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.

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