Empress who hast the fertile stars in fee,
And toiling worlds to serve thy dread desire!
Who guard'st thine empery,
In deep on sullen deep,
With watchful suns of infatiguéd fire!
Not with the Lesbian lyre
I sing, and not of easeful love and sleep--
Of arms and breasts that tire,
In brief, ecstatic throes,
On bed of shattered rose;
And not as they that worshipped thee of old,
I call on thine incomparable name,
And with no blasphemies of praise or blame:
Before thy hidden throne,
And thy veiled face, impassable, I hold
This iron harp of stridors manifold,--
And telling thy termless fame,
In strophes durable as graven stone,
And loud as stricken gold!
In a letter to his mentor George Sterling*, CAS expressed his dissatisfaction with this ode:
I've written almost nothing. I began an "Ode to Aphrodite", but gave it up as being too conventional. I'm sick of the old subjects, the old images. They've been mauled, and thumbed, and slobbered over by so many million poets. Even blasphemy is trite,--God is a cliché.
Although his statement to Sterling bespeaks a period of frustration, it's hard to argue with CAS' analysis of "Ode to Aphrodite", which feels rather uninspired. In general, I have not much warmed to those odes from CAS that I have read so far, given the rather stiff nature of the form, and "Ode to Aphrodite" simply reinforces that response.
*See letter #230 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.
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