Sunday, August 30, 2020


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Slowly, sweetly, from the fear that folds or breaks,
Deliver the soul; listen to the many secrets avowed
In silence, like one caressed by raven hair;
Watch for the sweetness flowing on the breeze

In the dusk, in an evening of storm with the flesh electrised,
Let golden fingers wander on the keyboard;
Minorate the voice; calm the ardor of fire;
Exalt the colour of grey with the colour of rose.

Essay the accord of words mysterious
Harmonious like the eyelid kissing the eye;
Make undulate the flesh of gold pale in the mist,

And, in the soul an immense sigh inflates,
Leave, in going, the memory
Of a great swan of snow with long, long plumes.

This is quite a mysterious verse, but it seems to hint at a transcendence experienced after death, the journey accompanied by music and the last memories of the mortal coil left behind.  

In the lines that describe sound, CAS has created some beautiful music of his own, particularly in the second stanza ("Let golden fingers wander on the keyboard").

Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Fortress

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a revised version of "Le Refuge", which I looked at in my last blog post.  As with that poem, CAS created both French and English versions of "The Fortress", both of which were unpublished in his lifetime.  He dedicated both versions to Benjamin De Casseres.

While The Eldritch Dark does have the French text of this poem, it does not have the English version, so here is that complete text:

Far from the tumult, far from the braying of the throng,
I have built for myself a keep in oblivion:
Enkindling every paled or darkened pennon,
A sunset of old time flows past on my proud walls.

Forgotten treasure, ravished from ancient kings,
Sleeps its flaming slumber in my deep vaults;
The ring of Solomon arises from the billows
To sow upon my gold its orient reflections.

From the seat of jade, of jewels and alabasters,
I see through violet and greenish windows
The flight of every dream, or with flaming wings

Or raven wings; and sometimes my enchantments 
Make rise again the unheard-of dawns
Of blackened universes that foundered in nothingness.

What's fascinating is how much this poem improves on "Le Refuge", keeping the narrative flow intact but really building up the language to incorporate the incantatory voice that was one of CAS' particular gifts.  This is especially noticeable in the second stanza.  Here is the version from "Le Refuge":

Forgotten treasure that none has regathered,
Sleeps a flaming slumber in my deep vaults.
The ring of Solomon is re-risen from the waters
To cast upon my gold its reflected gleams.

Compared to the version of that stanza from "The Fortress", the lines quoted immediately above have a somewhat awkward feel, exemplified by the use of the cumbersome word "regathered" in the first line.  The variations of the first line are small but significant:

  • From "Le Refuge": Forgotten treasure that none has regathered,
  • From "The Fortress": Forgotten treasure, ravished from ancient kings,
The vague phrase "that none has regathered" has been replaced with a strong verb ("ravished") and a more concrete target upon which that verb is operating ("ancient kings").

The opportunity to reflect upon CAS' practices of revision is quite instructive: it clearly indicates his command of English vocabulary, and his ability to make small changes in diction that have significant impacts on the overall quality of the poem.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Le Refuge

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) originally wrote this sonnet in French before translating it into English.  Later on, he re-worked the poem in both French and English with new titles ("La Forteresse" and "The Fortress" respectively).  I'll look at "The Fortress" in my next blog post after this one.

All of those variant versions were dedicated to Benjamin De Casseres, who would later write the forward to CAS' Selected Poems (1971).  And all of those variants went unpublished in his CAS' lifetime, so I'll start with the full English text of "Le Refuge":

I have built for myself a palace in oblivion,
Far from the wonder or the laughter of the throng.
A sunset of olden time glows on my haughty walls,
Enkindling all my pale or tarnished blazonries.

Forgotten treasure that none has regathered,
Sleeps a flaming slumber in my deep vaults.
The ring of Solomon is re-risen from the waters
To cast upon my gold its reflected gleams.

