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.


  1. The phoenix isn't commonly associated with CAS due to its rare mention in his fiction, but his poetry seems to refer to it more than once, and CAS clearly felt strongly for the themes of death, cycles, and mythical animals, so I'm more than certain this was a highly intimate poem, but also one in which he expresses the innate glories of the creature.

    What strikes me as potent is the tone of dignified anguish (or what I interpret to be such) before the inevitable rebirth. CAS seems to understand the intense pain and feelings of dissolution that must come with each glorious cycle.

  2. I love your phrase "dignified anguish". That really captures the feeling of this poem in a very succinct way.