Friday, December 31, 2021

Pantheistic Dream

Here is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

In the heart of the old woodland
The world is a mirage 
More wan and dim
Than the pool that reflects,
In another planet,
The pale nenuphar.

Scarcely can I remember,
Nor recognize my pain:
[...] this green twilight
[...] depart, grown strange
[...] masks,
[...]ith love.

[...]nd my arbor
The sunbright mere
Lulls asleep my dazzled eyes,
Like a crystal whence has come 
The flame of an ecstasy 
To the swooning mage.

The incredible nothingness
Plucks at me, inenarrable,
From the heart of its covert;
I lose myself, I graze
The thing that flies,
Too vast for the spirit.

I know not if the oak
Sighs with my breath,
Nor if I sigh in the oak;
Sometimes I am the wild poppy
And sometimes the cat-tail
That scatters its seed on the clear ripple.

For me all thought 
Is leafed and wood-like
And mingles with the elder-trees:
Sap that escapes not thence,
It ripens the berries
And spreads in the boughs.

(I had to look up the word "inenarrable" (fourth stanza), which The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines as "Unable to be narrated or told; indescribable, unspeakable.")

This poem survives in both English and French versions (the French title is "Rêve panthéistique").  Both of those surviving manuscripts were burned and are not fully legible in the second and third stanzas, so the omissions are noted above.

This is the first mention of pantheism in the works of CAS that I can recall from my reading.  That's a bit surprising, since much of the author's personal philosophy would seem to be very sympathetic with the broad view offered by pantheistic beliefs and their rejection of a "personal god".

Despite surviving in an incomplete form, "Pantheistic Dream" has a subtle and expressive beauty, best captured in the wonderful penultimate stanza:

I know not if the oak
Sighs with my breath,
Nor if I sigh in the oak;
Sometimes I am the wild poppy
And sometimes the cat-tail
That scatters its seed on the clear ripple.

I'll be keeping my eyes open for further references to pantheism elsewhere across CAS' body of work, since this poem really does seem to capture something that was personally significant to the author.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

The Mystical Number

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was not published in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Three crows
On the scarecrow,
In the pear-orchard;
Three rabbits, 
Peacefully nibbling in a corner of the cornfield;
Three cockroaches, 
Floating belly-up in a pail-ful of cream
In Mrs. Hoskins' pantry;
Three Peruna bottles,
All empty but one,
On the bureau in Mrs. Hoskins' bedroom;
Three jugs of hard cider,
Under the seat of Farmer Hoskins' buggy,
Returning from the corner store....
O! Mystical number!

In the Hippocampus Press edition of The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith, editors S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz describe this poem as "Another satire on modern poetry."  

I don't doubt that it does qualify thus to be grouped with "Almost Anything" and "La Muse moderne", both of which I blogged about earlier this month.  And yet it seems to me that there is a bit more to the "The Mystical Number", given that symbolic associations of the number three are manifold across human cultures.  

In Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant's authoritative Dictionnaire des Symboles (translated into English by John Buchanan-Brown), the relevant entry notes that "Three is regarded universally as a fundamental number, expressive of an intellectual and spiritual order in God, the cosmos or mankind."

So even if CAS intended "The Mystical Number" as satire, focusing on rather mundane trios ("Three jugs of hard cider, / Under the seat of Farmer Hoskins' buggy"), there is nonetheless an undercurrent of the symbolic nature of that number, whether or not the reader considers three to have mystical properties.  "The Mystical Number" certainly does not rank with CAS' best work in verse, but it's interesting on a couple of levels, and rewards multiple readings.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

La Muse moderne

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was not published in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

In muddled sleep a soused neurotic baud,
Chemised with bumwad, burps beneath the sink,
And when she farts, the whoreson bardlets think
Some new divine afflatus blows abroad.

The French title of this poem can be translated into English as "The Modern Muse".  It shares much in common with "Almost Anything", another poem from CAS which I blogged about earlier this month.  

