Monday, January 31, 2022


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) exists in both English and Spanish versions (the latter is titled "Añoranza").  Neither version was published in his lifetime, and neither is available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's what remains of the  English text (part of the surviving manuscript was burned, so the third and fourth stanzas are incomplete):

Beholding the change of the autumnal azure,
reading in the suns a funereal sign,
hearing the plaintive birds in their flight
to the end of the ultimate heaven, 
I have felt a breath of bitterness
from the wings of beauty.

Have the pinions of ravens darkened the field
in their passage from a place of ripe corruptions?
What baleful shadow enshrouds my heart? ...
In this poisonous potion
that my heart has drunken
what verdigris is melted? ...

Sagacious witch, whence comes this melancholia
that has embittered the vintages of mutation?
Is it born from the nocturnal 
pole of Saturn?
[or fro]m a most beloved bosom
[...] have kissed?

[...]al wilderness?
[...]thal poison?
[...]s of sorrows? ...

Despite the fact that the full text of this poem does not survive, what does remain is very much up to CAS' high standard, full of darkly evocative language that truly sings.  The opening of the second stanza is practically breathtaking: "Have the pinions of ravens darkened the field / in their passage from a place of ripe corruptions?"

At this point, I really have to express grateful acknowledgement to Hippocampus Press and editors S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz for their work in compiling and publishing The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith.  It's only through this first complete collection of CAS' poetry that general readers have access to previously unknown work from CAS like "Melancholia".  And I for one am very glad to have the opportunity to read these hidden gems from The Bard of Auburn!

Sunday, January 30, 2022

A diversion: the poetry of Eric Barker

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was good friends with the poet Eric Wilson Barker and his wife, the dancer Madelynne Greene.  In a blog post from a few years ago, I considered some criticism of CAS' poetic practice that Barker made in a commemorative essay on his relationship with The Bard of Auburn:

More recently, I've been reading CAS' correspondence with the poet Samuel Loveman, and came across these thoughts penned by CAS*:

I believe you will find the Barkers very congenial; they, like you and I, are pagans haunted by the nostalgia of antique beauty.  I owe them many of my happiest days, and have found something of the Golden Age in their company.

Eric is a true poet, especially in his feeling for the more inward and mystic springs of nature.

As it happens, I just finished reading a book of Barker's poems published in 1961 (the same year that CAS died).  A Ring of Willows seems to have been Barker's best-known collection of verse, and having read it, I can't equal CAS' enthusiasm.  Of course, CAS' statement above really refers only to the poet and not the poetry itself, but the latter is all I have to evaluate.

Overall, the poems in A Ring of Willows represent modernist poetry at it very dullest, with practically no music at all in the language, and rather mundane takes on subjects focused on landscapes and wild creatures.  The one poem in this collection that really works is "The Deserted", a description of an abandoned house which manages to achieve some real poetic effects in its final stanza:

It made me think of those who lived there once,
who must have chosen such a cloud-loved hill
for what to them was seeming permanence.
And what ill circumstances had tripped them up,
and set against the walls those smoldering fires
that eat a house to death with shameless wounds. 

As I noted in my blog post from August 2018 (linked above), Barker's own evaluation of CAS' poetry seemed to miss the mark in citing "picturesque and archaic language" as the source of "his weakness as a contemporary poet."  In that same essay, Barker further noted that "it is the poets who change the language and so save it from sterility."  There is no evidence at all of Barker himself trying to take on that challenge in the verses included in A Ring of Willows.

Interestingly, the prominent twentieth century American poet William Dickey reviewed A Ring of Willows in the November 1961 issue of Poetry magazine, and seems to have arrived at much the same conclusion as I have: 

This poetry is often based on descriptions of nature, descriptions which in their simplicity of diction edge over toward (Robert) Frost. But there is not much of Frost's economy - Barker cannot resist persistent double phrases - and there is almost nothing of Frost's bite.

