Tuesday, January 12, 2021


Read "Paphnutius" at The Eldritch Dark:

My blogging journey through the poetic works of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) largely follows the Hippocampus Press edition of The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith, edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.  In their notes for this particular haiku, they state the the title references Paphnutius of Thebes, an Egyptian bishop of the fourth century.

However, I think the editors might be wrong in this case, since in context it makes more sense that CAS titles this haiku in honor of Paphnutius the Ascetic, an Egyptian anchorite also of the fourth century.  I say this because the poem references the Stylites, that curious group of Christian ascetics who preached and prayed from the top of pillars, in pursuit of the same sort of religious goals that inspired Paphnutius' own reclusive lifestyle.

The verse itself is a simple observation of diurnal cycles, rendered with the immediacy that captures the "haiku moment".  What's curious to me is that this is one of several haiku that CAS wrote that deal with explicitly Christian themes, an unusual topic for a writer who had little patience with organized religion.


  1. CAS seemed interested in the Stylites, because he also wrote a poem titled "The Stylite" which further explored the idea (as well as carnal and pagan temptations like something out of Flaubert). And in his short story "The Door to Saturn" he mentioned this race of Stylitean birds:

    "They saw the Djhibbis, that apterous and Stylitean bird-people who roost on their individual dolomites for years at a time and meditate upon the cosmos, uttering to each other at long intervals the mystic syllables yop, yeep, and yoop, which are said to express an unfathomed range of esoteric thought."

    I wouldn't be surprised if he was inspired by the idea of a person who could spend much of their life in the boundless heavens, where no one else would go, and at the same time allowed his pagan and cosmic interests to fill that heavenly space.

    I'm surprised Joshi and Schultz would overlook Paphnutius the Stylite. Paphnutius of Thebes had nothing to do with this religious practice, and I don't see any connection that can be made with him in this particular haiku, unless it's subtle.

  2. I remembered that CAS incorporated the stylitic concept into one of his stories, but couldn't initially remember which one. Thanks for pointing me back to "The Door to Saturn": that paragraph about the Djhibbis is a wonderful bit of droll humor!

    Your thoughts about CAS' attraction to the stylitic practice make perfect sense, even when considered at the very simple level of the stylites locating themselves physically just a bit closer to the edge of the cosmos. There's an obvious philosophical connection there for someone of CAS' temperament.