Thursday, October 31, 2019

To Whom It May Concern

Read "To Whom It May Concern" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) feels quite bitter, and reminds me of his longer poem "The Doom of America" which I read earlier this year.  Both poems are written in blank verse and do not use any sort of regular meter, which suggests that both poems are somewhat unfinished, capturing particular moods of the poet without a great deal of re-work to bring them into a publishable state.

However, "To Whom It May Concern" uses a much less formal tone than "The Doom of America", making the sentiments expressed in it a little more raw.  While "To Whom It May Concern" is not a particularly notable poem, it is interesting to experience the unguarded emotion expressed in these lines, as a poetic soul lashes out at unnamed persons who are accused of lacking imagination and a sense of wonder.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Fronting the sunset's molten sea
          The pines rear sombre, motionless,
As if to watch those splendid tides
          Ebb westward past their ken or guess.

Sharply they cleave the breathless air
          Each tree a poignant silhouette.
Black outposts of the night they seem
          Athwart the dying daylight set.

Here we have another simple nature study from CAS, and once again it's remarkable that this poet so strongly associated with the cosmic and the weird is able to bring an authentic voice to a very different subject.  

Internal rhyme is the key to the steady pace of "Silhouette", particularly in the first two lines, where "m" and "s" sounds are carefully interweaved:

Fronting the sunset's molten sea
          The pines rear sombre, motionless

This makes for another case where I'm surprised that CAS chose to not publish this poem - it works wonderfully when read aloud, and the simple image captured in these lines is done so with just the right note of solemnity.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Dials

Here's another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Thy gnomons, O Time, are many and multiform:
Ever and ever, on the path of the pursuing sun,
They trace in elusive shadow the irresolvable phantom of night.

This is among the shortest poems from CAS that I have read so far.  I know in later years CAS wrote verse in the haiku form, so "The Dials" is an interesting indication that short form poetry was already of interest to him early in his career.

Short though it is, I admire the way the text conveys the motion of the sun and the consequent changing shadow patterns of the gnomons.  In that sense, "The Dials" does possess the haiku-like character of capturing a fleeting thought or an impression of natural phenomenon.

Monday, October 28, 2019


Read "Tempus" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is yet another poem attributed to the spurious Frenchman Christophe des Laurières, but actually written by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).

As with the other poems attributed to des Laurières, this one has a mildly erotic character, although the central concept of lovers trying to forestall the passage of time is not particularly racy.  It's a minor poem.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Ghoul And the Seraph

Read "The Ghoul And the Seraph" at The Eldritch Dark:

There are unfortunately quite a few typos in the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark, so read with caution (and refer to a printed text if available).

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) described this poetic dialogue in a letter to his mentor George Sterling*:

I enclose a philosophical fantasy "The Ghoul And the Seraph."  Bender complains of the "pessimism" in it--which I can't "see."  The philosophical thesis is a plain statement of scientific fact--the immortality of matter, and the evanescence of and commutation of its forms.

It's hard to sympathize much with the peevish character of the Seraph in this dialogue, given that heavenly messenger first addresses the Ghoul with words such as:

                                       ..thy hands,
Like roots of cypresses uptorn in storm
That still retain their grisly provender,
Make the glad wine and manna of the skies
Turn to a qualmish sickness in my veins.

Luckily for the reader, the Ghoul can give as good as he gets:

And who art thou?— some white-faced fool of God,
With wings that emulate the giddy bird,
And bloodless mouth for ever filled with psalms
In lieu of honest victuals! 

CAS' philosophical goals for this text are beautifully articulated by the lyrical Ghoul:

                                                 ...for all is change—
Change, that hath wrought the chancre and the rose,
And wrought the star, and wrought the sapphire-stone,
And lit great altars, and the eyes of lions—
Change, that hath made the very gods from slime
Drawn from the pits of Python, and will fling
Gods and their builded heavens back again
To slime.

The Ghoul is wise, witty, and articulate, while the Seraph is alternately whiny and boastful.  I know whose side I'm on!

*See letter #216 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


Read "Solution" at The Eldritch Dark:

There is a significant typo in the very first line of the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark; the first line should read: "The ghostly fire that walks the fen".

