Saturday, October 31, 2020
Friday, October 30, 2020
Humors of Love
Thursday, October 29, 2020
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here is the complete text:
On all the golden gramaries of our days,
The editors of the Hippocampus Press edition of The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith speculate that this sonnet was intended to be part of The Hill of Dionysus cycle, given that it addresses CAS' relationship with the poet Eric Barker and the dancer Madelynne Greene. However, it was not included in the 1962 selection from that cycle published by Roy Squires and Clyde Beck.
As a paean to his friendship with Barker and Greene, "Consummation" has an epic sweep, and given the title, I can't help but wonder if CAS created this poem as something of a coda to The Hill of Dionysus cycle, even if it was left out of the published edition issued shortly after his death.
I love that the speaker imagines a sort of immorality for the friendship that informs this poem:
That shall illume the future's legendry,
Till poets, crowned with late, hesperian bays,
Shall chant for us their elegies and lays
One could argue that in a small way, that has indeed occurred, although perhaps not in the way that CAS envisioned. Recently there has been some discussion on The Eldritch Dark forums about the notion that CAS was a misanthrope, an idea advanced by Steve Behrends in an essay from some years ago. I think Behrends is wrong, and the evidence can be found by reading "Consummation".
But the very fact that such a discussion has occurred in 2020, albeit in an obscure online forum with a small number of participants, simply proves that the prophecy of "Consummation" has come true: a friendship that occurred decades ago between three California artists has not been entirely forgotten.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Monday, October 26, 2020
Sunday, October 25, 2020
The Old Water-Wheel
Read "The Old Water-Wheel" at The Eldritch Dark:
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first saw publication in the December 1942 issue of Poetry magazine, marking one of his few appearances in that long-running publication. Their archive contains a scan of the work as it appeared in print:
The poem presents a melancholy image of isolation and despondency:
Whose all-monotonous cadence haunts the air
Like the recurrent moan of a despair
Some heart has learned by rote.
It's a grim read, but powerfully animated by the presence of sound throughout, as the motion of the water-wheel becomes a metaphor for the emotional and spiritual rut that the speaker finds himself in.
That correspondence is captured by parallel diction in the second and fifth stanzas, where the stream that powers the wheel "by noon, by night, by dawn" almost mocks the speaker's distress "today, tonight, tomorrow". And yet the implied relationship is not morbid, but almost comforting as the speaker's own internal state is echoed by the tangible world of his physical surroundings.
Saturday, October 24, 2020
The Mime of Sleep
Read "The Mime of Sleep" at The Eldritch Dark:
This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) follows the convention of that particular form, specifically the Italian sonnet, which traditionally divides the poem into an eight-line "proposition" (the octet) followed by a six-line "resolution" (the sestet).
CAS further adheres to the convention of creating the transition from proposition to resolution in the volta, the ninth line, which begins the fascinating conclusion to "The Mime of Sleep":
Your beauty's burning shade more slowly dims—
Where, dancing like Salome, you let fall,
In splendid sequence under a sad sky,
The seven veils of fantasy that I
Have wound about your young, delightful limbs.
The references to Salome and The Dance of the Seven Veils invoke the powerful eroticism of that Biblical episode, but also the associated decapitation of John the Baptist.
On the surface, the sestet quoted above paints a beautiful romantic image, but by incorporating allusions to the legend of the daughter of Herod II, CAS links the poem's outro to the nightmarish visions of the opening stanza, where the speaker's dreams are a "A masque, whose grey grotesques of mirth and pain / Move randomly through an occulted clime."
Friday, October 23, 2020
Read "Dialogue" at The Eldritch Dark:
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first appeared in the May 1943 issue of Weird Tales magazine under the byline of Timeus Gaylord (one of CAS' pseudonyms).
Although presented in the form of a sonnet, one could argue that this poem is also a poetic dialogue, since the opening octet and the closing sestet are each presented as being the words of a different speaker.
The first speaker seems a bold and adventurous sort, journeying as far as the "seven hells" and encountering legendary beings in further grim but fantastic exploits.
In contrast, the second speaker appears to be someone who is isolated and trapped in nightmares "When horror seeps from out four walls / And trickles from the unclouded sky."
Each speaker has, in his (or her) own way become enveloped in the cloak of the malignant and the weird, although their experiences of those phenomena have produced different results.