Upon my throne of jet, of jewels and alabasters,
I see, through green and violet windows,
The flight of every dream, or with flamingo wings

Or raven wings.  And my word evokes, 
By its flaming spell the fantastic memories 
Of blackened universes that founder in nothingness.

In reading CAS' poetry, I often ponder how much of the writer emerges from the words.  In the case of "Le Refuge", I perceive the creative artist, working in the milieu of science fantasy and the weird, reflecting upon his "Forgotten treasure that none has regathered".  In other words, his treasure is the power of imagination and the skill to create works derived from it.

This idea is reinforced in the last stanza, where the poet's "word evokes / By its flaming spell the fantastic memories / Of blackened universes that founder in nothingness."  CAS never shied from adopting a grim tone of dark portent in his works, and with this poem, he has described his "palace in oblivion", the isolated realm from which he derived his creative impulse.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020


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

Truth is a soundless gong
By an altar black and cold;
Life is a tale half-told,
Love is a broken song;
Beauty, besought so long,
Is a legend lost and old.

This is a dark little verse, but what captures my attention is the strong ABBAAB end rhyme scheme, a sort of variant of the more familiar enclosed rhyme pattern ABBA.  All of the rhyming words at the end the lines have a single syllable (in "half-told" only the word after the hyphen is rhymed), which encourages the reader to place a strong beat on each of those words.

When read aloud, "Simile"  has a rich sonority, and the combination of alliteration (primarily using the letters B, L, and T) with the end rhymes noted above allows the music in these lines to flow.

Although I don't often dwell on principles of versification on this blog, every once in a while it's worth noting CAS' technical mastery of those principles, demonstrating that his skill as a poet was no accident: he possessed a strong command of the tools of his trade.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020


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

Ah, love! To find for me and thee
A little space, alone,
Some vale of love and reverie 
Where time unknowing and unknown 
Shall pass, but not for thee and me.

Ah! love, in lands of Otherwhere,
To prove the afternoon
Of suns that cede the myrtled air
To Venus and the semilune!
Ah, love, in lands of Otherwhere.

This is a fairly short and simple love poem, but I like the repetition of the first and last lines of each stanza (partial repetition in the first stanza; almost exact repetition in the second stanza).  

CAS' didn't often use repetition in his poetry, but it's a fairly common technique with formal metrical verse, and in this case I think it lends "Sanctuary" a musical reading that benefits from the poem's short length.

Sunday, August 16, 2020


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

As you lie below in darkness and in duress,
     And you hear the young spring call,
There shall come to you far lonelier than loneliness--
     The pity of it all.

And your eyes shall see their confines ere they darken
     But your heart must have no dread,
For across the lonely spaces you shall hearken,
     The dead men call their dead.

These lines seem to describe a recently buried corpse, not yet adjusted to a new existence at the other side of life.  It's short and simple, but as is so often the case with CAS' writings, there is no doubt as to the final outcome: "The dead men call their dead."

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Cycle

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

O love, long known and revenant forever!
How vast the ways wherein our footsteps fall,
The ways that meet and sever;
And yet how few withal
The fleeting yesternights that we remember.
These things are past surprise:
What fiery moons have died
To feed our ancient passion,
Leaving no shard nor ember,
What suns gone dark and ashen
Lighting strange lands for our extinguished eyes.

I often have a somewhat lukewarm reaction to CAS' love poems, but "The Cycle" is rich with suggestions of the uncanny, invoked from the very first line with the use of the word "revenant".  Few poets could handle supernatural themes like CAS, and the ending is truly beautiful, full of the dark sorcery of a love whose power reached into the cosmos:

What fiery moons have died
To feed our ancient passion,
Leaving no shard nor ember,
What suns gone dark and ashen
Lighting strange lands for our extinguished eyes.

One wonders why CAS chose not to include this work in his Selected Poems (1971).  It deserves to stand beside his best works in verse, so it's a bit of a shame that it has remained somewhat obscure.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Contra Mortem

This is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that went unpublished in his lifetime.  The Latin title can be translated into English as "Against Death".