I'm reading this poem just a few days before Halloween, and it's a perfect fit.  This also happens to be one of the early poems from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was published in Weird Tales magazine, and with its spooky atmosphere and hints of the supernatural, I'm not at all surprised that it found a home in The Unique Magazine.

While I wouldn't count "Solution" as one of CAS' more memorable poems, I am enamored of the lines "And though the toads' irrision rise / Like grinding of Satanic racks".  If that's not a perfect musical accompaniment to the Halloween season, I don't know what is!

Friday, October 25, 2019

In Lemuria

Read "In Lemuria" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a heroic vein not so common to his work, as he invokes the legend of the lost continent of Lemuria.  It's interesting to see CAS using this sort of grand romantic tone, given the contrast with his more usual darker, mocking sensibility.

CAS' mentor George Sterling particularly liked the final line of this poem*: "Pallid and pure as jaspers from the moon."  That leads me to consider the many references to minerals and precious stones in these lines; here's a complete list:

  • gold
  • sapphires
  • Carnelians
  • opals
  • agates
  • almandines
  • pearl 
  • melanite
  • jaspers

On reflection, it does seem that CAS is perhaps over-using those references to establish his setting of riches and splendor, but somehow the geological geekiness of it all has an undeniable nerd appeal!

*See letter #215 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Ennuye

Read "The Ennuye" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) went through a couple of title changes with accompanying revisions to the text.  Interestingly, this early version was published in his hometown newspaper, the Auburn Journal.

Even for CAS, this poem has a very dark tone.  As the narrator contemplates his life in the opening octet, he envisions the "acrid fruits of Sodom" and "Dull ashes from the urns of all the dead" raining down upon his days.  

In the closing sestet, he really drives the nail home: "My life, an isle in seas of languor lost" bespeaks the weariness inherent to the ennui the speaker is feeling, and conveys an idea of complete isolation that is quite chilling.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Beyond the Great Wall

Read "Beyond the Great Wall" at The Eldritch Dark:

As with his poem "Flamingoes" (which I read a few days ago), Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) sold "Beyond the Great Wall" to the geographical magazine Asia.  Both poems are rather slight, and one doesn't hear CAS' unique authorial voice come through these lines with any clarity.  

I think it's fair to consider these as poems that served to expose the poet to a wider audience, and perhaps to earn some money as well.  But within the scope of CAS' entire poetic corpus, these are at best very minor items.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

To Omar Khayyam

Read "To Omar Khayyam" at The Eldritch Dark:

Having not yet read the poetic works of Omar Khayyam myself, I'm obviously at a disadvantage in reflecting on this tribute poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  Nonetheless, these lines contain an abundance of CAS' characteristic beautiful language, such as:

Before thy gaze the sad unvaried green
The cypresses like robes funereal wear,
Was woven on the gradual looms of air
From threadbare silk and tattered sendaline
That clothed some ancient queen

I intend to read the Rubaiyat soon, and will likely re-visit this poem when I've had a chance to do so.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

For a Wine-Jar

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

When cup by cup the wine-bearer shall pour
For Omar and his guest my golden store,
Till only slow, black, sullen dregs remain--
Make haste, and fill me to the brim once more.

This little tribute to Omar Khayyam seems like an introduction to the next poem from CAS that I will be reading: "To Omar Khayyam".  Being unfamiliar with Khayyam's work, this is new territory for me, so I'm curious to see what CAS has to say in the longer poem.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Rosa Mystica

Read "Rosa Mystica" at The Eldritch Dark:

Given that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was not a very religious person, I read this poem as having no connection to the Catholic title associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Rather, I think CAS is using the "Mystical Rose" as a symbol for the fantastic wonders that always seem to be just out of reach, but which can be touched through imagination.  

The closing sestet is really quite beautiful:

On orient isles or isles hesperian,
Through mystic days ere mortal time began,
It flowered above the ever-flowering foam;
Or, legendless, in lands of yesteryear,
It flamed among the violets—near, how near
To unenchanted fields and hills of home!

CAS' verse so often appeals to the power of the imagination.  For me as a reader, I take strength from this articulation of the strength (and the hope) to be gained from embracing one's own creative forces.

