Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Morning on An Eastern Sea

Read "Morning on An Eastern Sea" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime.  It does come across as something of an archaic exercise in Orientalism, and yet as is always the case with CAS, the strong pulse of the diction allows the work to really come alive when read aloud.

It's interesting to note alliteration throughout "Morning on An Eastern Sea" based on the letter "f", as in this wonderful line: "With figured foam as flowers wove therein".  

There are other uses of alliteration in this poem not built around the letter "f", but "fl" and "fr" sounds at the beginning of words are particularly prominent, and constitute a key part of the vocal rhythm of these lines, which almost cry out for musical accompaniment!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Mummy

Read "The Mummy" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has been the subject of a blog post from Mark Fuller Dillon, which is well worth reading:

Dillon's discussion focuses on several different techniques that CAS put to work in "The Mummy".  His mention of the use of alliteration in this poem is especially noteworthy, and If you look at the marked-up version of the poem included in Dillon's blog post, he has highlighted which lines incorporate the letter "m", as well as the handful of lines that do not.

Re-reading "The Mummy" after digesting Dillon's discussion is illuminating, and really brings out some of the rich alliterative phrasing that CAS chose, such as "Memphian gloom" and "mock the might of time".  This particular poem is one that really benefits from reading out loud, since the stately cadence of CAS' words is all the more impressive as it rolls off the tongue.

Monday, July 29, 2019


Read "Moon-Dawn" at The Eldritch Dark:

Here is a short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) which features a dramatic shift in tone between the two stanzas, somewhat reminiscent of the mid-point transition in "Lunar Mystery" (which I read yesterday).

In the opening stanza, CAS describes an evening landscape, and presents only a hint of darker things afoot, anchored by classical associations between the cypress and the underworld of Greek myth, as well as similar associations between the pine and immortality.

The second stanza intensifies things quite a bit, as the poet morphs the elements of his landscape into "Malignant hags" and "a demons' ark".  It almost feels like too much gothic drapery too soon, but I think CAS redeems the work in the final line where the moon "Is borne along the mystic lands".  This completes a connection to myth established by the presence of cypress and pine trees in the opening stanza.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Lunar Mystery

Read "Lunar Mystery" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a subtle beauty that builds slowly over the course of the seven stanzas.  What I find interesting is a transition from aural to visual diction over the course of these lines, with the break coming in the middle stanza.

For example, in the first three stanzas, we find lines such as:

  • In music leaned the languorous moon,
  • An ivory silence evermore,
  • Bemused, I saw the night's white song,

All of those lines combine the auditory with the visual, in very intriguing combinations.  But that which is being described is in fact visual, with the aural terms serving to enhance a sense of elusiveness.

In the middle (fourth) stanza, the narrator experiences an intrusion amid the serenity he has described thus far:

Then, to my spelled, reluctant ear,
A whisper louder than the light
Pierced as from alien presence near;

The whisper is described as "louder than the light", so there is a clear tension between what is heard and what is seen.

For the remaining three stanzas, the emphasis shifts to the visual, as in these examples:

  • A silver seraph of the moon
  • Save for a wind that briefly gleamed
  • And moonlight fluttering like a moth

There is a strong sense that this intruder, whatever it really is, has momentarily upset the balance of an otherwise tranquil scenario, and that intrusive (and yet elusive) "whisper" has displaced more pleasant phenomenon described in the first few stanzas.  

This poem has a real magic to it.  Nothing is ever described in concrete terms, and the beautiful descriptions with auditory attributes are intentionally illogical, and yet make perfect sense poetically.  Once again, CAS has floored me with his masterly grasp of his medium.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

In the Wind

Read "In the Wind" at The Eldritch Dark:

In common with "Fire of Snow" (which I read yesterday), this brief quatrain from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was first published in Poetry magazine in 1915.  Although that venue is not considered very hospitable to formalist poets such as CAS, it is still in publication more than one hundred years later, which is remarkable for a journal devoted to poetry.

