Wednesday, October 31, 2018


This is another early poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) unpublished in his lifetime, and not available on The Eldritch Dark, so let's begin with the text itself:

In vain, Romance, we seek thy mystic land
          Though e'er our holden eyes shall see afar
          As beacon-light, thy fatal siren star
That gleams above a strange, elusive strand.
Shall yet, where all the barring Years are dead,
          The earth we know to secret darkness hurled
          Our questing feet upon some farther world
Unto thy strange and radiant realm be led.
Shall yet we gain once more from mist and night
And barren years, thy large and younger light?
Thy golden sands our feet may never gain,
          Though oh how beautiful we see them shine!
          Forever like the dim horizon line
We watch them fade across the fruitless main.

There is a powerful sense of yearning here.  And yet this sonnet could perhaps also be read as something of a mission statement for CAS, an author whose exuberant imagination and formidable language skills allowed him to get much closer to the realms of Romance than most human beings.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Power of Eld

Read "The Power of Eld" as The Eldritch Dark:

Among the early poems by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that I have been reading, several took "the Past" as their theme and/or title.  And in this sonnet, it is once again the Past that informs the tumultuous events described: "the Past's uncharneled dread / In swarming visions on the darkness burst".

The closing sestet goes on to describe all that the Past has unleashed in this apocalyptic dream, including this immaculate phrase: "Howlings of prophets mingled in mine ear / With death-lament of cities".  This poem really highlights the dramatic, doom-encrusted writing that CAS is widely known for. 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Potion of Dreams

Read "The Potion of Dreams" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet definitely comes from the strand of Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) poetry that appeals strongly to me, with an emphasis on the power of dreams, which I choose to extend to the power of the imagination, even if that second element may not be explicitly woven into this particular poem.

What really works here is that strong first line "What occult Circe of the hours of sleep".  The reference to the Greek goddess of herbs, magic, and potions provides associations that create a solid foundation before we even get to the second line where CAS gives us "the Cup of Dreams", which he proceeds to fill with richly developed details.

Many poets (and writers in general) incorporate references to mythology in their work, but too often it feels more like a demonstration of erudition than an effective literary device.  By using a single direct reference to the Greek myths, CAS keeps his focus and gives the poem a strong footing from the very first line.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Past

This is the second poem with the same title from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that I have read so far.  The previous poem was an incomplete quatrain, whereas this time we have a complete sonnet:

Drawn hither by the tides of change and chance
          Betwixt the dead past and the future's gloom
          We stand within the present's sun and bloom--
The garden of the living hours.  Yet glance
We ever backward to the past's romance
          Regretting that no wizard may relume
          Its glamour--and the flash of sword and plume--
The Greek and Turk serve only to enhance.
Ay, of the Past is left but memories--
          A wraith of withered roses on its tomb
          That only breathe a ghost of sweet perfume
And yet are eloquent of brilliancies
Long turned to dust, which one at moments sees
Some memory of their former state resume.

This sonnet appears to be the finished version of the work that CAS began with the incomplete quatrain of the same name.  Especially notable are these almost identical lines:

The complete quatrain: 
Naught of the Past is left but memories--
          A wreath of withered roses on its tomb
          That, keeping yet a ghost of their perfume

From the sonnet: 
Ay, of the Past is left but memories--
          A wraith of withered roses on its tomb
          That only breathe a ghost of sweet perfume

Moreover, the longer sonnet version incorporates most of the text of "The Present", another quatrain by CAS that I read earlier.

In reading through the Hippocampus Press edition of CAS' complete poetry, this is the first chance I've had to compare earlier versions with later, more complete versions of poems.    Most notable is that the text of the related quatrain "The Future" has disappeared entirely, which makes sense since this present poem is about "The Past".  But it's interesting to see how CAS took those three related quatrains, kept some ideas and discarded others, and then produced a new poem from those elements.

The incomplete quatrain called "The Past" impressed me with the distilled idea of lingering memories.  This sonnet embellishes that notion quite a bit, and the closing sestet (which basically incorporates that earlier quatrain entire) is especially interesting:

Ay, of the Past is left but memories--
          A wraith of withered roses on its tomb
          That only breathe a ghost of sweet perfume
And yet are eloquent of brilliancies
Long turned to dust, which one at moments sees
Some memory of their former state resume.

Here CAS has retained the concept of lingering memories, but fleshed out his presentation.  For me as a reader, the earlier, shorter version was more powerful, using brevity to achieve focus and directness.  In the sestet quoted above, the additional lines wrapping the original text don't seem to add much, other than building out the structure of a sonnet.

