Tuesday, August 6, 2019


Read "Arabesque" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was the opening piece in his second collection of poetry, the self-published Ebony and Crystal (1922).  Between that initial publication and the later inclusion in the career-spanning Selected Poems (1971), CAS changed a single line.  The original version of the second stanza read as follows:

The coldly colored rays illume
A leafy pattern manifold,
And all the field is overscrolled
With curiously figured gloom.

In the later published appearance, the first line of that stanza was changed to "Like orient lamps the rays illume".  I'm always curious to notice these changes, and think about their impact on the poem as a whole. 

In the case of "Arabesque", CAS uses the same line ("Like arabesques of ebony") to open the first and last stanzas, and the original version of the first line of the middle stanza did not really echo those phrases, although the revised version does.

In comparing how the two versions of the poem read, I find myself preferring the original version, since "The coldly colored rays illume" pairs nicely with the closing line of the same stanza ("With curiously figured gloom").  Taken together, the four lines of the original middle stanza introduce a darker element into "Arabesque" that has been somewhat lightened in the revised version, where the poem has a much gentler sense of melancholy.

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