Friday, October 18, 2019


Read "Flamingoes" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a rather pleasant (if insubstantial) poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) which achieved magazine publication shortly after it was written in 1919.  Smith commented in a letter to George Sterling*:

I've sold a few thing during the past month...and two more ("Palms" and "Flamingoes") to a beautifully printed geographical magazine entitled "Asia", which pays 50¢ per line.

The fact that this poem was sold to a general interest magazine may account for the innocuous nature of its content.

*See letter #206 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Hope of the Infinite

Read "The Hope of the Infinite" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a wonderfully lyric quality, best captured right at the end of the poem:

                              ....And I have ta'en
From storming seas by sunset glorified,
Or from the dawn of ashen wastes and wide,
Some light re-gathered from the lamps that wane,
And promise of a translunary Spain
Where loves forgone and forfeit dreams abide.

The "promise of a translunary Spain" perhaps does not sound so exotic one hundred years after CAS wrote these lines, but if one imagines a legendary Spain, the land of Don Quixote and Moorish alcazars, then the vision takes on the flavor of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom, and all the fantastic experiences to be found in such an alien locale.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Read "Heliogabalus" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet is another of Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) purported translations from the French of Christophe des Laurières, a name which was simply a pseudonym for CAS himself.  The poem takes for its subject the Roman emperor Elagabalus, whose reputation has become emblematic of imperial decadence, much in the vein of the emperor Nero (about whom CAS also versified).

While this is not as effective a poem as "Nero," the first section nonetheless strikes some of the same notes used in that long poem, especially with the evocation of musical symbols:

To make of lyric deed and lyric thought
One music of perverse accord, wherein
The songless blatancy and banal din
Of all the world should perish

The phrase "One music of perverse accord" has a real power, and lingers in the mind with a malevolent potency.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Read "Symbols" at The Eldritch Dark:

The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a small typo in the second line: the mis-spelled word "vemilion" should be "vermilion."

With the corrected text, we have a powerful description of the artist and his muse(s), and it's hard to read these lines as anything other than a personal creative statement from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  His imagination is fired not by "gold and marble," but by things of a darker strain:

To body forth my fantasies, and show
Communicable mystery, I would find,
In adamantine darkness of the earth,
Metals of any sun; and bring
Black azures of the nether sea to birth—
Or fetch the secret, splendid leaves, and blind
Blue lilies of an Atlantean spring.

The phrase "Communicable mystery" has an echo of Arthur Machen's interest in the quality of "ecstasy" in literature, as detailed in his book Hieroglyphics (1902), a volume that CAS admired*.

*See letter #208 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Monday, October 14, 2019


Read "Quest" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) features shorter lines than is typical for his poetry, using a more-or-less ballad form.  This gives the poem a reading that is closer to a song form than one typically finds in CAS' work, and in this particular case, the results don't seem very successful to me.  There are some strong passages, such as the following:

Where the twisted willows lean
In their strange, tormented woe,
Seeing, on the streamlet's flow,
Half their fragile leaves depart

However, taken as a whole, the poem has an insubstantial feel, as though this were not a work that CAS put much effort into.  

"Quest" did apparently see a couple of publications in periodicals shortly after it was written, and one of these appearances was in CAS' hometown newspaper, the Auburn Journal.  I can't help wondering if CAS intentionally gave the local broadsheet one of his less personal poems, something that he thought might have appeal to a broader audience not familiar with his work.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Absence of the Muse

Read "The Absence of the Muse" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet is a beautiful mediation on the artist in search of his muse, and given that the author is Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), it's no wonder that the poem is filled with gorgeous imagery of exotic and alien worlds.  

In a number of ways, this poem feels something like a preview of The Hashish-Eater, CAS' famous long poem of incredible imaginative journeying.  Lines like the following could almost be lifted directly from that great work:

Hearing the gongs of dire, occult command,
And bugles blown from strand to unknown strand
Of continents embattled in old wars
That primal kings began?

I'm reading more-or-less chronologically through CAS' poetry, and The Hashish-Eater is coming up fairly soon.  Reading "The Absence of the Muse" has contributed greatly to my anticipation!