My intention in this post is not to try and raise CAS up by knocking Eric Barker down, but rather to reflect on CAS' lack of inclination to follow trends in poetry that were dominant in his lifetime, and how Barker seems to have made the opposite decision.  Several decades on, it seems quite clear to me that CAS' efforts led to the creation of a body of work that has some truly timeless qualities, while Barker's own verses failed to transcend the modernist idiom that he employed, and thus have been almost entirely forgotten.

*See letter #365 in Born Under Saturn: The Letters of Samuel Loveman and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Friday, January 28, 2022


This is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Somber and waveless on the waters
for him that lingers at the wharf of Lethe,
enduring the tremors of an old desire
to essay the lonely and enormous night.

For him the enchanted fields of poppy
sigh and whisper in a wind
from the pole that has no pole-star; in his passing
he tramples the dark tails of nameless things.

CAS also created a Spanish version of this same poem with the title "Leteo".

It's interesting to note that in my chronological journey through CAS' poetry, this is the fourth poem named "Lethe" that I've read.  You can click the link of the same name below to see my comments on the other three works that share the same name.

Of course, CAS wrote many poems that reference the river Lethe, but it's interesting to take a smaller focus and examine only those to which he assigned the same title.

This particular poem seems to me the most impressive of that particular group of verses, for while the waters of the river of oblivion beckon, the subject of the poem "lingers at the wharf of Lethe", suggesting a hesitation to slip beneath those soothing waters.  And yet it seems that he does go forward and release himself to the riverine flow.  

This version of "Lethe" is short but poignant, and leaves room for interpretation.  That's one definition of great literature, as articulated by the late writer Gene Wolfe (himself an admirer of CAS):

My definition of good literature is that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Unknown

Here's another poem that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) created in both English and Spanish versions (the latter was titled "Lo Ignoto").  Neither version was published in his lifetime, and neither version is available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete English text:

The vaults of time and space
hold no exemplar of thy beauty; 
and no sculptor has chiseled the same 
conception of thy form and of thy features.

Drawn on by some mendacious magnetism,
we seek and never find thy perishable
palace...and the lantern of paths occult
has never shown thee in thy nearness.

Hidest thou in the constellated night?
or dwellest in the atom's deep abyss?
Discovered, wilt thou be a burnt-out pyre,
or the new flame of an unheard-of world?...

or light from heaven in terrestrial beacons?...
or ignis fatuus of the quagmires?

(The Latin phrase "ignis fatuus" can be translated into English as "wisp").

CAS was certainly a romantic poet in the grandest sense, a seeker after beauty and the sublime.  Hence his interest in enormous concept of the unknown, and this poem takes a surprisingly ambivalent stance, as the speaker hopes for "the new flame of an unheard-of world" but may have to settle for "a burnt-out pyre".

The key phrase comes earlier in the poem, where the lure of the unknown is described as possessing a "mendacious magnetism".  The poets and the artists are ever in quest of that which may in fact be completely illusory, but somehow that does not diminish the value of the quest itself.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Isle of Circe

Here is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was not published in his lifetime, nor is it available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Its final petal gone,
the garden of Circe decays;
mute and sorrowful oblivion
has drunken her philtres at last.

The tresses of the enchantress
have changed their poppies
for a white flower that remains
and grows in a snowy parterre

The swine wander in the sleet
and cannot dig
any root; to the vain sky,
prowless, bellows the vain sea.

Circe dreams not where
Ulysses is in the black years, 
and knows not whither goes
any sorrow of yesteryear.

CAS also wrote a Spanish-language of this poem entitled "La Isla de Circe".

CAS wrote much poetry based on great works of classical literature, more than a few based on Homer's Odyssey, and at least a handful based specifically on Book X of that great epic, where Ulysses and his crew encounter the enchantress Circe.  

"The Isle of Circe" presents a grim vision of her island home long after the famous adventurers have departed for other shores, and the snows of winter have brought an end to the fruitful seasons of years past.  It reads like a metaphor for the modern age and its general disinterest in the romantic pursuit of beauty, where adventure is often equated with mere tourism.  

Monday, January 24, 2022

Two Myths And A Fable

Read "Two Myths And A Fable" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) also wrote a Spanish-language version of this same poem entitled "Dos Mitos y una fábula".