The Poetry magazine archive has a digital scan of that original magazine appearance, which has both poems by CAS on the same page:

Despite the brevity of "In the Wind", these lines fully describe the kinetic experience of watching clouds move over the landscape, presumably on a sunny day.  Even within the restricted space of a single quatrain, CAS is able to use his technical gifts to capture the essence of a familiar experience.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Fire of Snow

Read "Fire of Snow" at The Eldritch Dark:

Each of the two stanzas in this sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) begin with the line "Pale fire of snow had lit the dusk for me".  The phrase "Pale fire" invokes the name of a well-known novel by Vladimir Nabokov, but of course that novel was written several decades after CAS' poem.

This poem plays to some of CAS' greatest strengths, as he builds a sense of mystery and foreboding in the opening octet, anchored by the narrator's statement "Astray with mind half-consciously intent".  The very vagueness of that statement indicates that even our narrator is experiencing an enigma and a sense of dislocation in these dark woods.

In the closing sestet, the trees have taken on the character of prison walls, and we get the sense that the narrator has reached something akin to the end of a journey, as he comes face-to-face with "the silence of a time-slain dream".

Although these lines have suggestions of the supernatural, nothing is explicit.  There are no sorcerers, mummies, or alien worlds.  And yet "Fire of Snow" fits comfortably into the tradition of weird poetry, without leaning on the clichés  associated with that genre to achieve its impact.  Great stuff all around!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Alien Memory

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

Thy body like to rosy ivory,
          The fervours of thy beauty warm and bare,
          I knew them all, I know not when nor where, 
In lands beside an amber-foaming sea.

Ah, once I found thee, lying by a palm
          Upon thy terraces of serpentine--
          Thy breast of dreams, voluptuous and divine
All given to the winds of myrrh and balm.

We saw the sun, a molten amethyst, 
          Sink in the scented seas of foam and fire,
                    And a slow night with ruby planets rise;

And all the night was curtain for our tryst,
                    And all thine eager breast, thy burning thighs,
          And amorous arms a couch for my desire.

This poem leans more to the erotic than anything by CAS that I have read so far, and yet the "alien" aspect referenced in the title intrigues me more than the naughtiness.  CAS builds his exotic atmosphere through inclusion of nouns describing rare and precious materials, such as ivory, serpentine, myrrh, and amethyst.  

It's a simple technique that produces a significant impact, since the scattering of these nouns throughout the text successfully builds a lush, outlandish atmosphere without drawing attention to the fact that the author is doing so.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


Read "Exotique" at The Eldritch Dark:

This lovely sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) contains good examples of the poet's use of alliteration and internal rhyme, as with these examples:

  • Whence perfume and whence poison rise unseen
  • Thy warm white limbs, thy loins of tropic snow—
  • For love and sleep and slow voluptuousness,

This poem also makes use of more conventional end rhymes. But for me as a reader, I find that CAS' use of additional rhymes within individual lines to be a powerful technique, since it avoids the problem of end rhymes having a distracting effect on the reader. 

I've mentioned on this blog before that in the hands of a lesser poet, the sing-songy nature of end rhymes can, especially when a poem is read alone, invoke the cadence of a nursery rhyme, which has the habit of shifting the focus of the poem to the sound of words, and away from any meaning the poet has tried to invest those words with.

Of course, the shift to the sound of words can often be an intentional aim of the poet.  But ideally, the writer should be able to find a balance between those approaches, such as Edgar Allan Poe did so famously in "The Raven".  I think CAS has accomplished something similar in "Exotique", where the careful pacing of rhymes enhances the musical nature of the work, while avoiding a complete shift towards the song form.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

One year of blogging about Clark Ashton Smith's poetry

I'm now just past the one-year anniversary of the first post to this blog, and this marks an initial milestone in my journey through the collected poetry of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  

When I started this blog, I had no way of knowing if I would be able to maintain my interest long enough to complete the journey.  Now that I've read well over two hundred poems in more-or-less chronological order, my enthusiasm for CAS' verse is greater than ever.  

