Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Secret Love

Read "Secret Love" at The Eldritch Dark:


Once again, we have a poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) presented as the product of one of his pseudonyms, Christophe des Laurières.  In contrast to other poems of romance by CAS that I have read in the last few days, this one is really getting back on track to what he does best, by rendering an unconventional love steeped in darkness and mystery.

This sonnet has several interesting technical aspects, in evidence right from the opening lines:

Hung round with heavy silence fold on fold,
Thy love, within my veiled and votive heart,

The first line has a couple of internal rhymes built on the letters "h" and "f", and the technique is continued into the second line where the letter "v" anchors the rhyme.  This is an effective method of getting the reader into the flow of the language right from the start, and something that CAS does particularly well.

The other technique that catches my attention is the extended metaphor that makes up the entire work, that of a love "like a darkling Venus" hidden away in a remote and forgotten city out of mythic memory.  This is powerful stuff.

Monday, December 30, 2019


Read "Ecstasy" at The Eldritch Dark:


This is one of several romantic poems by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that I've read in the last few days, and as with the others, it's nothing particularly impressive.  Of course, it's good to see CAS applying his talents to subjects beyond the weird and the fantastic, but as a poet of love and romance, his efforts seem mediocre at best.

Sunday, December 29, 2019


Read "Nightfall" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was published in his hometown newspaper (the Auburn Journal) in 1924.  A slight romantic poem, I suspect CAS intentionally created a somewhat anodyne piece to appeal to the wide audience of a newspaper, but there's little in these lines to make the poem memorable or significant.

Saturday, December 28, 2019


Read "Cleopatra" at The Eldritch Dark:


As with many poems from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), "Cleopatra" contains references to classical mythology, exotic precious stones, and evocative images of bold colors.  Although these foundational elements are frequently used in other verses from CAS, in this particular case, the work seems unable to transcend those building blocks and emerge as a true poetic expression.  

This is one of the rare cases where I feel like I'm reading CAS on auto-pilot, with plenty of poetic technique in evidence, but with only marginal artistic results.

Friday, December 27, 2019

A Psalm to the Best Beloved

Read "A Psalm to the Best Beloved" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) verges into the erotic, especially in the closing lines:

Thy body is a secret Eden
Fed with lethean springs,
And the touch of thy flesh is like to the savor of lotos.
In thy hair is a perfume of ecstasy,
And a perfume of sleep;
Between thy thighs is a valley of delight,
And a valley of peace.

It's a powerful expression of the joys of physical love, and handled in a manner that is not the least bit titillating.  Living as I do in an age of over-sexualized media, as a reader I greatly appreciate CAS' ability to render the many dimensions of love without descending into the voyeuristic. 

Thursday, December 26, 2019


Read "Psalm" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is an interesting tribute to a lost love, rendered as only Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) could.  But ultimately it seems to be more a portrait of the narrator himself:

Ah, suffer me to dwell
Thereby, and forget the gilded cities of desire,
The domes of spectral gold,
That fled from horizon to horizon
Before me, and left my feet in the sinking vales and shifting plains of the desert,
Whose waters are green with corruption,
And bitter with the dust and ashes of death.

The lines quoted above reflect an image that CAS re-visited many times in his poetry and short fiction, and presents also something of a philosophical musing, especially in key phrases such as "forget the gilded cities of desire" with its inherent rejection of the material world.  

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

To Nora May French

There are two versions of Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) poem "To Nora May French" at The Eldritch Dark:

  1. http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/594/to-nora-may-french-%28i%29
  2. http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/593/to-nora-may-french-%28ii%29

The second version most closely matches what was published in both Ebony and Crystal (1922) and Selected Poems (1971), so my discussion is focused there.