CAS was no fan of modernist poetry, and "La Muse moderne" demonstrates both his sardonic humor and a seeming contradiction in his artistic taste.  CAS was a great admirer of Charles Baudelaire, one of the most notorious figures of the nineteenth-century French decadent movement.  One could argue that Baudelaire and his peers were not above seeking "divine afflatus" in the "muddled sleep" of  "a soused neurotic baud", and yet in "La Muse moderne" CAS wants to parody that very strain of artistic inspiration.  

I think CAS did not give modernist poetry the consideration it deserved; as with all artistic movements, modernism produced some awful things, but there are some truly inspired works that emerged from the same movement.  One need look no further than the verse of CAS' California contemporary Robinson Jeffers to see that the modernist impulse was capable of creating true poetry.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Isaac Newton

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Stems break, wax melts;
A thorn of thought worked earthward through his mind.
Apples and gods and mortals all came down
By natural causes or by accident.
Some not unmixed with glory:
That sweet boy, who like a murdered bird,
Fell wingless from the sun.
Rain fell, snow fell.
The magnet at the centre of the earth
Drew stars and stones and red-cheeked apples down.
What wonders fell towards that sleepless mole!
What little birds, what great and exiled wings!
Ripeness hung still and heavy from the bough.
He waited for apocalypse to fall,
Feeling the lodestone like another moon
Drawing the earth-shaped apple through the leaves.

A poem celebrating a scientist is something unusual from CAS' pen, given that the author generally had a low opinion of the rapid material progress occurring around him during the first half of the twentieth century.  

I like the way the CAS interweaves the myth of Icarus into this work, with its obvious connections to the "apple incident" for which Newton is so famous.  

While it's certainly a minor poem overall, there is some real music therein, particularly in these lines:

The magnet at the centre of the earth
Drew stars and stones and red-cheeked apples down.

Like CAS, Isaac Newton had a vision that extended to the cosmic scale, and so there is indeed some harmony between their divergent accomplishments.  

Saturday, December 25, 2021

High Surf: Monterey Bay

Read "High Surf: Monterey Bay" at The Eldritch Dark:

Although this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a contemporary setting on the California coast, the closing stanza looks forward into the future, so that hints of the (fictional) continent of Zothique can be seen:

This was the bay the slant-browed fishers sailed
In boats of raddled reeds; and this shall be
The shrunken salt-thick water seined by none
When the last sun, a red and rusty hinge
Torn from the sky, lets down eternity.

Those last few lines anticipate the poem "Zothique", which CAS wrote shortly after "High Surf: Monterey Bay". Note the first stanza of "Zothique":

He who has trod the shadows of Zothique
And looked upon the coal-red sun oblique,
Henceforth returns to no anterior land,
But haunts a later coast
Where cities crumble in the black sea-sand
And dead gods drink the brine.

It's fascinating to read "High Surf: Monterey Bay" in this context, as a fingerpost pointing the way to the greatest of all of CAS' prose creations, "the last continent, beneath a dim sun and sad heavens where the stars come out in terrible brightness before eventide."* 

*From the introduction to the short story "The Empire of the Necromancers".

Friday, December 24, 2021

In a Distant Universe

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) exists in both a French and an English version (the French title is "Dans l'univers lointain").  Neither version was published in CAS' lifetime, and they are not available on The Eldritch Dark.  

The English version of the manuscript was burned, and is therefore incomplete in the second stanza, so the text below has been amended by my own translation from the French version of the poem*.

In the universe veiled by a violet vastness,
The large and nameless flowers on their frail salvers
Flaunt the rubies, bear the rubicelles
An old vermilion sun pours from its coffer
In the universe veiled by a violet vastness.

These flowers are the kings of a red, bright star.
No night, no winter their luster has tarnished;
In the shining evening of this enormous flowering,
A dewy moon illumed in amaranth.
These flowers are the kings of a red, bright star.

They mirror themselves there in sumptuous thousands
In garnet pools, in scarlet streams that ebb
Where rusty palaces crumble
And fallen temples heap their pillars.
They mirror themselves there in sumptuous thousands.

