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.

No comments:

Post a Comment