CAS never met Nora May French, and she had already taken her own life by the time he became aware of her work.  Despite not knowing the poetess personally, CAS has written a very moving work inspired by the scattering of her ashes into the Pacific Ocean.  The second stanza in particular is something of incredible beauty, closing with these near-perfect lines:

If now thy voice
In any wise return, and word of thee,
It is a lost, incognizable sigh
Upon the wind's oblivious woe, or blown,
Antiphonal, from wave to plangent wave,
In the vast unhuman sorrow of the main
On tides that lave the city-laden shores
Of lands wherein the eternal vanities
Are served at many altars; tides that wash
Lemuria's unfathomable walls,
And idly sway the weed-involvèd oars
Rotting amid the moles of orichalchum
In deep Atlantis; tides resurgent ever
From coral-coffered bones of all the drowned,
And sunless tombs of pearl that krakens guard.

The association between French's life and verse is intertwined with the life force of the mysterious ocean, a truly beautiful conception:

The western wave is eloquent of thee,
And half the wine-like fragrance of the foam
Is attar of thy spirit, and the pines,
From breasts of darkling, melancholy green,
Release remembered echoes of thy song
To airs importunate. 

This work surprised me with its deeply emotional lyricism, something I have seldom encountered in CAS' verse.  But the abundance of feeling is handled with considerable technical skill, creating a genuine standout verse from the Bard of Auburn.

Sunday, December 8, 2019


Read "Requiescat" at The Eldritch Dark:


This is a rather insubstantial little poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), featuring easy-flowing short lines (in terms of metrical feet) and several word repetitions to reinforce the simple rhymes.  

There is not much that's very memorable here, and it makes sense that CAS was able to get it published in a general interest magazine (Smart Set in 1922), since it includes no hints of the weird and philosophical poetry that was more typical of CAS' work, but which would have less appeal to a broad audience.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Dream

"The Dream" is a long poem in quatrains from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that went unpublished in his lifetime. It is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here is the complete text:

It was a nest of horror, whimsy-wrought
With orts and shreds from old abysses caught;
An eyrie swung on swift ulterior awe,
Tangled on summits of mysterious thought.

Grotesque and vague, I watch the vision shift--
A bubble that a Titan's breath might lift,
Who drowns in seas more dark than his despair,
Fabrics of iron hue, whirling adrift,

Or like pellucid crystals dropt from hands
Of toying Gods, that fire my shadow-lands--
Then, like a sphere exalted past the sun,
It bursts!--while thought in eager question stands.

Conscious of gulfs down which I dare not gaze,
I grope on faltering and imperiled ways
To shores where hoary mountains dance and roar,
And silent oceans lie as in amaze.

The flames that wait against the End of things
Flutter and verge unto my wanderings.
Past numb and blanching regions loved of Death,
Aback I flee, floating on lifeless wings--

Past midnight deserts full of sorceries,
Yet levin-lit and bare as breathless seas,
Dreading the tiger-crough of deadly Shapes
Alert in the wilds of dim eternities.

Now, in a trice, it seems that Time is done:
Light still endures, whose touch I may not shun;
Though at my back I hear the lips of Night
Puff out the flaring beacon of the sun.

Upon a barren blink I reel to see
The lower Dark--while, thundering over me,
Dawn hurls therein the cinders of dead stars,
And shells of worlds that rattle emptily.

Each quatrain of this poem uses an interesting rhyme scheme of AABA, not something I have seen much previously in CAS' poetry.  Outside of that, the poem doesn't hold much interest, reading like something of a draft, which is not entirely surprising since CAS never published this one.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Hashish-Eater; or, The Apocalypse of Evil

Read "The Hashish-Eater; or, The Apocalypse of Evil" at The Eldritch Dark:


Note that the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark is riddled with typos, so it's worth reading this one in print if you have access to such.

I've been immersed in multiple re-readings of this epic poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), as well as some of the critical writings about it.  A few observations have stood out for me from all of this reading:

  • It's a remarkable poem, but not one of CAS' best works of poetry.
  • It's not easy to read in a single setting, since there are weak sections that slow the reader's momentum.  With some editing to eliminate weak passages, perhaps it could have been a stronger work.
  • It's a critical work from CAS that absolutely deserves the large reputation it has earned.

