Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Masque of Forsaken Gods

Read "The Masque of Forsaken Gods" at The Eldritch Dark:

Although I am reading the poems of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) in more-or-less chronological order (as presented in the Joshi and Schultz edition of the complete poetry), I have previously read some of his later works, and thus "The Masque of Forsaken Gods" reminds me of "The Centaur", given that both poems share the theme of departed beauty personified by gods and creatures from Greek mythology.

"The Masque of Forsaken Gods" is the first poetic dialogue by CAS that I have read (although I believe he wrote other such verses).  While it is a longer take on the subject than "The Centaur", this work has many passages of unusual power, as exemplified in the opening stanza attributed to The Poet:

Here were the theater of a miracle,
If such, within a world long alienate
From its first dreams, and shut with skeptic years,
Might now befall.

The setting is "A moonlit glade on a summer midnight", and The Poet recognizes that such a locale might indeed play host to rare events.  The Philosopher joins The Poet in the dialogue, and as both intuit what might happen, the gods do indeed appear and join the conversation, as do a pair of nymphs, the first of whom gets the best lines of all:

How can the world be still so beautiful
When beauty's self is fled? 'Tis like the mute
And marble loveliness of some dead girl;
And we that hover here are as the spirit
Of former voice and motion and live color
In that which shall not stir nor speak again.

This seems to be the crux of the argument - beauty still surrounds us, but we can no longer really sense or appreciate it.  In the poem's final stanza, The Gods Together use the striking phrase "The tyranny of nothingness", which seems an apt summation of a world in which beauty has lost its power over the souls of men.

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