Monday, January 4, 2021


Read "Unicorn" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the first in a large series of poems that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote in the haiku form.  It's interesting that CAS adopted this form, both because it emphasizes very short, unrhymed verse, but also because the form was so popular with poetic modernists (such as Ezra Pound).  As a general rule of thumb, CAS was not a huge fan of the modernist poetry movement, so I'm quite curious as to how The Bard of Auburn worked in this form.

"Unicorn" was included in Spells and Philtres (1958) CAS' second poetry collection published by Arkham House.  Several poems in the haiku form were included in that volume under the heading "Strange Miniatures", and "Unicorn" is the lead entry in that section.  Additional haiku are included in the same volume in a section titled "Distillations".

CAS includes end rhymes in "Unicorn", so from the get-go it's clear he was forging his own path even while adopting an established poetic form.  He has used a legendary subject for his verse, clearly in line with his well-established interests in mythology and the weird.  

It's not a standout poem by any means, but as an entrĂ©e into a new poetic technique late in CAS' career, it's a fascinating start to a new phase of his creative process.


  1. In the 40s CAS was assisting a Kenneth Yasuda with an educational book on the history and form of haiku. So little is known about this relationship. Were they friends or colleagues, and did their interactions influence CAS to write these haiku? CAS was also an admirer of Lafcadio Hearn, so I wonder if that led him to experimenting with it.

    Whatever the case, it's nice seeing masters of poetry who aren't afraid of bending rules. When I first read these little poems I hardly recognized them as haiku simply because some of them rhymed and some of them had more than the expected number of syllables!

  2. Yausda did include CAS in the "Acknowledgements" section of his book "Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature and History" amongst a group of folks that he thanks "for their help in clarifying my thinking and poetic practice." Sort of ambiguous, but a nice acknowledgement anyway!

    Like you, I admire the fact that CAS could work in the haiku form without worrying too much if he broke "the rules" in achieving his own creative expressions. There are quite a few poets working in the weird vein here in the early twenty-first century who have a somewhat slavish devotion to traditional poetic forms, and that strict adherence often makes for weak poems.