Saturday, June 5, 2021

Slaughter-House in Spring

Read "Slaughter-House in Spring" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the first in a series of haiku that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote about the abattoir located not far from his home in Auburn, California.  Living close to such a grim enterprise clearly had an impact on the poet, as abattoirs are mentioned multiple times throughout his literary corpus, notably in these starkly beautiful lines from scene III of his verse play The Dead will Cuckold You (1951):

A toothless vampire tugs and mumbles
Some ancient trot's whitleather hide,
But he'll fly soon to the abattoir
And the pooling blood where the stuck pig died.

"Slaughter-House in Spring" feels spiritually related to the lines quoted above, as the grisly phenomena of the opening line are characterized as a "Taint" whose corruption fouls the "flowers and mossy stones."  Probably few human beings truly love abattoirs, but CAS views them as a source of iniquity, despoilers of beauty and nature. 


  1. Based off your commentary on unpublished poems, I'm assuming you also own the 3-volume complete poetry & translations from Hippocampus Press. It's really a lovely set, though I am hopeful for a 3rd ed. someday, since the revised paperback still has a few errors -- or what I perceive as such -- present.

    Not sure if you've read Smith's mentor, George Sterling, but they also have a 3-volume set of his poetry, which I enjoyed. Some similarities with Smith, but pretty different on the whole.

  2. Yes indeed, I am reading through the 3-volume Hippocampus edition of the complete poetry. It does have some errors, but given the extensive notes on sources, the editors do a good job of pointing the reader to alternate versions of each poem text (which I often do look at, since I have other editions of CAS' verse).

    I haven't read all of George Sterling's poetry, but I have read "The Testimony of the Suns" and some of his other verse in anthologies. While I like some of Sterling's work, I generally find it to be inferior to CAS' own work: the latter was capable of working in the "grand romantic" style without sacrificing vigor and musicality, whereas Sterling's work often strikes me as stiff and overly concerned with form over content.

    I'd be curious if you have individual favorite poems from Sterling's corpus? Perhaps I simply haven't read the best of his work.

  3. There's a few of his poems I found enjoyable but the only one I remember liking a lot is Old Partings.

    There is no wind tonight. The sea is near.
    The pearl of mist upon the shrouded sands;
    And now I know that once in other lands,
    And in a tragic and forgotten year,
    I waited even as you and I wait here,
    Eyes on regretful eyes and hands in hands.
    So clearly in the soul that vision stands,
    I half recall the starlight in the tear

    And share you not with me that memory
    Of lives ere this, if so remembrance be?
    The many sobs in each returning wave
    Seem telling from the mist along the shore,
    Tranquil and sad as moonlight on a grave,
    "Thou dost forget. All this has been before."

  4. Thanks for introducing me to Sterling's "Old Partings". I had not encountered that one before, and it is a good example of his abilities as a poet. I still don't think he's anywhere close to being CAS' equal, but few writers are!