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.

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