In their red oblivion the unknown tribes
That troubled their empire in an April of yesteryear,
Have vanished even as a flown butterfly,
Even as a memory of suns and clouds:
Their nothingness engulfed the unknown tribes.

Where lie the riven altars of fantastic gods,
Under the sky without wind, without wing or cloud,
Mounts from the flowers an attenuated smoke
Like an incense vowed to the eternal thrones...
Where lie the riven altars of fantastic gods.

Like a lime-caught bird with drooping wing
Time is swallowed up in their crimson Lethe;
And their red, enormous winding-sheet enshrouds
A world that drowns in skies of amaranth
Like a lime-caught bird with drooping wing.

In the universe veiled by a violet vastness,
The large and nameless flowers on their frail salvers
Flaunt the rubies, bear the rubicelles
An old vermilion sun pours from its coffer
In the universe veiled by a violet vastness.

This poem is little more than a catalog of images, and yet its depiction of an exotic garden "In a Distant Universe" is expressed with a glorious blood-drenched splendor.  The fifth stanza alone is pure poetry as only CAS could write it:

Where lie the riven altars of fantastic gods,
Under the sky without wind, without wing or cloud,
Mounts from the flowers an attenuated smoke
Like an incense vowed to the eternal thrones...
Where lie the riven altars of fantastic gods.

*The French version of the second stanza reads in full:

Ces fleurs sont les seuls rois d'une rouge luisante.
Null nuit, nul hiver leur lustre n'a terni;
D'une floraison énorme, en le soir qui reluit,
Une lune rosée allume l'amarante.
Ces fleurs sont les seuls rois d'une rouge luisante.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Pour Chercher du Nouveau

Read "Pour Chercher du Nouveau" at The Eldritch Dark:

The French title of this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) can be translated into English as "In Search of the New".  Despite the title, it does not appear that CAS ever wrote a French version of the same poem.

"Pour Chercher du Nouveau" reads like a litany to summon the powers of the imagination, with its repeated calls to a daemon.  It seems to me that daemon is the creative spirit that lives within an artist.  

The dark fantastic visions described throughout the poem are characteristic of CAS' own writings, so one can read this poem as the author rallying his considerable talents in preparation for beginning a new work:

Call up the errant daemon, the pilgrim of strange lands,
And he will come, arising from shadow-tided strands,
With gifts of bale and beauty and wonder in his hands.

That closing stanza is as good a description of CAS the writer as I've ever seen, with its powerful suggestion of the wonders of Averoigne, Xiccarph, Zothique and so many other wonderful creations that flowed from his pen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

'That Motley Drama'

Read "'That Motley Drama'" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was presented as a translation from the Spanish of Clérigo Herrero, although Herrero was in fact one of CAS' own pseudonyms.

It takes its title from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Conqueror Worm", where the phrase introduces the third stanza:

That motley drama—oh, be sure
         It shall not be forgot!
     With its Phantom chased for evermore,
         By a crowd that seize it not,
     Through a circle that ever returneth in
         To the self-same spot,
     And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
         And Horror the soul of the plot.

Some commentators (notably Steven Behrends) have described CAS as being a misanthrope, and that sensibility certainly pervades "'That Motley Drama'", with its references to "Our puerile drama" and "man, the maniacal ape".  Those sentiments are well in line with the tone of Poe's "The Conqueror Worm", and yet I read CAS' poem as being inspired by something broader, namely a frustration with the cruelty of organic life:

What god will care to curse or bless
Nature, the crouching leopardess,
Or man, the maniacal ape?

Humanity may be a bunch of lunatic primates, but Nature itself is portrayed as predatory and remorseless.  So rather than misanthropy, I think "'That Motley Drama'" expresses outrage at the imperfect nature of the human experience, that run of pain and disappointment culminating in the silence of the grave.  It's an extreme viewpoint, but one that any intelligent person must consider from time-to-time, and CAS and Poe have both provided rich creative tapestries with which to dress those gloomy thoughts.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Almost Anything

Read "Almost Anything" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a fairly throwaway poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), a snarky comment on modernist poetry that amounts to a missed shot.  

