Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Twilight Song

Read "Twilight Song" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) does a wonderful job of establishing a temporal setting. Through the succession of each of the four stanzas, the speaker establishes the time of day:

  • First stanza: "Below the vesper star"
  • Second stanza: "On winds of sunset gone"
  • Third stanza: "Mute evening wanes in mist"
  • Fourth stanza: "O night! upon thy stream"

That last stanza sets the speaker's hope that dreams will let him reconnect with a lost love:

O night! upon thy stream
Obliviously to float
And haply find in westward-flowing dream
Her place and face remote.

CAS was writing a lot of romantic poems in the early 1940's (this one is from September 1942) and not all of those stand the test of time, but "Twilight Song" has a carefully crafted simplicity which has the plaintive quality of a melancholy love song.


  1. I absolutely love this poem.

    I'm reminded of it on an almost daily basis ever since moving from Belgrade to my family's old house in the countryside. It's a hilly region full of wonderful vistas but the view towards the west in particular is mesmerizing. Just a few days ago the twilight looked like it was painted. And I suppose it was... albeit not by mortal hands.

    This is to me another example of a love poem with a cosmic perspective and even reminds me of Jovan Dučić's "Zalazak sunca" where you also have the setting sun associated with an inexplicable longing for a mysterious woman from far away. In Dučić's poem, she sits in silence, crowned and enthroned, surrounded by a pair of sphinxes, thinking of nothing but the narrator who is no less of a mystery to her than she is to him. He ends the poem by imploring us not to tell him that it's all just his heart lying to itself. "For I would cry, I would painfully cry, and never would I find consolation".

    This longing, of course, doesn't have to be of the romantic nature, and in my case tends to manifest as a sense of communion with the universe, with other worlds, suns and twilights, just like in "Zalazak sunca" it serves as a medium between the narrator and an unknown queen of a distant land.

  2. "Twilight Song" has a deceptive simplicity, echoed by the fact that it is quite a short poem by CAS' standards. And yet it is powerfully evocative, allowing the sensitive reader to experience much more than is presented in the words themselves. It's quite a contrast with CAS' youthful verse, when he tried to capture as much as he could on the page.

    Jovan Dučić is new to me, although it appears that at least some of his work has been translated into English. I will have to try and track that down, since your description of "Zalazak sunca" sounds mesmerizing!

  3. There is absolutely beauty to simplicity. Even what might just be my favorite poem is fairly short and can be called relatively simple.


    It's been ages since I've paid attention to my region's poetry. Much of it is preoccupied with local topics which, to be blunt, I find tiresome since I already have to deal with them on a daily basis. I'm reminded of a neuropsychologist friend who, upon my suggestion of a book related to his profession, responded by asking me if I think that bus drivers read books about bus driving.

    There is however some stuff that stays with me such as Jovan Dučić's "Zalazak sunca" (The Sunset), Aleksa Šantić's "Anahoreta" (The Anchorite) or Stevan Raičković's "U mojoj glavi stanuješ" (In My Head You Dwell). The last one describes the narrator's beloved as leading two parallel lives, one in his mind and one in the real world. The reason I like it is because it's – in spirit – an old-fashioned romantic poem, and yet it uses a very simple, modern language, offering a perspective that sounds easily accessible to a modern reader.

    For example, this part:

    Sometimes (in my head, just as you're about to jump
    Into the sea foam, beneath the sun, naked)
    I notice how, out in the rain, you're skipping
    Puddles and half-covered in mud
    You're rushing to work with a face as if crying

    It just strikes me as how a modern individual would write a XIX century poem.

    On the other hand, The Anchorite is about a man who, upon losing his beloved, dedicated his life to religious isolation in a seaside setting. The imagery is extremely vibrant and shuffles the sea, the wind, albatrosses, ravens, seashells, corals, cliffs, tides, tombs, worms, cypresses, vines, sunken galleys and reed-spears.

    Come to think of it, it kinda reminds me of Poe. If nothing else, at least it does make me think of Annabel Lee and her kingdom by the sea.

    I fell in love with poetry in middle school, after reading "Među svojima" (Amongst One's Own) by Vladislav Petković Dis. It was written during the World War One and deals with difficulties of being separated from one's family. As you may guess, most of it flew way over the head of a boy who knew nothing of such things, but it sounded so musical in my mind's ear that I spent years looking for something comparable until I came across Edgar Allan Poe and took an interest in foreign poetry, particularly the one written in this language.

    Smith I found almost by accident. I knew of Howard thanks to Conan since I was barely more than a toddler, and I discovered Lovecraft as a teenager thanks to the video game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth but I merely heard of Smith once or twice through association with these two and didn't really pay much attention until stumbling upon the poem Lamia. Lamia really captured my imagination since I wasn't used to that kind of stuff, and after digging through his poetry I moved to his short stories... and here we are.