The first two points above reflect the fact that "The Hashish-Eater" feels like something of a first draft, although I don't doubt that CAS edited and re-worked it over time.  But I suspect that editing was minimal, because he wanted to retain the immediacy of the work, and didn't strive to "polish" it as much as some of his other works.  This is purely speculation on my part.

That said, there is no doubt that the large ambition of "The Hashish-Eater" makes up a great part of the reward in reading it.  This poem can be considered something of a difficult masterpiece, similar to Arthur Machen's The Hill of Dreams, or to choose an even more remote example, Trout Mask Replica from Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band.  

In the preceding paragraph, I intentionally chose to link "The Hashish-Eater" to two works from media other than poetry, since I think they reflect similar artistic paradoxes.  In The Hill of Dreams, Arthur Machen delivers a narrative of ecstasy and despair, and the balance between those elements sometimes feels stretched to the point of awkwardness. Nonetheless, the novel is a brilliant rumination on the creative process, and absolutely worth reading despite its faults, since it is written with passion and a masterful use of the English language.

My musical example comes from a similar place.  Trout Mask Replica is a landmark album of experimental pop music, using unconventional compositional structures that challenge the listener to really pay attention and analyze what he or she is hearing.  For pure listening pleasure, the album is largely a failure.  As a wholly innovative approach to pop song deconstruction, it's a triumph.  Whether or not it appeals to an individual music fan depends on their willingness to embrace a work of art that demands real engagement.

And so back to "The Hashish-Eater".  There is most certainly real poetry in this work; here is an example from the second stanza:

                                                  I behold
In Ombos, where the fallen Titans dwell,
With mountain-builded walls, and gulfs for moat,
The secret cleft that cunning dwarves have dug
Beneath an alp-like buttress; and I list,
Too late, the clang of adamantine gongs
Dinned by their drowsy guardians, whose feet
Have felt the wasp-like sting of little knives
Embrued With slobber of the basilisk
Or the pale juice of wounded upas.

Moreover, this poem provides an interesting reflection on CAS' own personal views, as he articulated in a 1950 letter to Samuel J. Sackett, which is also available (with typos) on The Eldritch Dark:


In that letter, CAS writes (referring to "The Hashish-Eater"):

It is my own theory that if the infinite worlds of the cosmos were opened to human vision, the visionary would be overwhelmed by horror in the end, like the hero of this poem.

This relates back to a comment I made in my post about the Argument of 'The Hashish-Eater' where I pondered the poem's potential nihilistic quality.  Now having read the poem several times, I no longer think nihilism is the correct interpretation, but rather I think this work acknowledges the overwhelming vastness and indifference of the cosmos towards human affairs and concerns, a theme that occurs elsewhere in CAS' poetry.

So in the end, "The Hashish-Eater" strikes me as an unpolished gem, a work of vast scope and harsh resolution, executed with less formal technique than was the author's wont.  In its exotic visions of monstrosities and alien worlds, it points forward to the prose fiction that CAS would create in later years.  If the reading experience of "The Hashish-Eater" is uneven, it is nonetheless full of invention and grotesque magnificence, and is a major work of imaginative literature.

Friday, November 29, 2019

A diversion: S.T. Joshi on The Hashish-Eater

As I'm coming to terms with Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) mighty poem The Hashish-Eater, I've found an excellent introduction in S.T. Joshi's essay What Happens in The Hashish-Eater?*

As the title implies, Joshi's essay is a search for a coherent narrative thread in this epic poem, and he finds it by breaking down the text into four distinct sections (in the quote below, I've left out some references to CAS' "Argument" of The Hashish-Eater since I already covered that in my previous post):

  1. A general description of the narrator's visions (lines 1-171) 
  2. The narrator enters his visions and becomes a participant in them (lines 171-242)
  3. The narrator perceives an intruder into his visions (lines 242-283) and is pursued by a series of horrors (lines 283-476), including the monsters in those regions "that knew my trespassing" (line 417)
  4. Fleeing, the narrator nows falls into some strange realm (lines 476-582); the poem ends on a half-line to convey this sense of the narrator's absorption into this realm.