CAS is best known for longer epic poems in blank verse, such as "Nero" and "The Hashish-Eater".  What is interesting in comparing the variant versions of the "The Past" and "The Present" is to see how the shorter, standalone works had an effectiveness that is somewhat muted by the verbosity of the sonnet version of "The Past".  This shows me that CAS was quite effective working in shorter poetic forms, and I'm looking forward to his use of the haiku form which I'll encounter among his more mature verses.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Palace of Jewels

This is apparently an early version of a poem that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) would later expand to sixteen stanzas.  So I'll consider this early version now, and will be interested to see how it compares to the longer version which I'll encounter later:

It rears beside the cliff-confronted sea,
          Where, spurred by winds, the waves aspire in foam —
A palace towering large and massively,
          To flower in minaret and dome.

Naught but the ocean's music echoes there;
          No lutes pervade its halls with mirth and sigh,
And wanders love, through close and pleasance fair,
          The velvet, figured butterfly.

Within, in silence tapestried and old,
          And dusk that lingers through the widest day,
Are heapéd treasure-chests that, spilling hold
          Jewels of varied hue and ray.

Here caskets weirdly wrought and prodigal
          Of opals color-clouded, and the fire,
Thrilling in crystal through the sombre hall,
          Wherewith the diamonds aspire.

And sapphires lighten, all astorm with blue,
          Beside the deeper emerald's mimic sea;
And slumberous rubies, with a burst of hue,
          Awaken intermittently.

This is a gloriously visual spectacle of color and light.  This palace almost seems like a dream come true for the parties of adventurers associated with the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, since this particular edifice is full of treasure but largely devoid of living things to defend the treasure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Time the Wonder

Here's another quatrain authored by the young Clark Ashton Smith that was unpublished during his lifetime:

Time holds the keys of all eternity
          Its warder grim is he;
The Past he shuts and locks forevermore,
          Then opes the Future's door.

This is a simple little poem, but presents an appealing rendition of the inexorable march of time.  The personification of Time as a "warder grim" with his set of keys is both effective and somewhat dour at the same time.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Future

This is the final installment in a series of three related quatrains by the young Clark Ashton Smith (CAS):

Albeit we plant the Future's seed each day
          Potent with fate each thought, and word, and deed
          We know not what shall spring from that hidden seed.
Rank thistles or red roses--who can say?

In the preceding poem "The Present", CAS ended with the phrase "the Future's unlit gloom."  That ending did not seem to portend well for the Future, but in the present poem the author has a more dispassionate view, acknowledging that the Future might hold good things or bad things.  

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Present

Here is the second of three related quatrains from the young Clark Ashton Smith (CAS):

We stand within the Present's sun and bloom--
          The garden of the living hours, yet glance
          We backward to the Past's romance,
Or onward to the Future's unlit gloom.

Here CAS presents an interesting contrast of pleasant sensations associated with the Past and the Present, and rather gloomy sensations associated with the Future.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Past

This is one of a trio of quatrains by the young Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  This one was actually left incomplete with a missing final line:

Naught of the Past is left but memories--
          A wreath of withered roses on its tomb
          That, keeping yet a ghost of their perfume
[no more written]

While it's intriguing to speculate what the final line might have been, those first three lines are quite powerful by themselves.  The "withered roses" retaining "a ghost of their perfume" is quite evocative of lingering memories, and the inclusion of a tomb places this short poem squarely in the thematic world of CAS.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Nature's Orchestra

Here's another poem unpublished in the lifetime of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), and not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the text itself:

In yon sunlit meadow, hark
To the singing of the lark
And the quail in coverts near
To each other calling clear
Voice of some lone robin floats
From an oak, and hoarser note
Of the blackbirds settling nigh.
Bluejays call, as past they fly
And their strident voices fall
In a blending musical
With the sweet tones of the thrush
And the bluebird in yon bush
In the woods a brooklet sings,
And the wistful whisperings
Of the wind amid the trees,
Blend with songs of birds and bees
And the streamlet's melody,
In a perfect harmony.

This is such a cheery little nature ode that it's almost out sync with other early poems by CAS that I have been reading recently.  I suspect this one may be a very early item in CAS' poetic oeuvre, since it has a whiff of juvenilia about it.  One almost feels the very young CAS trying out his hand at the poetic form, with less of his personal voice making it through the exercise.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Lost Beauty

Here's another poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was not published in his lifetime, and not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the poem itself:

Whither doth Beauty pass?  What is the law
          Whereby her forms and colours bright and rare
          Merge in the vapid, achromatic air?
Doth she herself into herself withdraw?
Mayhap the gleam of dawn, the sunset's glow
          The fragile hues that point the flowers of Spring
          And all the songs the birds and brooklets sing,
Like streams refluent, whence they issued flow.

