Was not the people's blessing as we pastHeart-comfort and a balsam to thy blood?
Sunday, February 28, 2021
Saturday, February 27, 2021
Read "Night of Miletus" at The Eldritch Dark:
The title of this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) refers to one of the great cities of the Classical Greek period, which is now part of Turkey. By extension, it likely also refers to Aristides of Miletus, who set his tales in that same city "which had a reputation for a luxurious, easy-going lifestyle" (according to Wikipedia).
Compared to many of his other works in the haiku form, "Night of Miletus" feels rather slight, with no significant poetic techniques at work and with a rather straightforward visual component that doesn't really inspire a "haiku moment".
Friday, February 26, 2021
Read "Love in Dreams" at The Eldritch Dark:
This is one of five poems that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) arranged together under the group title "Pulse-Beats of Eros", although that heading was not maintained when these verses were included in the omnibus Selected Poems (1971).
"Love in Dreams" makes wonderful use of consonance (built around the letter "n") in combination with end rhyme, concluding with the supremely beautiful phrase "The night-found rose." Even while working in the short form of haiku, CAS was capable of the verbal magic that distinguishes his very best poetry.
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Monday, February 22, 2021
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Saturday, February 20, 2021
Read "Gopher-Hole in Orchard" at The Eldritch Dark:
This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a subtle circularity which lends it a humorous aspect. Each of the three lines has a key word incorporating consonance built on the letter "g"; those words in order are:
Friday, February 19, 2021
Thursday, February 18, 2021
Read "Poet in A Barroom" at The Eldritch Dark:
I can't help suspecting that this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was inspired by a personal experience, given that CAS was known to sometimes frequent bars in his hometown of Auburn, California.
There's a sense of isolation in the final line "One peers from a time-lost star." The life of a poet working in a small rural town must have had many challenges, and CAS' letters often speak of his frustration with his circumstances, as an artist living in a community that did not seem to place great value on creative endeavors.
Despite that, the sense of isolation in "Poet in A Barroom" is not complete; the speaker appears to be including himself amongst those who "Throng the bar". If indeed this poem is autobiographical, I think that sentiment reflects the fact that CAS was not aloof, although perhaps something of a reserved personality.
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Read "Pool At Lobos" at The Eldritch Dark:
Point Lobos was a part of the California landscape beloved to George Sterling, who would pass on that love to both Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) and Robinson Jeffers, younger poets to whom Sterling served as something of a mentor.
Sterling spent part of his life in nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Point Lobos found its way into his verse, as in the somewhat overwrought "An Alter of the West", which has moments of beauty scattered amongst the verbosity:
A Titan at his toil—
Has graven with the measured surge and sweep
Of waves that broke ten thousand years ago.
CAS wrote a beautiful essay called "George Sterling: Poet and Friend" which contains this evocative passage:
Robinson Jeffers has written of Sterling's Indian-like familiarity with the coast about Carmel. Truly, he was the genius of that scene and nothing escaped his observation and knowledge. I remember the hidden sea-cavern that he showed me below Point Lobos; the places where wild strawberries grew the thickest; the abalone-reefs; and the furtive incursions of a strange lurid red fungus that he pointed out to me on the Lobos cypresses.
The inspirational quality of the spectacular setting of Point Lobos is evident in that passage, and even more so in Jeffers' long poem "Point Pinos and Point Lobos", as in this short excerpt:
Stick in the stone, the stiff plates of the cypress boughs divide the sea's breath,
Hard green cutting soft gray...
In "Pool At Lobos", CAS presents a humbler experience, but one that has considerable charm, achieved by capturing the almost imperceptible movement of water in the slow gyrations of sea anemones and shells.
Sterling, Jeffers, and Smith are certainly not the only artists that have ever found inspiration at Point Lobos, but their unique responses to those surroundings are wonderfully individual and reflective of the variety of expression that is possible via the medium of poetry.
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Monday, February 15, 2021
Read "High Mountain Juniper" at The Eldritch Dark:
The hardy conifers of the genus Juniperus are commonly found at the very edge of tree lines at high elevations, and this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) celebrates these remarkable plants.