The first stanza attempts to parody the excesses of poetic modernism, but does a pretty poor job hitting the mark; one gets the impression that CAS had in fact read very little of the sort of verse he sought to lampoon.  

The second stanza presents the argument of the modernist poet, quoting Charles Baudelaire along the way: the line "Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère" is from "Au Lecteur" (aka "To the Reader"), the introduction to Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal.  The line can be translated into English as "Hypocrite reader, my fellow, my brother!"

"Au Lecteur" is well worth reading in full when contemplating CAS' "Almost Anything", as it presents Baudelaire's argument for the controversial content of his volume.  Multiple English translations can be found online; I think the best of these comes from Robert Lowell (the fourth version on the page linked below):

In the argument that concludes "Almost Anything", CAS seems to have missed the point that Baudelaire made in "Au Lecteur".  In the voice of a unnamed modernist poet, CAS writes:

What is the use of writing this modernist poetry
If one is not permitted
To be decently or indecently cryptic on occasion? . . .

Writing in the nineteenth century, Baudelaire sought to justify the then-scandalous content of Les Fleurs du Mal simply by pointing out that he wrote about those baser things in which practically all humans revel from time-to-time, whether or not we wish to have our naughty little dalliances publicly known.  

CAS' own words, quoted above, may have been offered with satiric intent, and yet they do in fact justify the very poetic modernism that is his target.  All serious forms of art sometimes incorporate dislocation, mis-direction, and obscurity, simply because those sensations are a part of the human experience.  An excessive reliance on impenetrability can, of course, be tedious for an audience and is likely the hallmark of an artist who has not mastered their form, and yet a little ambiguity can go a long way to enriching creative expression to fully capture the complexities of the human condition.

Monday, December 20, 2021

If Winter Remain

Read "If Winter Remain" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) really hits the mark for me, as it incorporates a light narrative quality, very reminiscent of CAS' excellent work in the prose poetry form.  The imagery throughout the poem is bold and striking, as evidenced from the very beginning in the first stanza:

Hateful, and most abhorred,
about us the season
of sleet, of snow and of frost
reaches, and seems unending
as plains whereon
lashed prisoners go,
chained, and enforced
to labor in glacial mines,
digging the baubles of greybeard kings,
of bleak Polarian lords.

Here CAS gives us not just a simple winter landscape, but one that is enriched by the vision of those "lashed prisoners" toiling in the service of "bleak Polarian lords." This landscape isn't just freezing; it's unremittingly cruel.

The speaker then dreams of warmer, bountiful times where it was possible to idle while "drinking the candent flame / with lips unsered, unsated".  But such halcyon days cannot last forever: in the final stanza, the hammer falls as the reality of the situation begins to sink in:

But. . . . if summer should come no more,
and winter remain
a stark colossus
bestriding the years?

All of this inevitably reminds me of Game of Thrones, with its frequent refrain of "Winter is coming."  But "If Winter Remain" is something more, a dramatic lyric memento of better times, with only a grim future to contemplate on the near horizon.  CAS brings all of his considerable talents to work in this poem, and it's a knockout.

Sunday, December 19, 2021


Read "Tolometh" at The Eldritch Dark:

The title "Tolometh" was Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) own invention, and oddly enough the name was borrowed for a character in the Marvel Comics version of Conan the Barbarian, as shown in the image at the top of this post.

The poem "Tolometh" is a revision of his earlier work "Ougabalys".  That first version was published in Weird Tales magazine in 1930, and "Tolometh" appears to have been completed at least fifteen years later.  

I read and blogged about "Ougabalys" last year, and I was very enthusiastic about it.  "Tolometh" retains four of five stanzas from that earlier poem, and adds two new stanzas (the fourth and the sixth).  The stanzas that are common to both versions are only slightly updated in "Tolometh".

What is most interesting is the contrast in the endings of each of the versions of this poem.  "Ougabalys" ends with this stanza:

But now, within my sunken walls,
The slow blind ocean-serpent crawls,
And sea-worms are my ministers;
And wondering fishes pass me now,
Or press before mine eyeless brow
As once the thronging worshipers.