While I do not consistently read a poem every day, I often do manage to do so over extended periods, and that pacing seems ideal.  There is no point attempting to binge-read the poetry of CAS, since his rich, symbolic, and sonorous language rewards careful re-reading, and focusing on one work a day allows me the time to investigate concordances elsewhere in his body of poetry, as well as in the secondary literature.

I've intentionally not counted the number of poems in The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith (the excellent edition from Hippocampus Press that I'm reading through).  So I have no idea how long this journey will take me, and that's all to the good - I'm in no hurry to reach the end!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Love Malevolent

Read "Love Malevolent" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a dark little number from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  In general, one could say that the theme of the evil lover is a tried trope, and I can't say that CAS does anything remarkable with the idea in these lines.  

This sonnet does have many echoes of "Duality", which I read yesterday.  Where that poem's imagery was lush and hypnotic, "Love Malevolent" uses some of the same elements (poisonous plants, snakes, a tomb) in a more explicitly gothic manner, and does so in the service of the rather simple notion of a dangerous lover.

Interestingly, CAS chose not to include this poem in his omnibus Selected Poems (1971), which makes me think that the author recognized it as not being one of his best works.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


Read "Duality" at The Eldritch Dark:

Although it was most likely written in 1915 or 1916, several years later (1923) this poem would become one of Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) early appearances in Weird Tales magazine, and his association with that publication would become a permanent part of his literary reputation.  The poem was re-titled "The Garden of Evil" for that appearance in Weird Tales.

What intrigues me is the original title: "Duality".  As any good poet does, CAS seems to have chosen his titles with great care, and so I can't help but read this poem while seeking to understand that particular choice by the creator.  From the very first line, CAS clearly presents his argument:

Thy soul is like a secret garden-close,

A "garden-close" suggests an enclosed space, in this case a secret, enclosed garden.  But this poem is addressed to an unknown someone, and that secret garden is a metaphor for their soul.  

Later in the poem, we encounter "the cypress-perchèd nightingale".  And I think that phrase is the key to the poem, and the source of the duality expressed in the title.  The nightingale has symbolic associations as a link between love and death (see for example John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale").  The placement of the nightingale in a cypress touches on the association of that tree with the underworld in Greek and Roman mythology.

The setting of this poem is someone's soul, rendered with sets of conflicting symbols.  The bergamot and the rose have vibrant, life-affirming suggestions (think of the intense citrus scent of the former), but these contrast with the poisonous aconite and mandragora.  

Right at the very end of the poem, CAS gives us a striking image:

...the silver-bellied serpents pale
Their ruby eyes amid the blossoms ope,
To lift and listen in the ghostly gloom.

The serpents have heard the nightingale's song, and although our scene is wrapped in "ghostly gloom", it's important to note that those same serpents have opened their eyes "amid the blossoms".  As noted above, those blossoms are a combination of beneficial and inimical plants.

In "Duality", CAS has given us a gorgeous portrait of a real human soul in which the good and the bad and always present, and the balance between those elements is always in flux.  Perhaps this poem has a tilt toward the melancholy, what with "the moon's phantasmal fingers" and "the marbles of a hidden tomb", but the melancholic aspect of these lines is not the totality.  

Experiencing a poem like "Duality" is the reward for my long journey through the complete poetic works of Clark Ashton Smith.  This is not among his most famous verses, but it is outstanding, and my life is the richer for having read it. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Flight of Azrael

Read "The Flight of Azrael" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) used the poetic dialogue sparingly, but of the three such works I have read so far, they have all been excellent, and it seems like a formal structure that worked well for his particular creative inclinations.

As with many other pieces that flowed from his pen, here CAS' mood is rather gloomy, yet powerful and true:

                              It is the Earth,
A hoary planet, old in wrath and woe
As any hell. Red pestilence and war
Have now refunded to the usuring wind
The breath of all its peoples;

The cosmic vision that informs many of CAS' best verses provides the momentum in these lines, and some of the individual phrases have a dramatic focus that is breathtaking: "the thin wind / Will write man's epitaph in shifting sand".  

