Saturday, February 29, 2020

You Are Not Beautiful

Read "You Are Not Beautiful" at the Eldritch Dark:

I believe Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was about thirty years old when he wrote this little poem, and it shows a notable maturity of conception regarding the true value to be derived from a long-term romantic relationship.

Friday, February 28, 2020


Read "Lemurienne" at The Eldritch Dark:

This quatrain from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) invokes the legendary lost continent of Lemuria, and manages to pack quite a lot of poetry into a mere four lines.  

I like the way that the inanimate host with the "eyes of graven spar" is imbued with a sort of life, becoming "A sphinx that peers on prediluvian moons."  It's a simple notion, but rendered with a rich sonority that sounds wonderful when read aloud.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

On Re-Reading Baudelaire

Read "On Re-Reading Baudelaire" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) certainly captures the spirit of the author for whom it is named, and further reflects the work of Edgar Allan Poe, whom Baudelaire acknowledged in turn as a source of inspiration.

Given the territory CAS is working in these lines, it's a fine poem, and gives him license for wordplay that is extravagant even by his own standards:

Lethean lotus, laurels of our doom,
Dark amarant with tall unswaying spears,
Await funereal autumn and its fears
In this grey land that sullen suns illume.

Reading verses like that, it's easy to understand why a lot of poetry written here in the early twenty-first century can feel cold and remote.  CAS was a poet clearly in love with the sounds of the English language, and his work is rich with music born of that approach.  So much of contemporary poetry seems to be lacking in exactly that sensibility.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The End of Autumn

Read "The End of Autumn" at The Eldritch Dark:

This lyric poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is filled with some wonderful imagery, and the onset of the coming season is captured with an icy touch in the closing stanza:

Bleak with the winter's breath,
A wind comes down; fantastic skeletons
Of steel and bronze,
Creak the cold willows in a dance of death.

"The End of Autumn" really captures the specific experience of being out at dusk when the first intimations of winter are in the air, and you can feel the arrival of short days and cold nights.

Monday, February 24, 2020


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was originally published in the Auburn Journal in 1923, and was later included in his omnibus Selected Poems (1971) with the alternate title "Dissidence".  That latter version is available at The Eldritch Dark:

The only difference between the two appearances is a single word in the first line:

  • Diversity: Within your voice the boughs of Eden sigh
  • Dissidence: Within your voice the palms of Eden sigh

In either version, this short poem embraces the onset of autumn, although wistful thoughts of "scented winds blown from the summer foam" suggest a somewhat hesitant embrace!

Sunday, February 23, 2020


Read "Departure" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is quite effective despite its short length.  The transitory image of the last days of autumn withdrawing in the face of an approaching winter is ephemeral but visually potent.

Saturday, February 22, 2020


Read "Remembrance" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) features many repeated phrases (not necessarily word-for-word repeats) in an interesting pattern somewhat like a villanelle.  The repetitions work together to create a short narrative, with each stanza contributing a distinct phase to a progression through the narrator's memories:

  • First stanza: the narrator recalls "a land of fallen suns"
  • Second stanza: the narrator recalls a woman "Supremely pale and fair"
  • Third stanza: the narrator recalls seeing the sky "In her blue eyes alone"
  • Fourth stanza: the narrator recalls an "ancient stream of tears" 

Taken as a whole, "Remembrance" is a ghostly tale of yearning and regret that is nonetheless wrapped in beauty.  As a formal experiment in poetic form, it's an unusual work from CAS, and quite successful in extracting meaning from structure.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Autumn Orchards

Read "Autumn Orchards" at The Eldritch Dark:

It seems as though the last handful of poems from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that I've read share a sense of melancholy, and that theme is certainly present in "Autumn Orchards".  Interweaving elements of history and mythology is another technique that CAS was fond of, and I think he uses it especially well in the second stanza:

The pear-trees lift a Tyrian tinged with blood;
Strange purples brighten in the smouldering plums;
The fire-red gold of peach and cherry comes
To storm the bronzing borders of the wood.

Those lines (and others from the same poem) create a vivid image of sunset at play amongst the treetops of an orchard, and the invocation of the ancient world in "The pear-trees lift a Tyrian tinged with blood" lends a sense of drama that transcends the immediate experience of the narrator.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2020


Read "Brumal" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is melancholy, but not without a sense of reward. The opening lines are bleak:

Life is a tale half told,
Love is a broken song;
Beauty, besought so long
Is a legend lost and old.

Despite that sombre beginning, CAS ends the work on a slightly more uplifting note:

I recall thy fugitive grace,
And sigh for thy hair's lost gold.