This contrast of viewpoints makes "Dialogue" into what must have been an ideal poem for the pages of The Unique Magazine, capturing all of the promised dark wonder of those pages in a short and accessible sonnet.
Thursday, October 22, 2020
The Thralls of Circe Climb Parnassus
Read "The Thralls of Circe Climb Parnassus" at The Eldritch Dark:
This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was originally titled in manuscript "Swine and Azaleas".
It is of course derived from Book X of Homer's Odyssey, where Circe uses her magic and her cunning to transform some of Odysseus' shipmates into swine. Part of the tragedy of this episode is that those suffering from Circe's enchantments retain their memories and their intellects:
Their transformation far past human wonts;
Swine’s snouts, swine’s bodies, took they, bristles, grunts,
But still retain’d the souls they had before,
Which made them mourn their bodies’ change the more.
The lines quoted above are from George Chapman's translation (1614) of the Odyssey.
In CAS' poem, he imagines that some of those former men have escaped their enclosure, and found their way to the slopes of the mountain that was sacred to Dionysus, the god associated with all the best things in life.
Interestingly, CAS seems to have a different view of the misfortune of the transfigured seamen; for example, their new forms do not prevent them from experiencing floral aromas:
Some grassy-bottomed tarn had sunk and died,
A black hog and his mate stood side by side,
Sniffing those elfin blossoms cool and fair.
These renegade swine-men are "As those who haply seek for husks and swill / Amid the flowers upon Parnassus blown." Given that the legend makes it clear that these creatures are fully aware of their former existence as humans, CAS seems to be suggesting that they are in fact content in their new form, now that they have escaped captivity and are free to roam in the realm of Dionysus.
It's a ponderous conclusion for a work from the Bard of Auburn, but perhaps in keeping with his enthusiasm for hedonistic pleasures and the rejection of many of the social norms of his era.
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
"That Last Infirmity"
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Madrigal of Memory
Read "Madrigal of Memory" at The Eldritch Dark:
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) celebrates the remembrance of the physical aspects of a past relationship. The speaker lauds various aspects of his departed lover, a technique which works very effectively in the fourth stanza:
You stir and whisper through the wood.
Far off the throbbing waters flow
Against a sanguine afterglow
Like the sweet pulses of your blood.
There's a tangible sense of motion in those five lines, beginning with a "whisper through the wood" and culminating in "the sweet pulses of you blood." By referencing the wood nymph of classical mythology right at the start of the stanza, CAS seeds the flavor of ancient mystery, and in the last line he injects that sensibility directly into the memory of a paramour.
Monday, October 19, 2020
Saturday, October 17, 2020
But Grant, O Venus
Read "But Grant, O Venus" at The Eldritch Dark:
This is a minor love poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS). It's more conventional that most of his work in a similar vein, in that the darker elements are treated with remove ("The doom that tolling bells of thought repeat"), rather than being used as essential building blocks.
Friday, October 16, 2020
Read "Grecian Yesterday" at The Eldritch Dark:
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is built upon his love of classical Greek mythology, beginning with a clever invocation of the story of Leda and the Swan.
As with other poems from CAS inspired by the great myths, the speaker is all too aware of the shortcomings of contemporary reality when measured against those Elysian legends:
From the still oaks and brooding bays:
In us their ancient rapture rallies
That sweeps away the world, and brings
Once more the many-flowered prime
After an age of flowerless things.
The phrase "After an age of flowerless things" is a remarkably powerful metaphor for an industrial age as experienced by a creative soul.
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Wednesday, October 14, 2020
To One Absent
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Read "Sonnet" at The Eldritch Dark:
This love poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) returns to the theme of romance as a refuge from the tedium of everyday reality, and does so with some truly beautiful language:
That home of dreams unharbored otherwhere—
Not fall before this brazen press of things,
Till we too fade like morning phantoms there?
Ultimately, the narrator arrives at the inevitable conclusion, recognizing the temporal nature of any human connection:
Go down in night no memory shall haunt—
Yes, let full-fountained Lethe rise and flow
As on the loves of lovers long ago.
This "Sonnet" has a fatalistic beauty that is quite haunting.