Saturday, October 12, 2019


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the full text:

With hectaonstylon and hundred-gated wall,
With domes Titanical of copper heaped upon
Some wide horizon wan, where fiery heavens fell;

With climbing pyramid on pyramid exalt
In mythical basalt, within whose tomb is hid
Some bestial horror bid to ward the vault.

With fanes of monstrous form, in sombre granite hewn,
With towers to stab the moon, with pinnacles that storm
Like steely swords enorm the molten sun at noon.

The title "Ombos" presumably refers to the ancient Egyptian city of the same name (today known as Kom Ombo), which was a center of worship for the crocodile-headed god Sobek.   

The poem seems to be a description of the double temple at Ombos, which had separate spaces for the worship of Sobek and the falcon-headed god Horus.  While this poem is not a standout from CAS' poetic corpus, it nonetheless has some powerful language in the final stanza:

With towers to stab the moon, with pinnacles that storm
Like steely swords enorm the molten sun at noon.

The phrase "towers to stab the moon" prompts wonderful imagery that only CAS could birth!

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Traveller

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

O traveller, declare thy quest!
Thy hair is white with alien days
Thy dusty feet and face attest
The devious length of alien ways
O traveller declare thy quest!

"It is to seek mine ancient home--
My home that lies I know not where--
Restless forever I must roam
And find the horizons of despair
But nevermore my home."

This poem has echoes of the myth of the Wandering Jew, although (not surprisingly) CAS does not incorporate any specific references to the Christian aspect of the myth.  It's a simple poem, and perhaps I'm not surprised that CAS chose not to publish it, but as with all of his verse, it is solid enough to make for pleasurable reading.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Laus Mortis

Read "Laus Mortis" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) gets right to the point, with a Latin title that can be translated into English as "the praise of death."  

One can't help but detect a strain of Edgar Allan Poe's work in this poem, and the line "God, that is a darkness and a name" has a sort of blasphemous vigor reflective of CAS' own views of religion and life.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

To the Beloved

Read "To the Beloved" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet presents one of the most powerful declarations of love I've read in the English language, and allows Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) to speak in a voice that is atypical of his work.  After describing various cosmic phenomena and comparing them to precious stones, he gets to the heart of the matter:

                                                    But none
Hath held the troublous marvel and surprise
That gleams and trembles in thy slightest nod,
Or sleeps between thine eyelids and thine eyes.

Although the narrator has encountered amazing things on his journey "Through alien lives ineffable" he is ultimately most fascinated by seemingly mundane physical aspects of his beloved.  It doesn't get much more romantic than that!

Monday, October 7, 2019


Read "Transcendence" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) amounts to a significant statement, if one takes the approach (as I do) that it is informed by CAS' own personal philosophy.  The poem posits an extremely detached point-of-view, and assigns so much value to that perspective as to label it transcendence.

It's hard to say enough good things about this particular work, given its technical excellence and the lyrically confident (if world-weary) attitude expressed by the narrator.  And yet the end of the poem has a certain mystery to it:

This is to be the lord of love and grief,
O'er time's illusion and thyself supreme,
As, half-aroused in some nocturnal hour,
The dreamer knows and dominates his dream.

To say that a dream interrupted can be "dominated" by the dreamer has an element of hubris, and thus introduces a note of disbelief in all that has been stated in the previous lines.  CAS seems to be both endorsing and mocking the detached attitude expressed by narrator, which is not necessarily a contradiction.

CAS apparently wrote this sonnet in 1919, and it's worth noting that in the following years, it saw publication both in the Argosy magazine and in a couple of hardcover poetry anthologies.  These multiple publications likely gave it an unusually wide exposure for CAS' poetry, at least until he started contributing to Weird Tales magazine in later years.

Sunday, October 6, 2019


Read "Forgetfulness" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) gets off to a dramatic start right from the opening line: "My life is less than any broken glass . . . ."  One can't help feel for the narrator and his fading memory of a love lost, and CAS ends the poem with some truly stirring lines:

Love is no more, immemorably flown
As any leaf or petal. . . . But to me
The very fields are still, and strange, and lone;
The forest and the garden fail for breath,
Where the dumb heavens hold implacably
An autumn like the marble sleep of death.