In the worlds that CAS created, nothing is permanent, and none of humanity's creations will last. But that notion never seems morbid in the hands of this poet, since his recognition of the temporality of Beauty encourages his readers to make the effort to appreciate what we have right now.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Mirrors of Beauty

Read "The Mirrors of Beauty" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was heavily revised between the original publication in Ebony and Crystal (1922) and the later compilation in Selected Poems (1971).

Although changes were made throughout the poem, it's interesting to examine the closing stanza in detail, since I think that's the best part, whether in the original or the revised version.  The original sestet reads:

Often, upon the solitary sea,
She lieth, ere the wind shall gather breath—
One with the reflex of infinity;
In pools profounder for the twilight sky,
Her vision dwells, or in the poet's eye,
Or the black crystal of the eyes of Death.

The change comes in lines four and five of the sestet, which were revised to:

In oriels filled with some conflagrant sky
Her vision dwells, or in the ring-dove's eye,

I have to say that in this case, I like the original version better, for two reasons.  Firstly, the revised line "In oriels filled with some conflagrant sky" is awkward, since "conflagrant" is just not a very musical word, and makes for a clumsy adjective to apply to the simple noun "sky".  Secondly, the original phrase "in the poet's eye" places the artist within the context of the poem, which reinforces the theme of reflecting upon Beauty.  The ring-dove may have some symbolic association that I'm missing, but the switch from the poet to the dove seems to lose an aspect of the original sonnet that was important to the appreciation of the work as a whole.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Blindness of Orion

Read "The Blindness of Orion" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poetic retelling of part of the Greek myth of Orion is fairly straightforward, and doesn't demonstrate many of the verbal flourishes that typically make even weaker poems by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) worth the reading.  Not that it's a bad poem, but given that it's little more than a recitation of the story of Orion regaining his sight, CAS doesn't seem to have found many opportunities to really flex his creative muscles.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The City in the Desert

Read "The City in the Desert" at The Eldritch Dark:

A note accompanying this poem from Clark Ashton Smith states:

These lines were remembered out of a dream, and are given verbatim.

Taking the poet at his word, it's remarkable that such a complete work would flow directly from the experience of a dream, but on the other hand, there are some technical faults with these lines that make it easier to believe the origin story as given.

Even more remarkable is that the young CAS could dream lines with obscure words like "anademe", "damassin", and "madreperl", none of which my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary will make peace with.

And yet, this is still a great poem.  Gorgeous phrases like "Among horizons bright as molten brass, / And glowing heavens like furnaces of glass," you don't find just anywhere, and CAS' habitual tropes of the desert, Titans, etc lose none of their poetic power, despite their familiarity.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Memnon At Midnight

Read "Memnon At Midnight" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) solicited positive comments from his mentor George Sterling in a couple of different letters from 1915 and 1916.  I find this comment from Sterling to be particularly apropos*:

Thanks for the "Memon at Midnight"--a great sonnet, with the sound of all the seas in it. 

CAS does indeed pepper the opening octet with words and phrases invoking water, although it seems to me his diction invokes the kinetic nature of a river or creek: "lone monarchal stream", "waters flowed like sleep forevermore."

With that musical flow in mind, I can't help but focus on the use of internal rhyme in this poem.  A couple of examples are shown in bold below:

  • How many a ghostly god around his throne,
  • With thronging wings that were forgotten Fames,

This selective use of internal rhyme, particularly in the closing sestet, gives the poem a propulsive power beyond what is provided by the end rhymes alone, especially since end rhymes encourage the reader to pause for a moment before moving onto the next line.  

CAS does not use these middle rhymes consistently throughout the poem, and I think that was a smart decision on his part, since the over-use of rhyme in a poem can be quite distracting to the reader.  

*See letter #145 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Poetic Principle"

I recently read Edgar Allan Poe's essay "The Poetic Principle", and found some striking passages therein that seem quite applicable to the artistic inclinations of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), at least as I understand them from reading his poems.