In this scenario, the oceanic deity whose voice animates the poem is lost and forgotten, and the poem is largely a reminiscence of better times, when a seemingly endless parade of supplicants brought forth their fantastic offerings.

While "Tolometh" retains the lines quoted above as its penultimate stanza, it ends on an entirely different note with a new closing stanza:

And yet, in ways outpassing thought,
Men worship me that know me not.
They work my will. I shall arise
In that last dawn of atom-fire,
To stand upon the planet's pyre
And cast my shadow on the skies.

Lost and forgotten the god may be, but his unacknowledged influence remains: "Men worship me that know me not."  There is something of a cataclysmic splendor and malign magnificence to the closing sentence that begins "I shall arise / In that last dawn of atom-fire", well-suited to the age of the bomb in which CAS wrote those lines (the late 1940's).  

All in all, "Tolometh" is a powerful re-working of "Ougabalys", and adds considerable depth not present in the original.  It's a standout poem from CAS, and rewards many a re-reading.

Saturday, December 18, 2021


Read "Avowal" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) gorgeously expresses a fervent longing for the glories of the mythic past.  All those legends may exist today only in the imagination, but the considerable power of that same imagination can create a vision of "unestablished places" so real that it can be felt as a palpable loss.  

The closing sestet of "Avowal" seems perfect to me:

Yea, for the lover of lost pagan things,
No vintage grown in islands unascended
Shall quite supplant the old Bacchantic urn,
No mouth that new, Canopic suns make splendid
Content the mouth of sealed rememberings
Where still the nymph's uncleaving kisses burn.

What is so striking about those lines is the maturity of conception, as the cosmic grandeur of CAS' youthful "Star-Treader" period has evolved into something equally fantastic, and yet expressed in less lofty terms.  The lines "No vintage grown in islands unascended / Shall quite supplant the old Bacchantic urn" invoke the unknown wonders of the unrevealed future, as well as the departed splendors of the fabled past, all expressed through the very tangible metaphor of well-aged wines.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Sonnet for the Psychoanalysts

Read "Sonnet for the Psychoanalysts" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem marked the late appearance of a work from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) in Weird Tales magazine (January 1952), long after he had ceased to be a regular contributor in the 1930's.

The author appears to be having a bit of fun at the expense of a certain class of mental health professionals, and yet even the extremely disjointed dream imagery at work in this poem is not without its charms:

in balconies that craned on vacant skies,
one booted leg went striding sentry-wise.
It was my own.

Although "Sonnet for the Psychoanalysts" was likely intended more as a social statement than as a work of art, it's an interesting read simply for the cynical sense of humor that CAS unleashes.  That particular tone is not infrequently found in his letters, but it rarely makes an appearance among his works in verse.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Only to One Returned

Read "Only to One Returned" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) draws on the myth of Odysseus, and particularly his return to Ithaca at the end of his legendary wanderings.  And yet it is built only on the broad idea of that particular piece of cultural history, and incorporates suggestions of wonder and wizardry from the fables of many lands.  

In the end, the poem suggests, the sweetest rewards are to be found in turning away from grand adventures and embracing the comforts of the known, where "Love finds again some fleshly citadel, / Safe-walled, with many a pleasance sweet to him."

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

On the Mount of Stone

Read "On the Mount of Stone" at The Eldritch Dark:

There is a whiff of benign sorcery in these lines, as Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) casts a loved one in the role of the immortal phoenix, endlessly cycling through long life and fiery rebirth in deserts of Arabia.

The closing stanza is near-perfect, as the flames that will trigger the rebirth of his paramour "Renewed with young auroral wings" are fed by 

Laurel-leaves and laurel-blooms,
Dreams, and blood, and flowers
Dropped by Hermes-footed hours

Evergreen laurel trees (or shrubs) have long been symbols of immortality, but it's those "Dreams, and blood, and flowers" that combine to flawlessly express the complexity and fullness of a life lived with such passion that an immortal rebirth is its just reward.

