Monday, January 14, 2019

Epitaph for the Earth

Read "Epitaph for the Earth" at The Eldritch Dark:

In this early unpublished poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), we see once again the author's vision carrying us well past the timeline of human existence, simultaneously expressing a note of futility regarding the significance of that existence.  The closing stanza is powerful and really gets to the heart of the matter:

With hope of some far-off, supernal goal,
Changeless, and independent of the years
He strove on low and shifting ways, and sent
Commissioned dreams ethereal-wing’d before,
On summits that achievement’s laggard feet
Scarcely approached, till on one lesser peak
He knew his own futility at last—
Himself an immaterial trick of Chance.

In other poems by CAS that I have read so far, such as his tributes to George Sterling, the poet does express something of a confidence that great art can last.  And despite the grim closing lines noted above, "Epitaph for the Earth" also contains these more hopeful lines:

And man himself—
An evanescent peak of foam that pointed
One wave, subsided now, of matter’s tide
Leaves but bequest of stories that he took
From forms long antecedent, that were not
As he; that shall not thus combine again
In all the future sequences of Change.

The phrase "Leaves but bequest of stories that he took / From forms long antecedent" reinforces the idea that what our species may leave behind in the far reaches of the future is only our legends and tales.  That's a pleasing thought, since in so many ways those are indeed the greatest of our achievements.

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