This strikes me as a reasonable approach to reading the poem while paying particular attention to its narrative aspects, and I'm planning to do that re-reading today.

*Available in The Freedom of Fantastic Things: Selected Criticism on Clark Ashton Smith from Hippocampus Press.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Argument of 'The Hashish-Eater'

Read "Argument of 'The Hashish-Eater'" at The Eldritch Dark:


I've now reached an important milestone in my journey through the poetry of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  I've been reading more-or-less chronologically through the corpus of CAS' poetry, and next up is his most well-known poem, "The Hashish-Eater; or, The Apocalypse of Evil".  

Clocking in at almost 600 lines, "The Hashish-Eater" is a significant work by any measure, and I'll be taking my time to read it, and also to read and reflect on some of the critical literature dealing this poem.  

Up first is a logical place to start, the "Argument" of the poem, in which CAS articulates the broad sweep of "what happens" in "The Hashish-Eater".  This short statement establishes a couple of key points; firstly, that the drug referred to in the title is used only as a symbol, and secondly that the terminus of the narrator's journey will bring him into contact with "the face of infinity itself, in all its awful blankness".  I am particularly interested in the phrase "awful blankness", implying that the poem's ultimate confrontation may have a nihilistic quality.  I'll see how true that is upon reading the poem!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Amor Aeternalis

Read "Amor Aeternalis" at The Eldritch Dark:


The title of this sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is Latin for "eternal love". Although these lines certainly express a bitter tone, it's hard not to enjoy the pure poetry at work here, especially in the closing sestet:

Away! I know the weariness and fever
Kisses compounded of the world's old dust
With fire that feeds the seventh hell for ever!
The grave shall keep a gentler couch than thine,
Though round my heart the roots of nettles twine,
Wreathed in the ancient attitude of lust.

If there was ever a true poetry that emerged from the end of a relationship gone wrong, this work is certainly it!

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Incubus of Time

Read "The Incubus of Time" at The Eldritch Dark:


This is a dour sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that casts the very phenomenon of time as an incubus, or an agent of nightmarish impact.  Many words and phrases echo a theme of languor: "dolorous", "Weariness", "leaden woe", "ennui".  Time is characterized as a malign overseer:

And the thousand-chorded monotones of pain
Irresolubly played and played again
On broken souls and bodies ruinous.

The immense futility expressed in the opening octet is somewhat relieved in the closing sestet by a wish for the ultimate act of rebellion, casting God himself to the pits below "in deathless overthrow".  

Despite the extremity of the vision presented, the invocation of the eternal punishment of Tantalus places these frustrations within a broader context, and this artful approach to a grim vision of relentless human suffering makes "The Incubus of Time" both powerful and oddly comforting for the reader.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

In Alexandria

Read "In Alexandria" at The Eldritch Dark:


Once again, we have a poem penned by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that he chose to attribute to one of his pseudonyms, Christophe des Laurières.  

I presume that the title refers to Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, which imbues the ancient city of Alexandria with characteristics sensual and languid, at least when compared to the somber and sensible city of Rome.  The threesome described in the poem may not be sourced directly from the events of Shakespeare's play, but nonetheless seems likely to have been inspired by it.

This is probably the most erotic poem by CAS that I have read so far, well in keeping with the works he chose to attribute to Christophe des Laurières.  But it also has a hint of the supernatural anchored by the very last line: "Deeper than death, we died and lived anew."

This combination of elements makes "In Alexandria" stand out from the other Christophe des Laurières poems, by presenting a more complex picture of eroticism that is quite thought-provoking.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

To a Northern Venus

Lately I've been reading through a batch of poems from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that were not published in his lifetime, and "To a Northern Venus" is another of these.  Since it's not available on The Eldritch Dark, I'll begin with the text itself:

I would not have you anywhere,
Save in some interspace of pines,
When the blue flame of day declines
On altars of the solemn air;

And all the woodland, warm with spice,
As from a hundred censers flown,
Hierophantic, weird, unknown,
Seems to await a sacrifice.