Over the last few years, I've read hundreds of poems by CAS, and I sometimes question why I feel the need to blog and comment on each one.  Then I encounter a piece as breathtaking as "On the Mount of Stone" and my doubts are once again laid to rest.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

No Stranger Dream

Read "No Stranger Dream" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a remarkably effective love poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), casting his beloved in the fantastic role of a great beauty from the deep legends of myth.  

The poem takes the form of a sonnet, and CAS skillfully works the volta: the opening octet presents a portrait of one so lovely as to be able to call "The feet that flying Lemures have drawn / To years beyond the darkness and the dawn".

After the turn, the closing sestet focuses on the supplicant, that "the pilgrim of dark shrines" who desires only 

To watch, in a place of summer grass and pines,
The spangled spectrum somnolently spun
In your deep hair by the seaward-turning sun.

CAS wrote many a romantic verse, some of which I have found to be rather uninspired.  "No Stranger Dream" is a significant exception, as the poet draws on his interests in dark fantasy and mythology to craft a poem that exults the power of beauty and love to contest even the arcane powers of the restless spirits. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

Hellenic Sequel

Read "Hellenic Sequel" at The Eldritch Dark:

This recollection of a dream awash in the verdant glories of Ancient Greece is simply beautiful, describing a setting that must have held an almost spiritual power for Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).

The first stanza has a visual focus, as the colors introduced in the two opening lines ("verd-antique" and "murex-tinted") anticipate the "Flowering grape that clasped and crowned".

With the second stanza, there is an immediate switch to an aural focus, built around these near-perfect lines relating the music of a naiad: "Sweeter than silence was her song, / Sweeter than sleep her answer".

Having spent the last few months reading haiku from CAS, it is a rewarding change for me to delve back into his longer work in verse, and "Hellenic Sequel" is a perfect example of the subtle magic of his mature output (he was in his early fifties when this poem was written).

Sunday, December 12, 2021


Here is the last in a large collection of haiku written by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).   As with many of his other poems in the haiku form, "Tule-Mists" was unpublished in his lifetime.  It's not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Where tules grow
The fumes of cauldrons chill
Engulf the sanguine afternoon.

The common name "tule" usually refers to Schoenoplectus acutus, a marsh plant that is common in CAS' home state of California.  The poem seems to describe the phenomenon of "tule fog", which the relevant Wikipedia article notes as "the leading cause of weather-related accidents in California."  

The phrase "fumes of cauldrons chill" lends a sorcerous note to this short verse, which gains even more power after the enjambment where the word "Engulf" provides a sense of that dark power spreading across the landscape of a "sanguine afternoon."

Saturday, December 11, 2021


Here is another haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was not published in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the full text:

When I heard the singer bawl
I thought he had swallowed his cocktail-cherries
Tooth-picks and all.

This short poem feels like the author having a bit of fun after hearing a musical broadcast that didn't really capture his fancy.  It's a minor work at best, and at least CAS had the decency not to name the unfortunate crooner!

Friday, December 10, 2021

Ocean Twilight

Here is another haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here is the complete text:

Grey gulls on a grey sea:
Out of the sunset-glow
A wind blows bleak and keen.

This is obviously a pretty minor poem from CAS, and yet the use of alliteration is skillfully handled.  The "g" sound prominent in the first line carries over to "sunset-glow" at the end of the second, but the real magic comes in the final line: while the phrase "blows bleak" is dominated by a "b" sound, it also introduces the "k" sound that alliterates with the final word "keen."

It's notable that in a short poem that was not published in his lifetime, CAS was still paying close attention to the musicality of his diction, a sure sign that he was a true poet!

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Maternal Prostitute

Here is another haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime.  As it is not available on The Eldritch Dark, here is the complete text:

On the stranger at her breast
Patiently she smiled: 
A mother with her child.

I believe that in the title of this short poem CAS is using a less-familiar meaning of the word "prostitute", one that the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines as "A person entirely or abjectly devoted to another."  

All the same, it's a curious word choice, given the strong (mostly negative) associations of the more common usage of the word!

