Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Star-Treader

Read "The Star-Treader" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) named his first published collection of poetry for this work, and the version in that volume is slightly shorter than the version that was later included in his omnibus Selected Poetry (1971).  The version at The Eldritch Dark is the longer version of the poem, which I'm also discussing here.

Several commentators, including George Sterling, grouped this poem with other early verses from CAS that have a cosmic theme, such as "Ode to the Abyss".  That certainly makes sense, but I think this is the stronger work by far, since the author has presented the reader with a real narrative thrust that has vast scale and clear milestones, delineated by the seven numeric sections.

Particularly notable is section IV, where the narrator re-visits several different planets that were apparently known to him either in past lives or via ancestral memory.  Each world is described in only a handful of lines, some of which are exquisite:

One world I found, where souls abide
Like winds that rest upon a rose;
Thereto they creep
To loose all burden of old woes.

In section VI, the narrator witnesses the creation of life itself:

Some earlier awakening
In pristine years, when giant strife
Of forces darkly whirled
First forged the thing called Life—
Hot from the furnace of the suns—
Upon the anvil of a world.

Finally in section VII, the dream comes to a hard stop:

Till, lo! my dream, that held a night
Where Rigel sends no message of his might,
Was emptied of the trodden stars,
And dwindled to the sun's extent—
The brain's familiar prison-bars,
And raiment of the sorrow and the mirth
Wrought by the shuttles intricate of earth.

This isn't a perfect poem, but it's one of the better long works from CAS' early career, and he manages to keep the narrative drive actively moving forward, which was not the case with "Ode to the Abyss".  If both of those works can be considered as precursors to "The Hashish-Eater", I think "The Star-Treader" holds much more interest as a worthwhile work to be enjoyed on its own merits.

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