Yet, ah, shall ever sunrise render back
          The gold of dawns that that [sic] ravished us of eld?
The splendours of the later sunsets lack
          Some magic gleam of those we once beheld.
Nor may we gain from yonder songster's tone
          The dulcet notes of birds forever flown.

There is a powerful sense of nostalgia in this poem, perhaps not quite what we might expect from the teenaged CAS.  Although the narrator speaks of "dawns that...ravished us of eld" and "sunsets...we once beheld", I can't help but think the voice is really lamenting instances of beauty never experienced directly, and sings instead of a greater beauty presumed to have existed in the remote past before the narrator's own age.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A diversion: philosophy and The Dark Age

I recently read the short story "The Dark Age" by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  While this blog is focused on CAS' poetry, I am also interested in understanding how the body of creative work may reflect the author's personal philosophy.  Hence the last paragraph of "The Dark Age" is very intriguing:

Still, though he knew it not in his sorrow and frustration, there remained other things: the clean, sweet lips of the simple hill-girl who would bear his children; the wild, free life of man, warring on equal terms with nature and maintaining her laws obediently; the sun and stars unclouded by the vapors of man's making; the air untainted by his seething cities.

The story deals with humanity's descent into a new dark age, with an accompanying loss of scientific and technological capability and know-how.  The "he" referred to in the paragraph above is the protagonist Torquane.  In preceding events of the story's narrative, Torquane had come very close to recovering lost knowledge that might have enabled his people to advance beyond their stone age existence.  That opportunity slipped from his grasp in a violent and dramatic fashion.

What is compelling about the final paragraph quoted above is the narrator's suggestion that Torquane and the members of his tribe might in fact have been better off to have missed that particular opportunity.  This echoes ideas expressed in some of the poems by CAS that I have read so far, and thus provides a fascinating alternate look into the author's approach to life and existence.  

The complete text of the story is available on The Eldritch Dark:

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

In Extremis

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

Within Life's arc of light I stand
          That lyeth white and clear
To calmly watch upon each hand
          The Shadow creeping near.

Slowly the arc grows narrower
          The encroaching night draws on;
Black, pitiless its bastions rear,
          The light will soon be gone.

This grim little poem gets right to the heart of things, with a rather bleak vision of the inevitable destination of all human lives.  CAS apparently wrote this when he was still a teenager, demonstrating a sense of drama and morbidity that is not so unusual in creative young people.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Harbour of the Past

Read "The Harbour of the Past" on The Eldritch Dark:

This poem finds Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) working in his most effective voice, combining a whiff of nostalgia with echoes of doom and the certainty of inescapable fate.  The metaphor captured in the poem's title is powerful and evocatively detailed in this sonnet, where there is truly no word or image out of place.

Although I am reading CAS' poetic oeuvre in more-or-less chronological order, I have previously read some of his later poems, and the last lines of "The Harbour of the Past":

White tombs of kings once augustly enthroned,
And now by listless, dusty winds bemoaned.

...remind me strongly of a passage from "Nero" that I have practically memorized:

There have been many kings, and they are dead,
And have no power in death save what the wind
Confers upon their blown and brainless dust
To vex the eyeballs of posterity.

"The Harbour of the Past" thus seems like a hint of things to come in the later works of CAS, but nonetheless it remains a significant work in and of itself.

Sunday, October 14, 2018


This is another early poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so I'll begin with the poem itself:

The tumult and the glare of day
With setting sun have died away;
All lands, all scenes, in silence lie
'Neath twinkling stars that gem the sky.
A holy calm o'er land and sea
Enshrouding all in mystery
Has dropped as though a Genii king
With magic word had bade each thing
To cease, and with the veil of night
All earth had hidden from our sight.

This little poem has a much more serene feeling than the dream-related poems by CAS that I have been reading recently.  It could almost be a lullaby, easing the reader into the end of the day and the eventual onset of sleep.

Reading this reminds me of the impressive scope of CAS' poetic achievements.  Comparing "Evening" to better-known works such as "Nero" and "The Hashish-Eater" reveals great contrasts in temperament and style, but also reveals similarities in terms of craftsmanship and technique.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Eternal Gleam

This is another poem unpublished in the lifetime of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), so I'll begin with the text itself:

The tides of sunlight outward swim
          Where night, a dusky moon beguiles.
          The star of evening wanly smiles
O'er seas of twilight vast and dim.