"The forest and the garden fail for breath" is one of those near-perfect lines that one finds often in the poetry of CAS, and a powerful echo of the poem's theme.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Song of Sappho's Arabian Daughter

Read "Song of Sappho's Arabian Daughter" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was included in Ebony and Crystal (1922) with the title "The Desert Garden", and was later re-titled for inclusion in Selected Poems (1971).

The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a significant typo in the third stanza; here's the corrected text with the updated word in the third line noted in bold:

"Her presence, like a living wind
Each little leaf makes visible,
Shalt enter there, or like the spell
(Upon the lulling leaves divined)
Of silent wind."

As with "In November," CAS sold this poem to Ainslee's Magazine, and with heavy emphasis on floral and olfactory sensations, it does indeed strike a note of gentle charm that is somewhat atypical of most of CAS' verse.

Friday, October 4, 2019


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Enormous from the mountain's night,
          From silence, and the night of snow,
          The moon arises, lone and slow,
In mists of cold and crimson light.

Her monstrous orb incarnadine, 

          A roe's-egg seems, that griffins bear
          Along the gulf of silver air,
And darkling valleys deep with pine.

Like many of CAS' shorter poems, "Fantasie" manages to achieve a lot with a minimal number of words.  

The opening stanza presents a compelling vision of moonrise on a chilly night, and the second stanza exits with one of those near-perfect phrases that one finds frequently in the work of CAS: "darkling valleys deep with pine."  Through skilled use of internal rhyme, CAS manages, with those five words alone, to paint a robust image of pine trees in remote and lonely valleys, shrouded under the mantle of night.  Quite breathtaking in its simple effectiveness.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Twilight on the Snow

Read "Twilight on the Snow" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) reminds me of another of his poems that I read just a few days ago: "The Melancholy Pool."  In that poem, CAS associated cypress trees with "the priesthood of the Night's misrule," and here in "Twilight on the Snow," we read that "The trees are Druids, weird and white."  While those lines do not entirely capture the essence of either poem, they do help to set the respective scenes effectively, painting an image of ancient trees as holders of mystical secrets.

"Twilight on the Snow" is especially effective in its handling of auditory phenomena, and each of the three stanzas includes phrases that reinforce the central idea of lonely stillness:

  • First stanza: "ancient lips to silence vowed."
  • Second stanza: "No certain sound the woods aver"
  • Third stanza: "Unseen, unheard, amid the dell"

Elsewhere the poem traffics much in sorcery and the lurking presence of the uncanny, and  those reminders of the lack of sound enhance the poem's suggestion of great powers unseen. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Triple Aspect

Read "Triple Aspect" at The Eldritch Dark:

With this poem, Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) takes an interstellar journey, something that has not been much present in those of his poems that I have been reading recently (as part of my more-or-less chronological progression through his entire poetic corpus).  

The opening stanza is about as clear a statement of purpose as you can get:

Lo, for Earth's manifest monotony
Of ordered aspect unto sun and star,
And single moon, I turn to years afar
And ampler worlds ensphered in memory.

The narrator's imagination is too large to be sated by "Earth's manifest monotony", and thus his fancy takes flight to a planet with triple suns, and all the incredible visions that go along with that alien prospect.

Although the setting is presumably a planet distant from Earth, this is more a poem of fantasy than any sort of science fiction, as CAS uses his extraterrestrial setting to allow his imagery to run wild.  But as far as interplanetary adventuring goes, I feel a sympathy with CAS' approach, since he is interested in the "Transcendent beauty" of what is to be found on that remote planet, and expresses no interest in what such a world can yield to humanity's conquering and exploitative instincts.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019


Read "Satiety" at The Eldritch Dark:

Note that The Eldritch Dark indicates that this poem was included in Ebony and Crystal (1922), but in fact Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote two poems with the same title, and the one under consideration here was never published in his lifetime, although it was included in the posthumous Selected Poems (1971).

This is another poem from CAS presented as a translation from the original French of Christophe des Laurières, but we know it to be CAS' own work hidden behind a pseudonym.  I like that this very short work has something of a saucy nature, so who wouldn't believe it to be the work of a licentious Frenchman!