As I read through the poetic works of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), every once in a while I come across a work that really takes my breath away, and reinforces my belief that CAS was one of the truly great English versifiers of the twentieth century.
"Sea Cycle" is a such a poem. In it, CAS builds a lush world of mythic grandeur, immortal love, and the mysterious powers born of the meeting of the land and the sea:
The billows, wreathed with sea-weed and sea-flower,
Mount landward from the mermaid's plundered bower,
And shells and pebbles, torn from sunken strands,
Shift idly on the rainbow-haunted sands.
Throughout "Sea Cycle", CAS plays with the rich symbology associated with the oceans, brilliantly summarized by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant in The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols (1982):
With its tides, the sea symbolizes a transitory condition between shapeless potentiality and formal reality, an ambivalent situation of uncertainty, doubt and indecision which can end well or ill.
In "Sea Cycle", CAS explores that inconstant terrain as few other writers have, and renders it all with an ecstatic beauty that celebrates the ineffable power of the deep. Truly a standout work from The Bard of Auburn!
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