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.

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