This poem is a bit of a curiosity, as it feels less "complete" than much of CAS' other published verse.  Each of the stanzas presents a scenario drawn from the legends of myth and fable, and yet CAS doesn't do a whole lot with that material other than the obvious allusions to the spirit of adventure and discovery.  Certainly a minor item from CAS' poetic corpus.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Red Memory

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

This memory still returns 
from a garden of darkest amaranth:
the pools of sunset, coloring
my fevered fantasy like some rich wine;
and the sunken, talismanic rubies
at bottom of your hyacinthine eyes.

Vermillion splendor bathed
the ivies and the tall funereal blooms;
and from your lips I drank the blood
a god was bleeding past the cypress;
and from my lofty heart rained down 
the essence and the life of sanguine trees....

But the night came to quench 
the magic rubies and the flames made red
with a god's ichor....Vainly now I seek
that light in any heaven, in any eye....
finding at last these words, these symbols
to circumscribe the slothful lethean river.

The author also wrote a Spanish version of this poem with the title "Memoria Rosa".

CAS is well known for his extensive English vocabulary, and "Red Memory" is something of an exercise in words and phrases that suggest red coloration:

  • amaranth
  • rich wine
  • talismanic rubies
  • hyacinthine eyes
  • Vermillion splendor
  • the blood / a god was bleeding
  • sanguine trees
  • a god's ichor

("Amaranth" often suggests the flower of the same name that features blooms tending towards the purple, but it is also a name for red dye).

My point in highlighting the phrases above is not to demonstrate that CAS was capable of using a thesaurus, but rather that in constructing a poem focused on a particular color, he needed to avoid simply repeating the word "red" over-and-over, else risk creating a work that would be quite tedious to read.

He rose to the challenge with phrases like "a god's ichor" which preserve the color-sense he is conveying while enriching the poem with additional associations that expand its scope.  

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Says the Dreamer

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

My dream foresees the wilderness
of a future Atlantis
wherein the fiery phoenix will build
his necromantic nest.

It beholds in Mars the waterless
canals where frolic wantonly
the salamanders that flame
like internal fires.

It knows how the dragons,
spawn of a saffron sun
shake a wooded plain
with their enormous copulations.

It sips the bitterness
of the Mercurial lakes,
and proves the savor
of winter honeycombs in Venus.

It hears the unbreathing flowers
that sing in Jupiter
the doom of conquerors
that come from another firmament.

It assumes the wings of the seraph
and shares his blissful retreat;
it suffers the thirst of the vampire
And the hunger of the lycanthrope....

But whether my mooted fate
is a fable of my fear,
or is the dream of another Dreamer
my dreams have never known.

CAS also wrote a Spanish-language version of this poem entitled "Dice el soñador".

It's interesting to compare this poem to one that CAS wrote much earlier in his life with a similar title: "Said the Dreamer".  I blogged about that poem a few years ago:

Both poems document the fantastic encounters of a vivid dream, and both works  exult in weird imagery.  But where "Said the Dreamer" presents an apocalyptic vision ("Then in the dream I dreamt that Time was done"), "Says the Dreamer" focuses instead on alien exoticism ("winter honeycombs in Venus"), ending with a speculation as to the source of the incredible dream voyage described.  

Comparing the two poems, written almost forty years apart, provides an insight to CAS' maturing vision, where vast destructive powers at work on a cosmic level have given way to a musing on the forces that inspire the very act of dreaming.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Eros in the Desert

Here's another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was never published in his lifetime, and since it's not available on The Eldritch Dark, here's the complete text: 

I am the Love that wandereth alone
In weary lands beside a weary sea.
Grey reefs whereon the shoaling waters moan,

Marshes where salt and sterile blossoms be,
And all the sleep of mountain-ending sands,
Are mine to range, and roam eternally.

But emptier than these mine idle hands,
And hot as my insatiable soul,
Fulfilled with light, the fiery desert stands;

And roofed with flame, the mighty skies unroll.

This is a beautiful poem of romantic exile, describing a psychic landscape that is reminiscent of CAS' fictional realm of Zothique.  The intermingling of wastage with spiritual vastness imparts a dance-like progression to this poem; the third stanza particularly builds its image piece-wise, as in this edited excerpt: "hot as my insatiable soul, / ...the fiery desert stands".