The complete essay can be found at the website of The Edgar Allan Poe Society 

of Baltimore:

The part of this essay I find most interesting occurs about half way through the text:

I would define, in brief, the Poetry of words as The Rhythmical Creation of Beauty. Its sole arbiter is Taste. With the Intellect or with the Conscience, it has only collateral relations. Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever either with Duty or with Truth.
A few words, however, in explanation. That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating, and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the Beautiful. In the contemplation of Beauty we alone find it possible to attain that pleasurable elevation, or excitement, of the soul, which we recognise as the Poetic Sentiment, and which is so easily distinguished from Truth, which is the satisfaction of the Reason, or from Passion, which is the excitement of the heart. I make Beauty, therefore — using the word as inclusive of the sublime — I make Beauty the province of the poem, simply because it is an obvious rule of Art that effects should be made to spring as directly as possible from their causes: — no one as yet having been weak enough to deny that the peculiar elevation in question is at least most readily attainable in the poem. It by no means follows, however, that the incitements of Passion, or the precepts of Duty, or even the lessons of Truth, may not be introduced into a poem, and with advantage; for they may subserve, incidentally, in various ways, the general purposes of the work: — but the true artist will always contrive to tone them down in proper subjection to that Beauty which is the atmosphere and the real essence of the poem.

That's a long quotation, but I think it's highly relevant to the poetic work of CAS.  Many a poem from the Bard of Auburn features Beauty as a theme; one example which I recently read is "Beauty Implacable":

It seems natural for a poet to be focused on Beauty as a theme and subject, for as Poe notes in his essay, 

In the contemplation of Beauty we alone find it possible to attain that pleasurable elevation, or excitement, of the soul, which we recognise as the Poetic Sentiment...Beauty which is the atmosphere and the real essence of the poem.

From Poe's manifesto I sense the origins of CAS' own creative agenda.  While I don't know for sure that CAS read this particular essay, I strongly suspect that he did, since he was a great admirer of Poe, and this particular essay is a well-known item from Poe's oeuvre.  

That these two artists had similar inclinations is no surprise, but I appreciate Poe's thoughtful argument both because I agree with it, and because it sheds some light on CAS' own convictions as a creator.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


Read "Inheritance" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a grim exercise in blank verse from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), and that closing stanza packs a wallop:

With dustiness and night
Upon thy mouth of stary proud desire,
With slumber for thy dreams, thou wilt repose,
Nor startle when the lazy, loitering worm
Is slow to leave the tavern of thy brain.

The image of the "loitering worm...slow to leave the tavern of thy brain" is practically a complete poem all by itself.  

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Psalm to the Desert

Read "Psalm to the Desert" at the Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) adopts an unusual poetic form in this piece, one that I have not yet seen among his early poems.  A psalm usually implies distinct religious purpose, and regarded in that vein, this piece does make a certain sense given how the subject matter applies to CAS' predilections.  

While the poem itself is no standout artistically speaking, that very subject matter prompted an interesting back-and-forth in correspondence between CAS and his mentor George Sterling.  In a letter to Sterling from February 1915*, CAS wrote: 

It's rather rough and hurried, and dismal even for a Bible parody.

In a return letter**, Sterling commented:

Your "Psalm to the Desert" has much imagination and sublimity in it, as has so much of your work.  Even at that, I'm hoping you'll turn to other themes before long.  The Abyss obsesses you overmuch.  Still, who could ever "write it out?"

What really impresses me is the next entry in this postal dialog, where CAS stands his ground in terms of his creative inclinations***:

Your comments on "The Psalm to the Desert" are quite just.  Still, why shouldn't the thing be written?  It's quite true, and even original, since no one ever wrote anything really like it on the subject before, to my knowledge--Why shouldn't the Abyss be the dominant theme of my work?...I've plenty of other themes tho the ideas of change and death and evanescence will continue to be the ground-tones of my work.

I've quoted only part of the relevant letter from CAS to Sterling above, but it is worth reading in its entirety as a significant artistic statement from the young poet (see notes below for information on the excellent volume from Hippocampus Press containing these letters and much more).