O, come and cast your veil aside!
No robe but does your beauty wrong:
This pilgrim Love, he hath not long
Between your foam-white breasts to bide.

Ah, paler for the shadows green
That gather your subtler form,
And waver on your lifted arm,
Like riven veils obscurely seen;

And fairer with your ashen hair
Enkindled by the sudden ray
Which is the backward glance of day
From oubliettes of burning air--

Come, child of Friga, made for love,
And let my arms your girdle be,
And give your pallid loins to me,
And all the secret fires thereof.

This poem is more erotic than has been typical of the work by CAS that I have read so far, and the invocation of Norse mythology and other references to the Scandinavian world are likewise new, although many of CAS' poems references Greek mythology.  

I'm somewhat neutral about this poem - it has some interesting imagery, but the language itself is rather pedestrian by CAS' standards, and the novel subject matter does not seem to have inspired him greatly.

Monday, November 4, 2019

A Memory

Here's another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that went unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Remember'st thou that day, my sweet,
          A thousand years agone,
When from the desert's glare and heat
          I came at set of sun,
To where with towers agleam,
Bagdad lay by the Tigris stream?

And I had ridden long and far
          Over the sands to thee
Thy face as a guiding star,
          Beckoning ever to me.
The burning miles were naught
Beloved, with thee in my thought.

For I was Bedouin bold and swart
          A robber and outlaw--
Chief of a band, and thou, my heart,
          Child of a proud pasha.

Unto to the garden at eve I went,
          Where weary was the air
With rose and jasmine subtly bent,
          And found thee waiting there.

Lo! Like the moon thou seemed to me
          Coming to light my dusk.
Aye, gloom and darkness fled from thee
          With breath of myrrh and musk,
And lovelit eyes and face,
Thou camest to my warm embrace. 

This poem does have the feel of a draft, given that some of the metrical patterns don't quite come off, and there are several awkward rhymes.  Moreover, it is little more than a slight piece of orientalism, in the vein of CAS' juvenile prose writings (see the Black Diamonds and The Sword of Zagan, both from Hippocampus Press).

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Oracle

"The Oracle" is another poem unpublished in Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) lifetime, and not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Life and time are changeful mist
          Of a never-changing sea;
          Death is also Vanity,
Said the Master Ironist.

Brief and to the point, this quatrain echoes themes found throughout CAS' poetic corpus, although it does so a little more bluntly than is typical of his work.  

Although some readers feel that CAS' writing has a tendency to long-windedness, I often find the subtle shades of meaning that he employs to reveal a thoughtful approach to his subjects, and "The Oracle" misses that usual mark with its rather directly cynical approach.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Ode to Aphrodite

"Ode to Aphrodite" is a poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was not published in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Empress who hast the fertile stars in fee,
And toiling worlds to serve thy dread desire!
Who guard'st thine empery,
In deep on sullen deep,
With watchful suns of infatiguéd fire!
Not with the Lesbian lyre
I sing, and not of easeful love and sleep--
Of arms and breasts that tire,
In brief, ecstatic throes,
On bed of shattered rose;
And not as they that worshipped thee of old,
I call on thine incomparable name,
And with no blasphemies of praise or blame:
Before thy hidden throne,
And thy veiled face, impassable, I hold
This iron harp of stridors manifold,--
And telling thy termless fame, 
In strophes durable as graven stone,
And loud as stricken gold!

In a letter to his mentor George Sterling*, CAS expressed his dissatisfaction with this ode:

I've written almost nothing.  I began an "Ode to Aphrodite", but gave it up as being too conventional.  I'm sick of the old subjects, the old images.  They've been mauled, and thumbed, and slobbered over by so many million poets.  Even blasphemy is trite,--God is a cliché.