With brightening vestal lucency
          Thou crownest, lonely vesper star,
          Yon line inexorable and far
That e'er withholds the day from me.

Thou hast the gleam that flamed divine
          In billows of the sunset light
          That leapt athwart the strands of night
And with its pure and lucent sign

Unto my soul thou beckonest:
          My spirit yearns to burst its chains
          And follow where the daylight wanes,
On wings of strong, divine unrest.

If I might gain the sunset's beam
          O'ertake it in the distant flight
          And bathe within its waves of light
A moment might I hold the gleam!

These quatrains describe a bold notion, and the repetition of the word "divine" captures my attention, especially with the second use of the word in these lines from the fourth stanza: 

My spirit yearns to burst its chains
          And follow where the daylight wanes,
On wings of strong, divine unrest.

The narrator's longing for a cosmic adventure is not without an understanding of the risks of such a journey, with the phrase "divine unrest" especially powerful in its implication of chaos on a grand scale.

Friday, October 12, 2018


Here's another poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, so let's start with the poem itself:

We are but tiny insects of a day
That on a whirling planet toil and play--
To what end no one seems to know--till creep
We one by one aside, and fall asleep.

Short and simple, but a grim and effective little portrait of human beings as the proverbial ants crawling on the surface of the blue orb suspended in space.  The title itself seems to be the cruelest notion of all - we poor humans portrayed as a trivial phenomenon of little interest in the grand scheme of things.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Dream-God's Realm

Read "The Dream-God's Realm" at The Eldritch Dark:

There's a real musicality to the language of this early poem by Clark Ashton Smith.  Although the general idea is pretty straightforward, some of the pieces that contribute to the whole are quite memorable.  The phrase "on my vision leapt a marvelous sight" particularly stands out, with the strong verb "leapt" giving a touch of forward momentum to the last lines of the poem that ends so pleasantly in "The Dream-god's sunlight-drenched, enchanted land."

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Revelation

This poem was unpublished in the lifetime of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), and not available on The Eldritch Dark, so let's start with the poem itself:

A voice decreed: "Let there be no more light:
          Reveal the gulfs and systems utterly."
          The veils and limits that infinity
Hath for its shields, were smitten of the light;
Horizonless, unsealed of depth or height,
          One after one, unto my scrutiny
          The deeps and their invested suns leapt free,
And billow-like, rolled on the shores of sight.

Nor interstice nor film of gloom remained
          To dull the stars' intolerable host
                    Or stay the firmament's immeasured press,
That smote with revelation unrestrained,
          Till 'neath the weight of vastness uttermost
                    My spirit's walls fell into nothingness.

This poem shares a very similar theme to "A Dream of Oblivion", which I discussed a couple of blog posts back.  This present poem "The Revelation" seems much the more polished of the two works, taking the form of a sonnet with a fairly regular abcabc rhyme scheme.

The opening of this poem is quite effective, featuring a dramatic quote from an unsourced voice, an opening that is effectively matched by the thrilling final lines: "Till 'neath the weight of vastness uttermost / My spirit's walls fell into nothingness."  

The phrase "vastness uttermost" could be recognized as the stamp of CAS even outside the context of this poem.  While these lines were likely written under the influence of George Sterling, it is impressive to see the very young CAS (likely still a teenager when this was written) taking ownership of a personal cosmic vision that he would develop so completely in the coming years.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

A Dream of Darkness

This is another poem unpublished in the lifetime of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), and also unavailable on The Eldritch Dark, so I'll begin with the text itself:

From dreams of light and sound one felt his soul
Borne out to some extremity of night
In voidness where the universe is thin.
Aghast and pale above the gulfs, the stars
Watched as he felt tremendous glooms
Until they shrank and drew [          ] back
From gulfs past any star's Titanic sight.

Despite being incomplete (note the blank space in line six) and quite short, this early poem by Clark Ashton Smith is quite effective at painting a portrait of an epic dream of cosmic dislocation.  The first three lines are especially compelling, ending with the succinct phrase "voidness where the universe is thin", a handful of words that express an immense idea.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Dream of Oblivion

Read "A Dream of Oblivion" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem strikes me as something of an experiment in black verse.  I wouldn't be surprised if it is really a draft only, since compared to other poems that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote around the same time, the ideas seem indistinct and only partially formed.  The title suggests that this may have been the direct recounting of a dream, and if so, the role of dreams as a source for some CAS' more substantive poetic creations can be well understood!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Castle of Dreams

Read "The Castle of Dreams" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem appeals to me a great deal, and reminds of "Desert Dweller", which is (so far) my favorite poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), and the one from which this blog takes its name.

