Friday, September 7, 2018

Sonnets of the Seasons (The Wizardry of Winter)

This poem ends the sequence of three "Sonnets of the Seasons".  As these were all unpublished during the lifetime of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), I'll start with the text itself:

Behold the Winter's potent wizardry,
          That hides in vestal white the barren ground,
          And all the leaves that lie in banks around
Each stripped, bereft, and naked Autumn tree.
Behold hs magic on the hill and lea,
          His wonder-working hand, whereby are bound
          The singing rivulets, so that no sound
Now strikes the pallid silence merrily.

How strange and white, beneath the cheerless skies,
The Winter-duranced land, far-visioned, lies.
          Now break the clouds, and from a wind-borne seat
Of dismal gray, the Sun looks goldenly.
Lo! each tree stands a jeweled fantasy
          And countless gems are 'neath our trampling feet!

This sonnet has quite a few compound words (such as "wonder-working" and "far-visioned").  CAS' mentor George Sterling warned him against the use of such in letter from 1911, shortly after the two poets first came into contact.  Echoing advice that he received from his own mentor Ambrose Bierce, Sterling told Smith that:

Just a word as to compound words such as "fear-stricken".  Bierce warns me against any great use of them, unless thereby unusual strength is attained.  I didn't agree with him at first, but (as in most instances) begin to do so as a I grow older. 

Sterling's comment specifically addressed CAS' poem "The Last Night" (which I have not yet covered on this blog).  But the suggestion is interesting when considering the present sonnet, since I think lines like "The Winter-duranced land, far-visioned, lies" do in fact convey a powerful and complex image that is enhanced by the careful inclusion of compound words.

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