Although his statement to Sterling bespeaks a period of frustration, it's hard to argue with CAS' analysis of "Ode to Aphrodite", which feels rather uninspired.  In general, I have not much warmed to those odes from CAS that I have read so far, given the rather stiff nature of the form, and "Ode to Aphrodite" simply reinforces that response.

*See letter #230 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Friday, November 1, 2019


This is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

All the world is green and sad...
If I were a little frog,
Sitting on a lily-pad
In a cool and splashy bog,
Would the world be green and glad?

This is certainly a minor item in CAS' corpus.  The subject and the technique feel so foreign to CAS' usual poetic voice that I would never have assumed "Speculation" to be his work unless it was included by reputable editors in a collection under his authorship!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

To Whom It May Concern

Read "To Whom It May Concern" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) feels quite bitter, and reminds me of his longer poem "The Doom of America" which I read earlier this year.  Both poems are written in blank verse and do not use any sort of regular meter, which suggests that both poems are somewhat unfinished, capturing particular moods of the poet without a great deal of re-work to bring them into a publishable state.

However, "To Whom It May Concern" uses a much less formal tone than "The Doom of America", making the sentiments expressed in it a little more raw.  While "To Whom It May Concern" is not a particularly notable poem, it is interesting to experience the unguarded emotion expressed in these lines, as a poetic soul lashes out at unnamed persons who are accused of lacking imagination and a sense of wonder.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Fronting the sunset's molten sea
          The pines rear sombre, motionless,
As if to watch those splendid tides
          Ebb westward past their ken or guess.

Sharply they cleave the breathless air
          Each tree a poignant silhouette.
Black outposts of the night they seem
          Athwart the dying daylight set.

Here we have another simple nature study from CAS, and once again it's remarkable that this poet so strongly associated with the cosmic and the weird is able to bring an authentic voice to a very different subject.  

Internal rhyme is the key to the steady pace of "Silhouette", particularly in the first two lines, where "m" and "s" sounds are carefully interweaved:

Fronting the sunset's molten sea
          The pines rear sombre, motionless

This makes for another case where I'm surprised that CAS chose to not publish this poem - it works wonderfully when read aloud, and the simple image captured in these lines is done so with just the right note of solemnity.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Dials

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

Thy gnomons, O Time, are many and multiform:
Ever and ever, on the path of the pursuing sun,
They trace in elusive shadow the irresolvable phantom of night.

This is among the shortest poems from CAS that I have read so far.  I know in later years CAS wrote verse in the haiku form, so "The Dials" is an interesting indication that short form poetry was already of interest to him early in his career.

Short though it is, I admire the way the text conveys the motion of the sun and the consequent changing shadow patterns of the gnomons.  In that sense, "The Dials" does possess the haiku-like character of capturing a fleeting thought or an impression of natural phenomenon.

Monday, October 28, 2019


Read "Tempus" at The Eldritch Dark:


This is yet another poem attributed to the spurious Frenchman Christophe des Laurières, but actually written by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).

As with the other poems attributed to des Laurières, this one has a mildly erotic character, although the central concept of lovers trying to forestall the passage of time is not particularly racy.  It's a minor poem.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Ghoul And the Seraph

Read "The Ghoul And the Seraph" at The Eldritch Dark:


There are unfortunately quite a few typos in the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark, so read with caution (and refer to a printed text if available).

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) described this poetic dialogue in a letter to his mentor George Sterling*:

I enclose a philosophical fantasy "The Ghoul And the Seraph."  Bender complains of the "pessimism" in it--which I can't "see."  The philosophical thesis is a plain statement of scientific fact--the immortality of matter, and the evanescence of and commutation of its forms.

It's hard to sympathize much with the peevish character of the Seraph in this dialogue, given that heavenly messenger first addresses the Ghoul with words such as:

                                       ..thy hands,
Like roots of cypresses uptorn in storm
That still retain their grisly provender,
Make the glad wine and manna of the skies
Turn to a qualmish sickness in my veins.