CAS was an unusually talented young man, only in his early twenties at the time "Psalm to the Desert" was written.  It is therefore notable that he accepted criticism from an older, more established poet that he admired, and yet stood his ground as a creator possessed of a surety of purpose.  During his lifetime, CAS would receive some scattered recognition for his abilities, but achieved little in the way of financial returns for his efforts.  And yet even at a young age his creative agenda was clear to him, and I believe he stuck close to that agenda for the rest of his life.  That is a quality I admire greatly.

*See letter #127 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

**See letter 128 in the same source.

***See letter 129 in the same source.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Harlot of the World

Read "The Harlot of the World" at The Eldritch Dark:

Well this one isn't very subtle!  Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) takes Life as his subject in this poem, and his feelings are not nuanced:

Only an eye, subornless by delight,

Shall find, within thy phosphorescent gaze,
Those caverns of corruption and despair
Where the Worm toileth in the charnel night.

This is dark stuff, and suggests an attitude of frustration that might border on the suicidal.  But for a determined artist like CAS, life is not forgiving, and we can be thankful that he lived a full life and died of natural causes at a decently advanced age.  He continued his creative pursuits all throughoyt those years, for which we are much the richer.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Beyond the Door

Read "Beyond the Door" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is an enchanting portrait of a sleeper waking from a dream.  While there's nothing very notable going on in these lines, this work still demonstrates that even a minor, unpublished verse from CAS is always worth the reading.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Aspect of Iron

This unpublished poem by Clark Ashton Smith is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

From iron mountains graven on the sky--
          A sharp horizon past the burnished noon
          And all the desert's grasp of bronze--were hewn
Amidst remote, mute giant Memnons high 

The granite sentries of eternity
          That stand distinct above each brazen dune,
          Or glittering lutes, metallic to the moon,
And on whose breast the shields of mornings lie.

All other lands I know are not as this:
          Girt with strange rigors of definitude,
          Exactnesses of iron permanence
As the last height that fronts the last abyss.

This poem reads to me like a draft, in that some of the diction doesn't quite flow, which is unusual for CAS' completed poems.  Some specific lines seem quite awkward, for example:

Girt with strange rigors of definitude,

"Definitude" is a difficult word to work into poetic rhythms, and the use of the word "Exactnesses" on the following line has much the same sort of problem.

It's interesting to see such an incomplete item from CAS, since it reinforces that notion that his finished poems were carefully wrought, requiring much editing and re-writing to get to a final form that satisfied the author.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Ancient Quest

Read "The Ancient Quest" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem was unpublished during the lifetime of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  It touches on themes addressed in many other verses from the same author, and there's nothing in particular that marks this poem as a standout.  Nonetheless, the second stanza does shine through with a strong sense of finality in reference to the light of stars:

Had we but sight to see and comprehend,
Your countless fires were as a language plain
To tell us all that we have sought in vain;
The quest were at an end.

That stanza, like all of the others in "The Ancient Quest", begins with three lines of pentameter (five metrical feet) and ends with a single line of trimeter (three metrical feet).  I do find that unusual rhythm very compelling, since the shortened final lines provide a sort of hard stop, to let the content of the stanza sink in before the reader continues to the following stanza.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Nameless Wraith

Read "The Nameless Wraith" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was apparently written early in his career, but not published until close to the end of his life in the collection Spells and Philtres (1958).

What captures my attention in these lines is CAS' use of adjectives and adverbs emphasizing vagueness, loss, and mystery, beginning with "Nameless" in the title itself.  Other such word choices in the poem are:

  • ineffably
  • strange
  • hueless
  • immemorial
  • Doubtfully
  • unvisioned
  • unsounding

Having re-read the poem several times, I find this over-reliance on word modifiers to establish the mood of the work to be somewhat distracting, since it comes at the expense of the more vigorous nouns and verbs that are CAS' more usual stock-in-trade.  Of course, the title lets the reader know immediately that something nebulous is afoot, but CAS covers similar thematic territory in other works with more finesse.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Beauty Implacable

Read "Beauty Implacable" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is an intriguing portrait of Beauty as a harsh mistress, and does seem to read as a declaration by the poet himself, given what I know of Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) artistic inclinations.  

