This poem was included in the first published collection of poetry from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), and was later incorporated into his Selected Poems (1971) in a somewhat revised text. The version of the poem available at The Eldritch Dark is the later one, presumably CAS' preferred reading, so that's what I'm considering in this blog post.
Something that catches my attention right away is the use of similar adjectival phrases throughout the poem:
- "cold insensate peaks"
- "gaunt black sockets"
- "chill insensible mountains"
- "dead infinite skies"
- "dumb impassible skies"
Each of those phrases helps to reinforce the eerie dislocation at the heart of this poem, and one of those phrases anchors these lines which summarize the larger work:
Null, blank and meaningless
As a burnt scroll that blackens
With the passing of the fire,
Lay the dead infinite skies.
When CAS included this poem in his debut collection The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912), he made it the very last entry, which is certainly fitting given the title, a word whose alternate meaning in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is "The conclusion, the end, the finish; the end of life, death." This poem coldly (but beautifully) describes a starless night which may portend the end of life and the universe itself, a heady topic that few writers can address with the elegance and musicality that CAS brings to the task.
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