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  And all of those variants went unpublished in his CAS' lifetime, so I'll start with the full English text of "Le Refuge":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.

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