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Limestone Cavern

Here is another short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime.  Since it's not available on The Eldritch Dark, here's the complete text:

Grotesques leaning, 
Hued with verdigris and cream,
Buttress the chambered gloom.

This haiku presents a beautiful portrait of the dense alien environment of a limestone cavern, one of the true wonders of our planet's geology.  The closing phrase "the chambered gloom" is a perfect expression of what it feels like to stand in such an incredible (yet haunting) space.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021


This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

He draws empyreal breath
Who buys no potion
From the pharmacy of death.

I believe the title of this poem comes from the Latin adjective meaning "enlightened", rather than having anything to do with the Bavarian Illuminati (or the many imitators that have sought to succeed them in the following centuries).  

Given that context, these lines do express an unusually hopeful message to emerge from CAS' pen, since they suggest that the enlightened individual can, in some unspecified way, transcend the death of the physical being.  CAS did cultivate an interest in Buddhist philosophy towards the end of his life, and I can only assume that this haiku was inspired by the same.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Prisoner in Vain

Read "Prisoner in Vain" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has much in common with "Bygone Interlude", a poem from the same author that I blogged about yesterday.  Both works seemingly describe a romantic episode by a stream or river.  "Prisoner in Vain" suggests the impossibility of permanent romantic entanglement, since the "Fetters of water-grass" are as temporal as the rushing water that continually flows around them.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Bygone Interlude

Here is another haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that went unpublished in his lifetime.  It's not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

I waited on the hot bank:
Naked and cool,
You floated in the river-pool.

There is a nice transition in temperature gradients here, as CAS takes us from a "hot bank" to the "Naked and cool" of the speaker, who has presumably just emerged from the water, where his companion floats "in the river-pool", which one can assume is the coolest spot of all.

I'm always impressed with how much CAS was able to get across in the short form of the haiku poem.  Simon Armitage, who is the current Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, has described haiku as "those finicky, fiddly little three-line poems about nature and the weather that look so simple, but are almost impossible to perfect."  Armitage is no doubt correct about the challenges of the haiku form, and yet somehow CAS was able to master those challenges time and again.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Morning Star of the Mountains

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Wakeful in the sleeping bag,
I met the stare
Of Venus, risen on you hair.

Despite the brevity of this poem, CAS gets a lot of mileage out of the planet Venus and the many roles it has played throughout the ages of human culture. The second planet from the sun is very prominent during sunrise, but it is also named for the Roman goddess of love, beauty, and desire.  So when the speaker in this poem views the morning star "risen in your hair", he is implicitly comparing his companion to that famously alluring divinity.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Garden of Priapus

Read "Garden of Priapus" at The Eldritch Dark:

Priapus is a fertility god from Greek mythology, perhaps best known for his permanent erection.  Statues of Priapus are believe to have been common in Roman gardens.

The tranquility we might usually associate with a garden setting is slightly altered in this short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), wherein he adds an element of suspense: "Somewhere in the garden / Lurks the garden-god".  The active verb "Lurks" suggest that the manifestation of the god in question is not an inanimate work of sculpture. 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Bacchants and Bacchante

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the full text:

From the Chinese cymbal
Whereon we banged by fire-light
Clangors ranged the night.

It seems to me that this poem must refer to CAS' friendship with the poet Eric Barker and the dancer Madelynne Greene, which provided the inspiration for his poetic cycle The Hill of Dionysus.  Barker and CAS would of course be the Bacchants, and Greene the lone Bacchante.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Picture by Piero di Cosimo

Read "Picture by Piero di Cosimo" at The Eldritch Dark:

I assume that this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) refers to "The Discovery of Honey by Bacchus" (shown above), a painting by Piero di Cosimo now held in the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts.  Their website has some interesting background on the painting:

CAS' interpretation of the events depicted in the picture differs from that of the museum curators: in CAS' poem the "Satyrs loot the bee-tree", while the museum commentary notes that "satyrs and maenads...make noise to attract a swarm of bees to settle in a hollow tree."  Those actions supposedly give rise to the mythical discovery of honey.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021


This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished is his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the full text:

Pentheus, come not here
Where the thyrsi rear
And the maenads' frenzy mounts.

