Wednesday, November 4, 2020

"All is Dross that is not Helena"

Read "All is Dross that is not Helena" at The Eldritch Dark:

The title of this sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is taken from scene XIII of Christopher Marlowe's 17th-century play The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.  The relevant lines are spoken by the main protagonist (John Faustus):

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
Her lips suck forth my soul - see, where it flies!
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips
And all is dross that is not Helena.

Building on Marlowe's reference to Helen of Ilium (aka Troy) and her legendary beauty, CAS' poem speaks to an unnamed lover with the same tones of reverence with which Faustus addressed his own paramour:

You are the supreme boon, the only good
To one, who finds despair in solitude,
And weariness of heart amid the throng.

It's certainly not my favorite poem from CAS, but I like the way he pulls his narrative thread from the pages of Homer through Marlowe's blank verse and into a modern casting of the legends invoked by that thread.

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