Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Wind and the Moon

Read "The Wind and the Moon" at The Eldritch Dark:

With this poem, we are again in the realm of work published during Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) lifetime.  Earlier, I read "The Sierras" which saw magazine publication in Munsey's.  This present poem is perhaps even more momentous, since it was included in CAS' very first published collection, The Star-Treader and Other Poems (published in 1912).

On one hand, I enjoy the almost narrative sensibility of this poem, as it tracks a violent night wind that practically terrorizes some pine trees: "How they moan and they sob like living things / That cry in the darkness for light and day!"

On the other hand, I feel like CAS begins this poem with some very muscular verse, but then seems to lose his focus in the second stanza.  The first few lines are somewhat reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe with a strong rhythm built up with repeated words:

Oh, list to the wind of the night, oh, hark,
How it shrieks as it goes on its hurrying quest!
Forever its voice is a voice of the dark,
Forever its voice is a voice of unrest.

That's a very effective opening that immediately establishes the dramatic setting and lures the reader in with a strong musical voice.  But then the poem ends with these lines (describing some "broken clouds"):

And around the face of the moon they cling,
Its fugitive face to veil they aspire;
But ever and ever it peereth out,
Rending the cloud-ranks that hem it about;
And it seemeth a lost and phantom thing,
Like a phantom of dead desire.

The repeated word "phantom" in the last two lines has none of the rhythmic and musical quality of the opening lines, and feels rather like CAS simply couldn't figure out how to end the poem.  Even the phrase "it seemeth a lost and phantom thing" has a tentative quality rather out-of-step with the urgent drama of earlier lines.

Given that the first stanza has the form of a sonnet, I can't help wondering if that stanza might have started life as a stand-alone poem, with the second stanza appended at a later time.  This feeling is reinforced by the ending of the first stanza, which exits on lines that preserve the kinetic and supernatural character of the poem's opening: "Now to a sad, tense whisper it fails, / Then wildly and madly it raves and it wails."

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