Monday, November 19, 2018

To Thomas Paine

As with the poem of the same name that I discussed in yesterday's blog post, here Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) once again presents an ode to the author of The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology (see the Wikipedia article for more information on that work).

O priest of truth and herald of the light,
Thou didst proclaim as might the morning star,
That shining trumpet at the lips of dawn,
The fading of the priests and powers of gloom.
Yet have they striven to cast upon thy ray 
The mist exhaled from Superstition's mire--
A breath of scum still foul upon the earth,
Still making blind the gaze that else might see.
It shall not hide thy light forever thus;
And though it hang between thee and men's eyes,
Stainless art thou: no marsh can harm a star.

In the first few lines, this poem has a less uplifting tone than the earlier companion piece (discussed yesterday).  Through line 8 ("Still making blind the gaze that else might see"), the reader is left with the feeling that Paine's enlightened doctrine has been defeated by the "priests and powers of gloom."  

But the last three lines turn things around, and the ending phrase "no marsh can harm a star" is beautifully lyrical and uplifting, leaving us with the notion that truth and reason will win out in the end.

Neither of these poems dedicated to Thomas Paine were published in CAS' lifetime.  At least in the case of today's entry, that surprises me, since this is a powerful work.  Given that the subject matter is not typical for CAS' poetry, I wonder if he simply felt this particular verse did not mesh well with his broader body of work, and thus chose to exclude it from his published collections.

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