The poem is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Death is the eternal tedious platitude
With which all tales invariably end.
Deviceless seems the scurvy demiurge
Who can invent no other doom, but must
Repeat, as puerile penny-a-liners do,
This horror staled by time-long usage. Why,
For variation's sake, if for naught else,
Not dower with immortality one rose,
One seer, one star, one duad of blest lovers?...
O, bestial, dumb submission!  Will no voice
Cry out against this cosmic abatoir 
Where God the butcher drives us one by one
Into the slaughter-pen and slits our throats?
In lieu or prayer or incense, let us proffer
A protest and a taunt, deriding Him
Who is corruption's pimp, and caterer
To pampered maggots...

With this poem, CAS joins a passionate tradition of modern-era poets who wrote on the same subject.  A few famous examples come to mind:

CAS' take on the theme is almost vicious in tone, giving no quarter to "God the butcher", who is labeled as "corruption's pimp, and caterer".

Given the extreme language used in "Contra Mortem", I can see why CAS chose not to publish this one.  And yet that very intensity of diction reveals a side of the artist not often seen in his best-known work, where a sardonic viewpoint is more often at work.

Although we don't have an exact date of composition, it is believed to have been written somewhere between 1930 and 1938.  That time span covers the death of CAS' mother (1935) and the death of his father (1937).  One can't help but wonder if "Contra Mortem" was a reaction to one or both of those sad events.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime.  CAS originally wrote it in French with the title "Rêvasserie", and later translated it into this English version.

Neither version of the poem is available on The Eldritch Dark, so here is the complete English text:

Here, in the olden wood,
The world is a mirage
More wan and dim
Than the pool wherein is mirrored
In the profound of another sphere
The strange nenuphar

Scarcely I remember, 
I forget my pain:
From this verdant twilight, 
I see depart, alike futile
Beneath their varying masks
Both love and death.

Athwart the foliage,
The sunlit lake
Drowses my dazzled eye
Like a crystal from which passes
The flame of an ecstasy
To the swooning mage.

The incredible oblivion
Plucks at me, ineffable,
From the depth of its lurking place.
I lose myself, I brush
The thing that takes flight
Too vast of the spirit.

I know not if the oak
Suspires with my breath
Of if I draw air therein;
Sometimes I am the poppy,
And sometimes the mace-reed
Whose down is scattered on the clear stream.

For me, all thought
Is leafed and woodlike
And mingles itself with the elders:
It flows with the sap,
It ripens the berry,
And spreads out with the branches.

The contents of the poem are true to the title, presenting a somewhat random set of images that do indeed have a dream-like quality.  I think the third stanza is the most effective of them all:

Athwart the foliage,
The sunlit lake
Drowses my dazzled eye
Like a crystal from which passes
The flame of an ecstasy
To the swooning mage.

On one level, "Day-Dream" feels somewhat like a draft, featuring an irregular meter and the use of blank verse.  But given that title, the unpolished nature of the poem fits the subject matter perfectly.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Outer Land

Read "The Outer Land" at The Eldritch Dark:

There's a significant omission with the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark in the fourth stanza.  The correct full reading of that stanza is as follows; the omission on The Eldritch Dark is the fourth line:

O land where dolent monsters mate!
I know the lusts that howl and run
When the red stones reverberate
The red, intolerable sun;
The soot-black lecheries that wail
From Hinnom to the moons of bale.

This poem was apparently written in 1935, but in terms of subject matter, it hearkens back to CAS' early poetry, especially some of the verses included in his first published collection (The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912)).

The first section of the poem presents some incredibly vivid images of a tormented narrator adrift in a desolate wasteland:

I roam a limbo long abhorred,
Whose dread horizons flame and flow
Like iron from a furnace poured:
A bournless realm of sterile woe,
Where mad mirages fill the dawn
With roses lost and fountains gone.