It's worth noting that some of the oldest living junipers are found in the Sierra Nevadas, not too far from CAS' hometown of Auburn, California. A couple of these (the Scofield Juniper and the Bennett Juniper) are both estimated to be well over two thousand years old. So when CAS describes his "High Mountain Juniper" as being "Mortised in granite aeons", it's no exaggeration!
Sunday, February 14, 2021
Read "Crows in Spring" at The Eldritch Dark:
I'm reading this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) in the middle of a February snowstorm in Seattle. Normally there are a lot of crows around where I live, but the inclement weather is keeping many of them out-of-sight.
So reading "Crows in Spring" gives me something to look forward to, when the sun breaking through the cloud layer animates the lives that are dormant for the moment.
Saturday, February 13, 2021
Read "Improbable Dream" at The Eldritch Dark:
This is the last in a series of three haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that take as their subject the residents of a Catholic covent near his home in Auburn, California.
This one moves beyond the landscape of the physical world into the strange realms of dreamland, and (as with the earlier poems in the series) takes inspiration from the cloistered lives of the religious sisters, and imagines one of them breaking free of her vows and reveling in her sensual humanity.
I can't help but suspect that CAS saw this "Improbable Dream" as something positive, with its implication of a willing embrace of the full possibilities of the human experience.
Friday, February 12, 2021
Read "Nuns Walking in the Orchard" at The Eldritch Dark:
This is the second in a series of three haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) dealing with the Auburn (California) Foundation of The Religious Sisters of Mercy.
As with "Spring Nunnery" (see my previous blog post), "Nuns Walking in the Orchard" draws a strong contrast, in this case between the "Sable-robed" nuns and the "red cherries / Ripening with June." It's a rich visual image, but it also emboldens my theory that CAS is suggesting a divergence between the cloistered lives of the Sisters and the fecund phenomenon of early summer, as nature pours forth the fleshy bounty of a very physical world.
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
In the early 1940’s the community moved to its present Motherhouse in Auburn. It was at that time that the community became known as the Sisters of Mercy of Auburn.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Monday, February 8, 2021
Read "The Last Apricot" at The Eldritch Dark:
This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) includes an interesting example of consonance, where each line concludes on a syllable ending on the letter "t" (it, rot, cot).
Those hard consonant sounds embellish the central image of the apricot "splashed in rot", an interesting twist on the "haiku moment" where the insight is disappointing rather then elevating.
Saturday, February 6, 2021
Read "The Sparrow's Nest" at The Eldritch Dark:
This simple poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) celebrates a seemingly accidental discovery, as the speaker braves unwelcoming "thorned blackberries" and "unpruned peach" boughs to experience the simple delight of viewing a bird's nest in amongst all the overgrown vegetation. It's a wonderful celebration of the small rewards available to a careful and patient observer of the natural world.
Friday, February 5, 2021
Thursday, February 4, 2021
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
Read "Geese in the Spring Night" at The Eldritch Dark:
This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) calls to mind a beautiful woodblock print from Katsushika Hokusai (as shown above). The English title of the print has been rendered variously in English as "Full Moon", "Descending Geese and Full Moon" or "Geese, Reeds and Full Moon".
I have no evidence that CAS was familiar with Japanese prints in the ukiyo-e style with which Hokusai is strongly associated, but it wouldn't surprise me if he was, given that these works had become well-known in Europe and North America by the late nineteenth century. There is a definite aesthetic sympathy between the haiku poetry form and contemplative images rendered in the ukiyo-e style, a combination which would seem to have a strong appeal to someone of CAS' artistic temperament.
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Read "Stormy Afterglow" at The Eldritch Dark:
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) goes beyond the placid experiences he typically describes in his verse in the haiku form. The last two lines of "Stormy Afterglow" invoke a violent moment as "Lightning tore the clouds' tall / Rose and violet scarps." It's interesting to see CAS write about such a dramatic event in the (often) subtle structure of the haiku, demonstrating the vast possibilities of even such a short poetic form.
Monday, February 1, 2021
Read "Phallus Impudica" at the Eldritch Dark:
This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is named for the undeniably phallic Common Stinkhorn, ubiquitous throughout the United States and generally appearing late in the growing season. It's a simple nature study, and the haiku form is ideal for delivering this sort of small but vivid impression.