Wednesday, August 14, 2019


Read "Strangeness" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) exists in several different versions.  When it was originally published in Ebony and Crystal (1922), it was composed of six stanzas of four lines each.  For a later appearance in Selected Poems (1971), it ran to five stanzas, and that same five-stanza version is available on The Eldritch Dark.

When the poem was later included in the three-volume set The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith (2008) from Hippocampus Press, it ran to seven stanzas.  In the notes to that edition, S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz note that their text restores one stanza that CAS had written in pen on the typescript for Selected Poems.

Since the version of the poem available at The Eldritch Dark is missing two of those stanzas, here's the complete text.  The stanzas not present on The Eldritch Dark are the fifth and seventh stanzas:

O love, thy lips are bright and cold,
Like jewels carven curiously
To symbols of a mystery,
A secret lost ere time was old.

Like woven amber, finely spun,
Thy hair, enwoofed with golden light,
Remembers yet the flaming flight
Of some unknown archaic sun.

Thine eyes are crystals green and chill,
Wherein, as in a shifting sea,
Wan fires and drowning lusters flee
To starless deeps for ever still.

Fallen across thy dreaming face,
The dawn is made a secret thing,
Like flame of crimson lamps that swing
In midnight caverns dim with space.

Thy smile is like the furtive gleam
Of fleeing moon a traveler sees
Through closing arms of cypress-trees
In secret lines of night and dream.

Sphinx-like, unsolved eternally,
Thy beauty's riddle doth abide,
And love hath come, and love hath died,
Striving to read the mystery.

Thy face a dream the dawn illumes
Makes mild and marvelous the light--
As flame from lamp of chrysolite
Amid an altar's azure fumes.

Each stanza focuses on one aspect of the physical embodiment of love.  In order, those points of focus are lips, hair, eyes, face, smile, beauty, and (once again) face.  The fact that two stanzas describe the face makes me suspect that CAS did not really intend for all seven stanzas to be a part of the final poem.

After all that, this poem is nothing particularly notable from the canon of CAS.  Many of the images are familiar from throughout his body of work, but in this particular poem they're not used in any especially interesting way.

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