The acknowledgement that memories of better times can partially compensate for a dismal present is encouraging, and gives "Brumal" a brighter, warmer conclusion than the title alone might suggest.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Dolor of Dreams

Read "Dolor of Dreams" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith incorporates several themes that are common to his poetic corpus: dreams, hints of the supernatural, suggestions of death.  Although the use of ephemeral images and narrative in this poem are quite appropriate to the content (it's about dreams, after all), that same fleeting nature makes it harder for me to connect with the poem and the author's intentions.  

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Funeral Urn

Read "The Funeral Urn" at The Eldritch Dark:

Once again we have a poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that he attributed to the pseudonym Christophe des Laurières.  Most of the des Laurières poems that I've read so far have romantic and/or erotic themes, and while that holds true for "The Funeral Urn", there is also a much darker strain at work in these lines:

But - irony supreme - within,
The poisonous black dust of sin
And ashes from dark pyres of love.

The title of the poem reminds us that the narrator's heart is like a funeral urn - a repository for the remains of the dead.  The lines quoted above suggest the path that led to that metaphorical death: "The poisonous black dust of sin".  

Given that CAS chose to attribute this poem to a pseudonym, I choose to read these lines as though they are spoken by that mysterious author, who elsewhere has reveled in themes considerably less dark.  It seems as though "The Funeral Urn" could serve as something of a coda to the short cycle of poems from Christophe des Laurières, as the serial seducer faces the end of of his particular life's journey.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Barrier

Read "The Barrier" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem of hesitance on the verge of passion and (perhaps) a great love has a tragic dimension, in that the reader has no way of knowing whether the wavering will cease and allow the romance to blossom.  

This is by no means a great work from Clark Ashton Smith, and yet he skillfully casts his lovers in the roles of the faun and the nymph, lending the experience the grander perspective of timelessness, as the narrator and his paramour wrestle with difficulties that are endemic to any human relationship in any age.

Friday, February 14, 2020


Read "Afterwards" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is quite a dark poem, with a strain of paranoia uncharacteristic of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  The title suggests that these lines may be describing the reality of a ghost or some other type of specter, trapped in a purgatory of isolation and fear.

Also notable is the relatively simple vocabulary, which lends itself to a rapid pace of reading or recitation.  CAS' poetry is often noted for complex diction and stately tempo, which makes "Afterwards" an unusual work for this author.

Thursday, February 13, 2020


Here is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was printed in the Auburn Journal, but never included in a published collection of his verse:

In silence now the purpling summer passes,
The swallows fly;
The failing river scantly glasses,
Where amber twilights wane,
Our dream-long kiss above the flow'rs that die...

Will love at last remain?...
Ever I pray to find--
(Though all the heavens be blind!)
The gold of love and summer in thy hair;
And breathe between thy shadowy breasts again,
In eves of autumn wind,
And flow'rs that failed upon a windless air.

There's an interesting rhyme scheme at work in this poem: ABACB CDDECDE.  The "C" rhymes ("wane", "remain", "again") serve as aural connective tissue between the two stanzas, but they also create a clear rhythm for reading aloud, almost as though these lines were lyrics accompanying a musical staff.

I am not aware of attempts to set CAS' poetry to music - they may exist, but I've not heard them.  "Septembral" makes me think that is an area rife with possibilities!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Forgotten Sorrow

Read "Forgotten Sorrow" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a truly lovely poem of remembrance by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), wrought with the rich language so unique to his voice:

Her dead lives given to the marbles and the mould
In dim Palmyra, or some pink, enormous city
Whose falling columns now the boles of mightier trees
Support in far Siam....

As always, CAS' ability to wrap a common human experience in the trappings of the cosmic and the exotic allows his verse to transcend subject, and move into the realm of the truly poetic.

Monday, February 10, 2020


Although this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was published in his hometown newspaper (the Auburn Journal), it was never included in any of his published collections of verse.  Likewise, it is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Our love hath found a secret land,
          A world from all the world apart,
And we may wander hand in hand
          E'en in the loud and whirling mart,
To meadows of a secret land.

We pass along the crowded ways:
          But still, with clinging kisses fond,
We loiter 'neath the myrtle-sprays,
          In green, Edenic peace beyond
The clangor of the crowded ways.

Never from one eternal tryst
          The miles have held our meeting hearts:
Our spirits cling, as love may list,
          And keep the embrace that never parts
In realms of one eternal tryst.

