Sunday, September 22, 2019

At Sunrise

Read "At Sunrise" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) originally appeared in the collection Ebony and Crystal (1922), and was later updated for inclusion in CAS' Selected Poems (1971).  The changes were all in the second stanza, and they are quite interesting as a study in the poet's changing approach to his art over time.

In the original appearance in Ebony and Crystal, the second stanza read:

Within a crystal interlude,
Stillness and twilight rest awhile
Ere the bright snows, illumined, smile
From peaks where solemn purples brood;

For the appearance in Selected Poems, that same stanza was updated to:

Now, in a crystal interlude,
Stillness and twilight briefly rest,
Ere sudden gules illume the crest
Of peaks where solemn purples brood;

The third line includes the greatest extent of the edits, and there is a shift in tone between the two renditions.  The original line "Ere the bright snows, illumined, smile" not only animates the "bright snows" via the verb "smile", but the very charming nature of that particular verb lends the poem a certain lightness not generally found in CAS' verse.

When this stanza was included in Selected Poems, the re-worked third line shifted the action so that the snows on the montane summits are now passive, as the rays of the red sunrise "illume the crest / Of peaks".  The change from active to passive alters the tone of the middle stanza, as the sunrise takes on the role of causal agent, lending the stanza a remoter, less "friendly" feel.

The second version certainly feels more familiar to the work of CAS, with a more sedate intonation used throughout the entire poem.  But the variant reading in the original version is interesting for providing a different note from the voice of the younger poet as he was still learning and refining his craft.

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