That last line is wonderfully evocative; it's amazing what CAS could conjure in a mere six words!

The second section of the poem reinforces the idea that the narrator's exile in a horrific desert landscape is a metaphor for rejection by a paramour, and in the very last stanza we read a plea for reconciliation:

My heart, consumed yet unconsuming,
Burns like a dreadful, ardent sun,
The horror of strange nights illuming:
Shall yet I find the ways foregone,
And speak, before the heart of thee,
The still-remembered Sesame?

The aching expressed in those lines is profound, and CAS leaves the question unresolved: will the narrator find that elusive magic password to let him escape the wilderness and come home to his beloved?

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Phoenix

Read "The Phoenix" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first saw publication in the May 1940 issue of Weird Tales magazine.

I read the poem as something of a metaphor for the poet himself and his powers of imagination.  CAS captures the core concept in the phrase "I, I alone" (and several variations of that phrase) to emphasize the incredible experience of witnessing the never-ending cycles of death and rebirth associated with the mythical phoenix:

                              ...and none but I
Has known his death and immortality,
Has watched the yellowy teeth of flame consume
Shell-tinted beak and heaven-painted plume,
Has heard the fatal anguish of his cries
And felt the fierce despair with which he dies
Oblivious of that rebirth to he.

The suggestion is that the poet has the sensitivity and the creativity to absorb and reflect upon experience in novel ways that may be out of reach to less lyrical souls.

Having said that, the poem can also be read as nothing other than a catalog of wonders ascribed to a legendary creature of mythology.  That dual nature speaks to CAS' technical talent, and it's no wonder that a poem like "The Phoenix" found a place in the pages of The Unique Magazine, famous for its combination of lowbrow and highbrow content.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

In Thessaly

Read "In Thessaly" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was first published in the November 1935 issue of Weird Tales magazine.  

In Greek myth, the region of Thessaly has a number of legendary associations, including a reputation for being the haunt of witches.  CAS draws powerfully on this vein, particularly in the last stanza:

And the black lote in Thessaly
Its juices dripped unceasingly
Above the rotting mouth of me;
And worm and mould and graveyard must
And roots of cypress, darkly thrust,
Transformed the dead to utter dust.

By placing this poem in the realm of Greek myth, and by invoking Apuleius' ancient Roman novel Metamorphoses, CAS elevates a rather simple concept to something imbued with the flavor of dark legend and the thaumaturgical mysteries of the early historical era.  

Saturday, August 8, 2020


Read "Dominion" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) originally appeared in the June 1935 issue of Weird Tales magazine, which apparently also featured a story (by Dorothy Quick) called "The Horror in the Studio".  The mind boggles...

The subject of "Dominion" would appear to be Demeter, one of the twelve Olympians of Greek myth.  Demeter is traditionally thought of as a goddess of agriculture and the earth, but in a further tradition she was also said to have power over the underworld, and was linked to an ancient cult of the dead.  This stanza particularly would seem to confirm those associations:

Yea, still thy whisper moves, and magically stirs
To life the shapeless dust in shattered sepulchers;
And in dark bread and wine thou art the untold leaven.

I have no further evidence that Demeter is the subject of this poem (beyond my own interpretation), but the title "Dominion" certainly reinforces the idea of this being an ode to a deity.

Friday, August 7, 2020


Read "Outlanders" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) saw publication in the June 1938 issue of Weird Tales magazine, and the less said about the cover image (by Margaret Brundage) the better!

The poem itself is a beautiful celebration of outsider status, fueled by CAS' unique talent for invoking the weird and the other-worldly:

We gather, upon those gulfward beaches rolled,
Driftage of worlds not shown by any chart;
And pluck the fabled moly from wild scaurs:
Though these are scorned by human wharf and mart—
And scorned alike the red, primeval gold
For which we fight the griffins in strange wars.

That very last line of the closing sestet is very memorable - even in the short phrase "we fight the griffins in strange wars" CAS captures a whole world of adventure, discovery, and the fantastic. 