CAS led a somewhat isolated life in the Sierra Nevada foothills, and apparently had no inclination or ambition for a steady and consistently remunerative career.  He was, of course, a poet, but was also a writer of prose and a visual artist in several different media.  Though never a wealthy man in the financial sense, his significant body of work shows that he was certainly not idle.

As so back to "The Castle of Dreams", and those wonderful closing lines:

If gold and gems of land and sea,
And broad estates were offered me,
I would not take them for the key
          Of the Castle of Dreams.

I love the note of defiance struck by this poem, the narrator's willingness to embrace the power of dreams and imagination in lieu of more earthly pursuits.  The attitude expressed in these verses would seem to originate from CAS' own autobiography, and reads like a determined statement of personal philosophy.  And I admire the choices that CAS made in his life, embracing financial hardship as a condition of artistic freedom.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Burden of the Suns

Read "The Burden of the Suns" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem strikes me as an early exploration of the cosmic themes that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is known for.  Taken on its own merits, I'm not overly impressed by this poem, primarily because it seems something of an exercise in tackling themes that CAS encountered in the works of George Sterling.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Black Enchantment

Here's another poem unpublished during the lifetime of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), so I'll begin with the text itself:

In forest-deeps wherefrom the toiling rose,
A client ghost with thinnest cerement pale,
Disquieted, to walk the winds' repose
Above the tranced irremeable dale
O'er woods pervaded of one nightingale,
Where late the dreaming sunset was, I found
The dell of lilies, each one whitest grail
Of peace and pallid vision, the the ground
Uplifted for the quest of air, and light, and sound.

On all except the nightingale's swift song,
Each cup the charmèd silence holier,
Had poured, it seemed, the wavering light was long.
Till lo! What change grotesquely sinister,
With darkness poured as from a sepluchre!
An owl that hooted at the nightingale;
Lean mists that walkt the glades where no winds were,
And mid the lilies, flowers of swarthy dale--
These things I saw ere yet the fluttering light could fail.

A night within the night was opened out--
Some iron bubble of enormous dread
From Death's abysm: Dwindled to a doubt,
The visible live world for me was fled;
Alone with all the immemorial dead,--
Sharing that burden with the breathless gloom--
I sensed the unheard intolerable tread
Of those unnumbered legions of the tomb.

This poem has a stronger element of the supernatural than other early poems by CAS that I have read so far.  The "dell of lilies" is a key image, since that particular floral genus is traditionally associated with funerals.

The last stanza is particularly strong since CAS introduces a darker tone, exemplified by these lines:

A night within the night was opened out--
Some iron bubble of enormous dread
From Death's abysm: Dwindled to a doubt,
The visible live world for me was fled;
Alone with all the immemorial dead,--

The image of an "iron bubble" representing the "night within the night" is very powerful, and really sets the stage for the last two lines of the poem, where the "Black Enchantment" of the title begins to make a dreaded entry.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Voice in the Pines

Read "The Voice in the Pines" at The Eldritch Dark:

It's worth noting that the version of this poem on The Eldritch Dark has several significant typos, mostly in the second stanza, so here's that entire stanza with corrections sourced from the version of this poem in the Hippocampus Press collection of Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) complete poetry:

Dost sorrow for thy deaths in other years--
Aeons that, too, are dead--
On vanished worlds remembered but of thee?
Or for the flowers, that, shed
But yesternoon, find now their threnody,
After the dews which were thy silent tears?

"The Voice in the Pines" has an interesting abcbca rhyme scheme.  This has the effect of making me read each stanza in a sort of breathless gulp, as I'm questing for the completion of that "a" rhyme that began the stanza.  

Because of that headward rush on the first reading, I went back and read these lines several times, and I'm glad I did.  There is some subtle magic in this poem, especially in CAS' use of sound cues, as exemplified in these lines from the first stanza:

Surely thy voice is theirs,
Reverberant through caverns of the soul,
Like present grief which shares
The fainter sorrows of the past, that roll
In undertones no ear nor thought defines.

I'm really starting to appreciate the way that CAS combines visual, auditory, and narrative devices to weave his poetic magic, and the stanza-ending phrase "that roll / In undertones no ear nor thought defines" is very effective and memorable.