Given that CAS was likely just in his early twenties when he wrote these lines, they have a remarkable maturity, given that the sentiments expressed could well lend themselves to purple prose and exaggerated dramatic flourishes.  All of those boiling emotions are present, yet rendered with a restraint that does not hinder the meaning:

I, desolate with Beauty, and undone,
Say Death is not so strong to change or mar,
And Love and Life not so desired as she.

Those three lines by themselves possess a rare music, and it's hard to see how they could be improved.  

Thursday, July 4, 2019

A Phantasy of Twilight

Read "A Phantasy of Twilight" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem was unpublished in Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) lifetime, and it does strike me as a rather minor work within his poetic corpus.  Nonetheless, the final stanza does have some undeniable music:

And, lo, from courts and arches, unconfined,
Rode forth, unto some desert bourn assigned,
          The evanescent pomps of ghostly dust,
On thin and momentary manes of wind!

Phrases like "The evanescent pomps of ghostly dust" are what keep me happily reading through the entirety of CAS' poetic catalogue - even in one of his lesser works, his tremendous facility with the English language creates small moments of magic that are always worth the reading.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

The Orchid of Beauty

Read "The Orchid of Beauty" at The Eldritch Dark:

I'm going to get a little nit-picky here.  This sonnet by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was originally published in Ebony and Crystal (1922), and revised slightly for inclusion in the career-spanning Selected Poems (1971).  

The original title was simply "The Orchid", but that's not of particular interest.

The only change was to line nine, the first line of the closing sestet.  The first version of that line reads:

Colours, and gleams, and glamours unrecalled,

The later version from Selected Poems reads:

Colors, and glints, and glamors unrecalled,

I much prefer the earlier version, since the pararhyme flows smoothly from "Colours" to "gleams" to glamours".  The later version replaces the word "gleams" with "glints", a word choice that breaks the subtle rhyme and loses some of the musical character present in the original version.

Like I said, I'm being a little nit-picky, but it's my blog, so I got that right!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The City of Destruction

Read "The City of Destruction" at The Eldritch Dark:

As with "To Beauty", which I read yesterday, this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is described as a fragment, and was later re-worked into a prose poem with the same title.

What catches my attention in reading "The City of Destruction" is the prominent use of internal rhyme, a technique not much evident in the early poems from CAS that I have read so far.  All of the stanzas include these middle rhymes, as is demonstrated with the first couplet shown below, where the rhyming words are bolded:

The incognizable kings of Night, within their unrevealed abyss,
Have built them a metropolis against the kingdoms of the light.

I find these internal rhymes very appealing, since the more traditional end rhyme, in the hands of lesser poets, can have a sing-songy character that distracts from the content of the words.  CAS was such a skilled poet that his end rhymes rarely suffer from this particular problem, but nonetheless I think "The City of Destruction" benefits from the use of internal rhyme, and does so with amazing impact:

The Powers to darkness ministrant have fortressed them supremely well,
Building their dreadful citadel with massed, eternal adamant

Quarried from the core entire of suns that night and ice entomb;
Their secret furnaces relume the stone that once was stellar fire.

What to say?  When CAS' poetic powers are in full evidence, no other writer can equal the scope of his imagination, and his ability to translate those imaginative flights into words is breathtaking - he was truly sui generis.

Monday, July 1, 2019

To Beauty

Read "To Beauty" at The Eldritch Dark:

While this poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is described as a fragment, it seems to be a fairly polished work in terms of structure and completeness of thought.  The following  lines are particularly powerful, with the "who" referred to here being the "advancing heavens" mentioned earlier in the poem:

Who bruit thy briefest word
In cyclic thunders heard
By gods upon their echo-shaken throne;

Describing "gods upon their echo-shaken throne" is the sort of seed that only CAS can plant in the reader's imagination!

What's really interesting about this poem is that CAS has equated the broad concept of beauty with the immensity of the cosmos, and he even suggests that Beauty has dominion over those vast reaches of interstellar space.  Given that mankind had not yet even reached low earth orbit when CAS wrote this in the very early twentieth century, the scope of his imaginative powers is impressive.