an evocation of the healing power of nature.  It's even oddly timely due to recent media coverage of the Japanese concept of shinrin-yoku, or "forest bathing".

I'm also intrigued by CAS' subtle dismissal of the outworn idea of The Fountain of Youth, which has had any number of regrettable realizations in popular culture.  At the risk of over-reading, I detect an authorial wink at a cliché.

Sunday, July 22, 2018


Read "Cloudland" at The Eldritch Dark:


As a famous writer once said, in my journey through the poetry of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), I will begin at the beginning, and go on until I come to the end, at which point I will stop.

But first I have to begin.

So that brings me to "Cloudland", the very first poem in the Hippocampus Press edition of CAS' complete poetry.  And this is a fitting place to start, since this poem is replete with the rich language and evocative imagery that will be encountered throughout my journey.

I imagine the author deriving this poem from an experience of looking at clouds on a clear day, and going through the familiar exercise of envisioning meaningful shapes in all that water vapor.

While there is nothing deep going on here, it is notable that CAS may have written this poem when he was only seventeen years old, and I am interested in a theme that emerges in these lines:

Vales long and broad and uppiled mountains lie,
          Upon their pinnacles eternal snows
          Within its bounds; a silv'ry river flows
Across yon plain within a lake to die.

While this poem generally traffics in light and pleasant imagery, it's interesting that CAS chose to end these lines on an image of a river dying as it merges into a lake.  There are any number of ways that the author could have built that particular image, and I think there is a suggestion here of CAS' larger outlook on life that we will experience more throughout this journey.

Background for this blog

Men pity me for the scant gold I bring:
Unguessed within my heart the solar glare
On monstrous gems that lit my journeying.

From Desert Dweller by Clark Ashton Smith

What is this?

This blog is a record of my reactions to and thoughts on the poems of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), the late Californian artist best know for his connections to the Weird Tales circle of writers most active in the 1930's.

My intention is to read all of his poems in the chronological order established in the three-volume collection issued by the Hippocampus Press between 2007 and 2008:


I am not a literary scholar, and I am less interested in technical aspects of CAS' poetry than I am in understanding what the author intended to convey to his readers, in terms of imagery, philosophy, etc.

While the poetical works of CAS have not attracted as much critical attention as his fiction, I'll be reading such commentary as there is as I go along, and reviewing the several collections of his letters that have been published as well.

Although I will be reading the Hippocampus Press edition noted above, those without access to those volumes can access the full text of each poem via Boyd Pearson's excellent Eldritch Dark website:


Comments are welcome, but please be thoughtful and respectful.


This blog is dedicated to the memory of August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, who got the ball rolling by preserving CAS' writings (including his poetry!) and ensuring that his words would not be forgotten.