Thursday, August 6, 2020


Read "Necromancy" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first saw publication in the March 1943 issue of Weird Tales magazine, at least nine years after it was originally written.

The use of the necromancer's dark art as a metaphor for remembrance is powerfully invoked in this poem, as in the following lines:

                         ...Ancient queen and lass,
Risen vampire-like from out the wormy mould,
Deep in the magic mirror of my heart
Behold their perished beauty, and depart.

It's a powerful example of the poet's ability to use images and settings rich with mythology and the supernatural to color and embolden the common experiences of human existence.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

In Slumber

Read "In Slumber" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith was originally published in the August 1934 issue of Weird Tales magazine, which featured a dramatic Margaret Brundage cover image illustrating a story by Robert E. Howard.  And the poem itself fits that context perfectly, presenting a cascading set of images made of pure nightmare:

                                                       By such light
As shows the newly damned their dolorous plight,
I trod the shuddering soil of that demesne
Whence larvae swarmed, malignant and obscene,
Like writhen mists from some Maremma reeking:
Through the gross air, fell incubi went seeking

Although the poem is little more than a collection of horrible hallucinations, that very over-the-top nature really does capture the feeling of a nightmare, making it great fodder for the pages of The Unique Magazine!

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A Dream of the Abyss

Read "A Dream of the Abyss" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) hearkens back to his earliest published verse, particularly from The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912).  Although it wasn't published until 1933 (in a fanzine), it may well have been written earlier, since the style is so reminiscent of early poems from his first collection.  

Particularly notable is the use of two long stanzas, each containing a single sentence.  Although each of these stanzas uses additional punctuation for pacing, it seems as though CAS' intent was for each to be read at a fairly manic pace.

While the poem definitely has some vivid language, overall it does seem like a minor effort, competent but without any particular spark to bring it to life in the reader's mind.

Monday, August 3, 2020


Read "Revenant" at The Eldritch Dark:

Fair warning: the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark is riddled with typos 😕

Even with a bad transcription, this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a palpable and haunting beauty:

And crowned with funereal gems,
I hold awhile the throne
Whereon mine immemorial selves have sate,
Canopied by the triple-tinted glory
Of the three suns forever paled and flown.

However, "Revenant" represents one of those rare cases where I think CAS' extensive vocabulary gets a little out of hand, and it feels like he's working his thesaurus a little too hard. Word choices such as "clepsammiae", "clepsydrae", and "parapegms" are not only awkward in context, they're also just a little too obscure and setting-specific to contribute anything to the poem's overall impact.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Pool

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:

The decrescent moon
Sets in the black maze
Of an autumnal alder-wood
In the night with no bright star.

I lose myself, I stray
On the verge of the deep waters,
Dark and unclean,
Of a melancholy pool.

The tatters of the autumn,
As they take flight,
Touch me in their fall:
I tremble and shiver,

And my reverie
Sheds itself on the near water
With the ash-tree's foliage--
Similarly withered.

This is certainly a somber work, anchored by word choices that set the dark tone: "decrescent", "unclean", "melancholy", "withered".  The parallels between a waning moon, a dark pool, and the dropped leaves of an ash tree echo the speaker's loss of joy.  It's a simple but effective literary technique, making me wonder why CAS never published this particular poem, given its many qualities.

Saturday, August 1, 2020


Read "Psalm" at The Eldritch Dark:

Once more, we have a poem authored by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that he attributed to his pseudonym Christophe des Laurières.  As always, CAS uses the cloak of an alternate authorship to let the sauciness flow unabated:

And beneath thine arms,
And between thy fingers and between thy knees,
And upon the secret places of thy flesh,
I have set my delight with caresses slow and gentle as winding waters
With caresses hot and rapid as leaping fire.

The naughtiness is accentuated by the title "Psalm", suggesting that for des Laurières, the place and the act of worship is not to be found in a house of God, but rather in more earthly venues.