Sunday, September 27, 2020

Desert Dweller

Read "Desert Dweller" at The Eldritch Dark:

It's worth pointing out a couple of significant typos in the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark (corrected words in bold below): 

  • Line 16 (sixth stanza) should read: "Nor know what Hanging Gardens I behold"
  • Line 26 (ninth stanza) should read: "From fountains past the utmost world and sun..."

This poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was first published in the July 1943 issue of Weird Tales magazine.

And it represents an important milestone for me personally, since "Desert Dweller" has always ranked as one of my favorite poems, and certainly it is my favorite poem authored by CAS.  The name of this blog comes from line 10: "Men pity me for the scant gold I bring".

I've never read a better expression of the dilemma of a creative artist, deeply inspired by the natural world, who finds himself adrift in a culture dominated by the deification of Mammon, where the non-human resources of the landscape are viewed simply as a collection of economic assets to be exploited.  I often feel myself caught in that same predicament, but I have never written any lines as powerful as these:

For them, the planted fields, their veriest boon;
For me, the verdure of inviolate grass
In far mirages vanishing at noon.

For them, the mellowed strings, the strident brass,
The cry of love, the clangor of great horns,
The thunder-burdened ways where thousands pass.

For me, the silence welling from dark urns,
From fountains past the utmost world and sun...
To overflow some day the desert bourns...

And take the sounding cities one by one.

I think "Desert Dweller" is a true expression of CAS as both a man and an artist, and (in my opinion) it's one of the finest poems ever written in the English language.

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