The theme of Cocaigne, or the mythical land of ease and plenty, does seem like natural territory for CAS to explore, given his role as a largely non-commercial artist in a capitalist society.  This poem suggests that a truly deep love between two people can create a land of Cocaigne that only those lovers can share, a truly romantic notion well at odds with the grind of daily living that was part of CAS' reality.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A Valediction

Read "A Valediction" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is both grim and captivating, addressing love and the things that love ultimately cannot overcome.  The sense of inevitability in these lines does not seem morbid or gloomy to me, but rather a simple recognition that the end of the journey may not be pleasant, but it is nonetheless possible to make peace with it.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Wingless Archangels

Read "The Wingless Archangels" at The Eldritch Dark:

It seems as though it's been a while since I've read a sonnet by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), but "The Wingless Archangels" is an excellent use of the form.  The title itself almost tells a story, presenting the notion of ethereal beings handicapped and unable to achieve their full glory.

The stirring images of the opening octet give way to a much bleaker closing sestet, beginning with the dark lines "But on their immortality is blight— / Whose dream betraying deserts have undone".  CAS' imaginative worlds always had an element of doom, and this sonnet is no exception.  Rendered with such exceptional poetic technique and harmonious language, "The Wingless Archangels" is beautiful and terrible in equal measures.

Thursday, February 6, 2020


Read "Metaphor" at The Eldritch Dark:

In this poem, Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) draws a portrait using the rich language and imagery that was his to command:

You are the stately sunset,
And after you
Silence will rear the moon-eclipsing night,
And a few spectral stars will gather,
Like wisps to lead the wandering gods astray
Into the black and boundless fen of all the gulfs.

The last two lines quoted above create an incredible visualization of the vastness of the cosmos, and the aimlessness even of gods within that immense domain.  But the repeated line "You are the stately sunset" anchors all of this in the earthly realm, and assigns a dramatic nobility to the poem's subject. 

"Metaphor" is cosmic, mysterious, and alive with the music of spoken language - all of the elements that made CAS such a uniquely talented poet.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020


This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was published in his hometown newspaper (the Auburn Journal) in 1923, but is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here is the complete text:

Sudden, familiar, unbesought,

Like the quick pulse of some recurrent pain,
Your beauty comes again
To roam the weary spaces of my thought.

I see the smiling phantom pass,

And wonder if my darker soul has flown
To haunt your dreams unknown,
Or linger like a shadow in your glass.

As a poet of love and romance, CAS could be a little inconsistent, but "Exchange" captures his unique spectral sensibility and mixes it into commonplace memories of a past romance.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020


Read "Moments" at The Eldritch Dark:

Here we have another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) attributed to his pseudonym Christophe des Laurières.  It's a relatively straightforward love poem, and yet quite passionate and moving at the same time.

Monday, February 3, 2020


Read "Alienage" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a memorable one, contrasting the wild mysteries of classical Greek mythology with the humdrum reality of the modern world, as exemplified in the opening line of each of the two stanzas: "Dear one, what do we here?"  

As further indicated in the poem's title, the narrator wishes to dissociate himself and his paramour from their time and place, and imagine themselves among the glories of the ancient world of myth: 

Hast thou forgot,
Here, in the grey, sad world that knows us not,
The years when we were nymph and centaur, drawn
To elder forests deep
That spring had turned to chrysolite and gold?

However, this is not exclusively a poem of loss and regret, as the narrator weaves his thread of seduction:

Let us forget the weariness and pain,
And the supreme disaster of our birth,
While in thy flesh my lingering
Slow kisses move and cling
And love alone hath verity or worth.

"Alienage" represents CAS' poetry at its best, interweaving elements of myth and romance wrapped in shadows of darkness.  Great stuff!

Sunday, February 2, 2020


Read "Contradiction" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is one of those poems from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that rewards multiple readings, both to really immerse yourself in the language, and also to reflect upon the philosophical content.  Although there is always a danger in extrapolating too much of an author's own beliefs from their creative output, it seems to me justified in the case of "Contradiction".

The opening lines of each stanza, beginning with "I have calmed me with the thought of nothingness" do seem to emanate directly from CAS himself, demonstrating a mildly sardonic view of the complications of earthly life.  There is a chilly remoteness to this point of view, and yet personally I find it hard to argue with, and the realist orientation of "Contradiction" seems to speak with a voice of truth.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Secret

Read "The Secret" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the sort of love poem (or a poem about love, at any rate) that is simple yet still a great showcase for Clark Ashton Smith's talents.  The short lines (most of them only three syllables) add a momentum to the reading that is not typical of his work, and yet the language and the imagery are not left wanting:

Lost and far,
Like a forest-folded bloom
Lulled above
Its own perfume;

The last three lines of the stanza quoted above create a beautiful portrait of an aromatic plant seduced by its vey own fragrance, an image that only CAS could bestow upon his readers.