Saturday, October 10, 2020
Friday, October 9, 2020
To his startlement a woman, or what appeared to be such, was sitting on a fallen shaft beside the mausoleum. He could not see her distinctly; the tomb's shadow still enveloped her from the shoulders downward. The face alone, glimmering wanly, was lifted to the rising moon. Its profile was such as he had seen on antique coins."Who are you?" he asked, with a curiosity that overpowered his courtesy."I am the lamia Morthylla," she replied.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Song of the Bacchic Bards
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished is his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:
Though the stars decline
We'll souse like devils in Plutonian revels
"Song of the Bacchic Bards" feels like the creation of an artist blowing off some steam, perhaps after having imbibed just a bit! It certainly doesn't rank amongst CAS' greatest poems, but the unpolished nature of these lines is a lot of fun anyway.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
One or two pieces, such as Witch-Dance, have been suggested by Madelynne's dancing: she once did her Witches' Sabbat for me by firelight and moonlight here on the ridge, as described in the poem.
Monday, October 5, 2020
Read "Resurrection" at The Eldritch Dark:
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first appeared in the July 1947 issue of Weird Tales magazine. Although it was published in a summer issue of The Unique Magazine, it feels more appropriate for the Fall season around Halloween:
Wake the Hecatean gladness,
Call the demon named Delight
From his lair of burning night.
It's a slight poem, but a fun one, and probably made for great reading alongside short stories from Ray Bradbury and J. Sheridan Le Fanu in the same issue.
Sunday, October 4, 2020
Read "Bacchante" at The Eldritch Dark:
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was first published in the December 1939 issue of Weird Tales magazine, featuring wonderful cover artwork from Hannes Bok.
As the title suggests, "Bacchante" is inspired by classical mythology, particularly the legend of the ecstatic female followers of Bacchus (aka Dionysus). The poem is part of a cycle titled The Hill of Dionysus, which originated from CAS' friendship with the poet Eric Barker and his wife, the dancer Madelynne Greene.
Roy Squires published a selection from the The Hill of Dionysus shortly after CAS' passing, and that edition is dedicated "To Bacchante". Eric Barker confirms that the "Bacchante" of that dedication is Madelynne Greene, as detailed is his essay "Clark Ashton Smith - In Memory Of A Great Friendship".
The second stanza of the poem provides a beautiful description of the artist's muse:
We have felt the thrilling presence of the god,
And you, Bacchante, shod
With moonfire, and with moonfire all enfolden,
Have danced upon the mystery-haunted sod.
CAS wrote many poems informed by mythology, but "Bacchante" is uniquely vital among that group, animated by a livelier vision of "The ancient madness and the ancient glory." As a tribute and a remembrance of a friendship, it's really quite moving, and powerfully expresses a different sort of emotion than I have come to expect from CAS' verse.
Saturday, October 3, 2020
Read "Sestet" at The Eldritch Dark:
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) presents a rather curt dismissal of a romantic partner. The closing sentence is particularly cutting:
Than some chance tavern with its doors aglow,
Proffering warmth and hospitality
On a strange road beset with night and wind.
One can't help wonder if this poem has autobiographical roots, since both the brevity and the directness of the language suggests it was written in a fit of passion!
Friday, October 2, 2020
Read "Ode" at The Eldritch Dark:
Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote two poems with the same title; I blogged about the first of these earlier this year.
This second poem with the title "Ode" draws heavily on Greek mythology in paying tribute to a "young and dear and tender sorceress":
Upon your lips; and perished planets rise
Into the beryl evening of your eyes;
And the lost autumns in your hair return.
In this poem, CAS mixes tributes to the beauty of the sorceress with references to the horror of an endless cycle of life and death powered by the dark force of necromancy:
To face again the lonesome rain and rime,
And draw reluctant breath
From the grey rigors of an alien clime.
Both the subject matter and the diction remind me of the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, although I have no evidence that CAS intended this work as any sort of pastiche or tribute to one of his favorite writers.
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Read "From Arcady" at The Eldritch Dark:
This poem finds Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) using the pantoum form, which I don't believe I've previously encountered among his works in verse. In a pantoum, two lines repeat across each pair of successive quatrains, with a slight variation in the final stanza.
The use of that form, with an emphasis on repetition, gives "From Arcady" an incantatory pacing. CAS adds internal rhymes to several of the lines, such as "The rolling of a roted surge". Taken together, those technical constructions add something of a meditative quality to the reading, particularly in the fifth stanza:
The ancient, deep, foregone delight. . . .
The rolling of a roted surge
Returns around a pagan height.
It's quite interesting to see CAS using an uncommon poetic form, especially given his fondness for the sonnet form in his earliest published works.