Monday, December 24, 2018

The Shadow of the Unattained

This early poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the full text:

O mists that move upon the breeze,
          On borrowed wings that have the power 
          To shape and shift ye for an hour
Along the hills, among the trees!

O mists that hang upon the pines,
          And from the many-pointed green,
          Confused with grey for all its sheen,
Drip slowly down in shaken lines!

What phantom voice has come to me
          With hush of magic on the heart--
          Fainter than winds that breathe apart
The folds of twilight's drapery?

Ah, why the swift imperious sense
          As of horizons far, forlorn
          Of griefs wherewith the stars might mourn,
And bonds of alien exigence?

Is it that Ye are less of Time
          Than flower and wind, than hill and tree,
          That with the voice of dreams to me,
Of visions from a hidden clime,

Ye call, and all the griefs of earth
          Are overcast with starrier woe--
          Sorrow that I may never know
Attainment, and the vision's worth;

And grief that sighs in Beauty's breath--
          Beauty, whose lyric laughters hold
          A sadder music learned of old,
An echo from the halls of Death?

Akin to thine, a sadness lies
          In dawn-anterior moons that set          
          Through night's receding violet,
That thickens down the western skies,

Or in last summer's whitened grass,
          Ghostly above the green of spring,
          And lonely birds that lowlier sing
When colored autumns sadly pass,

In all of strangely beautiful,
          A wistful or impassioned pain--
          In cobwebs laden with the rain
Through fullest morn's white, listening lull;

Or the wild rose's single rim
          Of simplest petals exquisite,
          And irised dragon-flies that flit
Through mesh of shadows, fine and dim.

Lo, past all present beauties fall 
          The shadows of the unattained;
          From purest song that each ear gained,
Uncompassable echoes call.

In quest of visions half-forbid,
          My soul must put aside the screen,
          And walk in regions vaguely seen,
Round Mind's half-conscious borders hid,

As one who seeks a mystic bloom
          On ways beset with nightly chance--
          Circled with alien vigilance,
And rustling of the ghostly gloom.


Desirous dreams imperative,
          What wings are thine of baffled flight!
          What spheres mysterious to the light--
Skies where empyreal colors live

Past zeniths of the violet's wing,

          And ethers of seraphic sound,
          Prolonged swift music, free of bound,--
Await thy search and entering!

Still shall I strive, nor hope to find
          Their entrance's fantasmal clue:
          The road that one must walk thereto
Is thinner than a thread of wind.

Their fires of cloudy mystery
          Sing all unheard, except when fall
          Into my soul antiphonal,
Like starlight on the sleeping sea,

Their least low spectral echoings.
          And thought's arising wave must break
          Each glimmering image that they make--
Vague vision of exotic things

All alienate and unretained.
          Like faintest iris on the sky,
          What ghostly dreams appear and die
That sleep nor day has wholly gained!

Cliff-shadows edged with opal foam,
          Sloping to meet the shadowy sea;
          Pale dreams that fall forgetfully
Into the morning's mirrored dome.


White flowers with colored shadows crossed;
          Translucent-winged butterflies,
          And hueless birds of haunted skies,
In iridescent twilight lost--

Such things my soul soliciteth,
          And far delight of lyric spheres,
          With unintelligible tears
In clearest realms of tear-white Death--

A land of strange forgotten dooms,
          And fair as ancient death is fair,
          For stranger beauty broodeth there,
Like moonlight on the sands of tombs:

Dull permanence of foam that clings
          On moveless wave and soundless sand,
          And stirless amaranths that stand
In garths forgot of winds and wings;

Time in those gardens by the shore,
          Moves softlier than the feet of Sin;
          It seems a god hath wept therein,
And saddened them forevermore.

I turn; the mists have taken flight;
          Above the fallen sunset-gleam,
          Lost, as the fabric of a dream,
The silence thickens into night.

This seems like something of an artistic manifesto for the young CAS, a yearning after those vistas that are just out of reach but whose presence is felt nonetheless.  It strikes me as being rather rambling and unfocused, but then again it was never published in CAS' lifetime, and I suspect that may be because he regarded it as an unfinished poem.

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