As with CAS' poem "Bacchic Orgy", which I blogged about yesterday, "Abstainer" refers to the fascinating cult of the maenads, and their strange relationship to their patron Bacchus (aka Dionysus).  To quote from Edith Hamilton's Mythology (chapter II):

The worship of Dionysus was centered in these two ideas so far apart - of freedom and ecstatic joy and of savage brutality.  The God of Wine could give either to his worshippers.  Throughout the story of his life he is sometimes man's blessing, sometimes his ruin.

In the case of Pentheus, it was surely the latter, as he was speared to death by his own mother: Agave of Thebes, the queen of the maenads.  The story ends on an even grizzlier note as the band of maenads tear Pentheus' body apart with their bare hands.  CAS' "Abstainer" thus serves as something of an unheeded warning delivered much too late.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Bacchic Orgy

This is another haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was not published in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Still, beneath the gibbous moon,
Bacchus-led, the maenad crew
Drank and danced and slew.

The maenads (or female followers of Bacchus/Dionysus) are a subject that CAS treated in the earlier poem "Bacchante", which I blogged about last year.  Because "Bacchante" is a portrait of CAS' friend Madelynne Greene, it has a considerably different tone from that of "Bacchic Orgy", and yet the powerful presence of the maenads can be found there as well:

Behind, before us sweep
Maenad and Bassarid in spectral rout
With many an unheard shout;
Cithaeron looms with every festal steep
Over this hill resolved to dream and doubt.

I'm not surprised that the mythical figures of the ecstatic, intoxicated maenads had a strong appeal for CAS, given his passion for the unrestricted expression of the creative impulse, not to mention his fondness for wine!  Despite their violent reputation, the unrepressed nature of the maenads has an undeniable appeal to our wilder natures.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Initiate of Dionysus

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available at The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Pagan shadows fill the eyes
Of one who shares 
Even once the Mysteries.

In the Hippocampus Press edition of The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith, the editors note that "the Mysteries" refers to the Eleusinian Mysteries of the ancient Greek cult of Demeter and Persephone.  The god Dionysus was tangentially involved in those same Mysteries.

The opening phrase "Pagan shadows" feels right in line with the author's general oeuvre, especially if the reader recalls his short fiction set in the (fictional) medieval realm of Averoigne, where pious Christians are routinely undermined and undone by entities from the primeval forests encircling the helpless cathedrals and monasteries. 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Felo-de-se of the Parasite

Read "Felo-de-se of the Parasite" at The Eldritch Dark:

The Latin phrase "felo de se" refers to a person who commits suicide.

In a letter to fellow writer Samuel Loveman* from 1919 (many years before this haiku was written), Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) provided some interesting background with reference to his home in California's Sierra Nevada foothills:

Glad you got the mistletoe.  It's very common here, and even kills some of the oaks on which it flourishes as a parasite.  I've seen them thicker with mistletoe than they ever were with their own foliage.  I admit a fondness for the stuff, with its old Druidic associations.

It's interesting how in this short poem "Felo-de-se of the Parasite" CAS casts the parasitic mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) as a suicidal pest of the mighty oak, but of course, that is the fate of all parasitic plants which eventually kill their hosts.

*See letter #144 in Born Under Saturn: The Letters of Samuel Loveman and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Friday, November 26, 2021


Read "Water-Hemlock" at The Eldritch Dark:

Yesterday, I posted about Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) poem "Berries of the Deadly Nightshade", which takes for its topic the toxic fruit of Atropa belladonna.  The common name "water hemlock" is applied to several plants of the genus Cicuta, most of which are also poisonous to humans.  As the relevant Wikipedia article reminds us, "Water hemlock is considered one of North America's most toxic plants." 

So its not a surprise that CAS chose to write about water hemlock, given his predilection for looking beneath the surface of things and seeing beyond the pretty flowers (as shown above).  The closing phrase "Rooted with death" has dual meanings, given that the roots of water hemlock tend to have the highest concentration of cicutoxin, but also highlighting the inability of "the south wind's breath" to displace the threat.