Luckily for the reader, the Ghoul can give as good as he gets:

And who art thou?— some white-faced fool of God,
With wings that emulate the giddy bird,
And bloodless mouth for ever filled with psalms
In lieu of honest victuals! 

CAS' philosophical goals for this text are beautifully articulated by the lyrical Ghoul:

                                                 ...for all is change—
Change, that hath wrought the chancre and the rose,
And wrought the star, and wrought the sapphire-stone,
And lit great altars, and the eyes of lions—
Change, that hath made the very gods from slime
Drawn from the pits of Python, and will fling
Gods and their builded heavens back again
To slime.

The Ghoul is wise, witty, and articulate, while the Seraph is alternately whiny and boastful.  I know whose side I'm on!

*See letter #216 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


Read "Solution" at The Eldritch Dark:


There is a significant typo in the very first line of the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark; the first line should read: "The ghostly fire that walks the fen".

I'm reading this poem just a few days before Halloween, and it's a perfect fit.  This also happens to be one of the early poems from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was published in Weird Tales magazine, and with its spooky atmosphere and hints of the supernatural, I'm not at all surprised that it found a home in The Unique Magazine.

While I wouldn't count "Solution" as one of CAS' more memorable poems, I am enamored of the lines "And though the toads' irrision rise / Like grinding of Satanic racks".  If that's not a perfect musical accompaniment to the Halloween season, I don't know what is!

Friday, October 25, 2019

In Lemuria

Read "In Lemuria" at The Eldritch Dark:


This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a heroic vein not so common to his work, as he invokes the legend of the lost continent of Lemuria.  It's interesting to see CAS using this sort of grand romantic tone, given the contrast with his more usual darker, mocking sensibility.

CAS' mentor George Sterling particularly liked the final line of this poem*: "Pallid and pure as jaspers from the moon."  That leads me to consider the many references to minerals and precious stones in these lines; here's a complete list:

  • gold
  • sapphires
  • Carnelians
  • opals
  • agates
  • almandines
  • pearl 
  • melanite
  • jaspers

On reflection, it does seem that CAS is perhaps over-using those references to establish his setting of riches and splendor, but somehow the geological geekiness of it all has an undeniable nerd appeal!

*See letter #215 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Ennuye

Read "The Ennuye" at The Eldritch Dark:


This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) went through a couple of title changes with accompanying revisions to the text.  Interestingly, this early version was published in his hometown newspaper, the Auburn Journal.

Even for CAS, this poem has a very dark tone.  As the narrator contemplates his life in the opening octet, he envisions the "acrid fruits of Sodom" and "Dull ashes from the urns of all the dead" raining down upon his days.  

In the closing sestet, he really drives the nail home: "My life, an isle in seas of languor lost" bespeaks the weariness inherent to the ennui the speaker is feeling, and conveys an idea of complete isolation that is quite chilling.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Beyond the Great Wall

Read "Beyond the Great Wall" at The Eldritch Dark:


As with his poem "Flamingoes" (which I read a few days ago), Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) sold "Beyond the Great Wall" to the geographical magazine Asia.  Both poems are rather slight, and one doesn't hear CAS' unique authorial voice come through these lines with any clarity.  

I think it's fair to consider these as poems that served to expose the poet to a wider audience, and perhaps to earn some money as well.  But within the scope of CAS' entire poetic corpus, these are at best very minor items.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

To Omar Khayyam

Read "To Omar Khayyam" at The Eldritch Dark:


Having not yet read the poetic works of Omar Khayyam myself, I'm obviously at a disadvantage in reflecting on this tribute poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  Nonetheless, these lines contain an abundance of CAS' characteristic beautiful language, such as:

Before thy gaze the sad unvaried green
The cypresses like robes funereal wear,
Was woven on the gradual looms of air
From threadbare silk and tattered sendaline
That clothed some ancient queen

I intend to read the Rubaiyat soon, and will likely re-visit this poem when I've had a chance to do so.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

For a Wine-Jar

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

When cup by cup the wine-bearer shall pour
For Omar and his guest my golden store,
Till only slow, black, sullen dregs remain--
Make haste, and fill me to the brim once more.

This little tribute to Omar Khayyam seems like an introduction to the next poem from CAS that I will be reading: "To Omar Khayyam".  Being unfamiliar with Khayyam's work, this is new territory for me, so I'm curious to see what CAS has to say in the longer poem.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Rosa Mystica

Read "Rosa Mystica" at The Eldritch Dark:


Given that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was not a very religious person, I read this poem as having no connection to the Catholic title associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Rather, I think CAS is using the "Mystical Rose" as a symbol for the fantastic wonders that always seem to be just out of reach, but which can be touched through imagination.  

The closing sestet is really quite beautiful:

On orient isles or isles hesperian,
Through mystic days ere mortal time began,
It flowered above the ever-flowering foam;
Or, legendless, in lands of yesteryear,
It flamed among the violets—near, how near
To unenchanted fields and hills of home!

CAS' verse so often appeals to the power of the imagination.  For me as a reader, I take strength from this articulation of the strength (and the hope) to be gained from embracing one's own creative forces.

Friday, October 18, 2019


Read "Flamingoes" at The Eldritch Dark:


This is a rather pleasant (if insubstantial) poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) which achieved magazine publication shortly after it was written in 1919.  Smith commented in a letter to George Sterling*:

I've sold a few thing during the past month...and two more ("Palms" and "Flamingoes") to a beautifully printed geographical magazine entitled "Asia", which pays 50¢ per line.

The fact that this poem was sold to a general interest magazine may account for the innocuous nature of its content.

*See letter #206 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Hope of the Infinite

Read "The Hope of the Infinite" at The Eldritch Dark:


This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a wonderfully lyric quality, best captured right at the end of the poem:

                              ....And I have ta'en
From storming seas by sunset glorified,
Or from the dawn of ashen wastes and wide,
Some light re-gathered from the lamps that wane,
And promise of a translunary Spain
Where loves forgone and forfeit dreams abide.

The "promise of a translunary Spain" perhaps does not sound so exotic one hundred years after CAS wrote these lines, but if one imagines a legendary Spain, the land of Don Quixote and Moorish alcazars, then the vision takes on the flavor of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom, and all the fantastic experiences to be found in such an alien locale.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Read "Heliogabalus" at The Eldritch Dark:


This sonnet is another of Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) purported translations from the French of Christophe des Laurières, a name which was simply a pseudonym for CAS himself.  The poem takes for its subject the Roman emperor Elagabalus, whose reputation has become emblematic of imperial decadence, much in the vein of the emperor Nero (about whom CAS also versified).

While this is not as effective a poem as "Nero," the first section nonetheless strikes some of the same notes used in that long poem, especially with the evocation of musical symbols:

To make of lyric deed and lyric thought
One music of perverse accord, wherein
The songless blatancy and banal din
Of all the world should perish

The phrase "One music of perverse accord" has a real power, and lingers in the mind with a malevolent potency.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Read "Symbols" at The Eldritch Dark:


The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a small typo in the second line: the mis-spelled word "vemilion" should be "vermilion."

With the corrected text, we have a powerful description of the artist and his muse(s), and it's hard to read these lines as anything other than a personal creative statement from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  His imagination is fired not by "gold and marble," but by things of a darker strain:

To body forth my fantasies, and show
Communicable mystery, I would find,
In adamantine darkness of the earth,
Metals of any sun; and bring
Black azures of the nether sea to birth—
Or fetch the secret, splendid leaves, and blind
Blue lilies of an Atlantean spring.

The phrase "Communicable mystery" has an echo of Arthur Machen's interest in the quality of "ecstasy" in literature, as detailed in his book Hieroglyphics (1902), a volume that CAS admired*.

*See letter #208 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.