It's a wonder to me that CAS did not publish this poem, or include it in the planned contents of his omnibus Selected Poems (1971).  For such a short work, it packs a lot of gorgeous poetry into ten near-perfect lines.

Thursday, January 20, 2022


This is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

When in the desert
shine the saline waters,
I see the green eyes
of my saucy lass.

When amid thorns
ripen the bramble-berries,
I behold the ruddy nipples
of my pagan love.

When flies the moth
beyond the marish
seeking the flowers of nightfall,
I know her volatile soul.

When I hear at midnight
the owl in his pine,
I understand a prudent warning
that I soon forget.

CAS also created a Spanish-language version of this same poem entitled "Cantar".

This piece strikes me as a decidedly mature view of romantic entanglements, as might be expected from a poet who was in his late fifties when he wrote this.  The speaker has passionate memories of his beloved, and yet has no illusions as to "her volatile soul."  But the path of love does not follow the rules of logic, and thus the poignant final stanza:

When I hear at midnight
the owl in his pine,
I understand a prudent warning
that I soon forget.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Lost Farmsteads

Here is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the full text:

I love the fields and gardens
invaded by the wilderness,
retaken by weeds and herbs
that open their faithful flowerets
full of perfumes and honies.

I love the desolate apple-orchards --
the dying trees
lined with lichens --
I love the vines in the fruit-trees -- 
the mistletoe in the pear-tops.

I find, in some woodland bower,
the stones of a fallen fire-place
where springs a forsaken rose-bush
to which from all the country-side
voyage the vivid humming-birds.

At the edge of the cat-tails,
I know an ancient shed
with moss-grown reddish wall --
a house for vermin and fungi,
a factory of cobwebs.

Enisled among the bramble thickets,
I have seen a pathless meadow
where an aged quince-tree
bequeathes its wintry fruit
to the water of quagmires.

I have seen in the twilight,
beside a roofless pavement,
the flowers of the plum-tree whiten
like a pale phantom
called up by some grey magician.

And when the flickering bats
veer though the evenfall,
I scent the flying petals
of former life
in the mystic boughs.

CAS also wrote a Spanish version of this poem entitled "Las Alquerías perdidas".

It's unusual to find a poem from CAS that includes the phrase "I love"; for although he wrote quite a number of love lyrics, he rarely used the word itself in such direct terms.  

Of course, "Lost Farmsteads" is not a love poem, but a more of a pastoral musing on time passing.  Even when tackling such bucolic subject matter, CAS still manages to find a place for the weird imagery that he is known for:

I have seen in the twilight,
beside a roofless pavement,
the flowers of the plum-tree whiten
like a pale phantom
called up by some grey magician.

"Lost Farmsteads" is not one of CAS' greatest verses, but it has a quiet charm all its own.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

At the foot of Parnassus
from pasture to pasture roam the herds
of she-kids, of sheep
and of swine
rooting and ruminating 
in the fens and moorlands
full of mud
that their herders have discovered.

But, elevating it summits
filled with flowers and clouds,
with buds and jewels,
the mountain of the Muses,
still unclimbed,
soars immaculate and lone
in a zenith held
by the golden hawks.

CAS also wrote a Spanish-language version of this poem entitled "Parnaso".

Given that Mount Parnassus (in central Greece) is the mythological home of the Muses, one can easily read CAS' own sympathies in this poem.  "At the foot of Parnassus" he presents "swine / rooting" in "mud / that their herders have discovered."

But up on the summits where the goddesses of music and poetry dwell, we find a land of "flowers and clouds, / with buds and jewels".  The drab ordinariness of lives led down below is easily forgotten amongst the peaks "held / by the golden hawks."  

The spirit of the Muses infused everything that CAS created, whether in words or in visual media.  In his case, this went beyond the usual workings of the creative self into an almost polemic belief in the primacy of the creative life over that of industry, the marketplace, and the professional world.  Mount Parnassus is referenced not infrequently in his poetry, and provides a notable metaphor for his own values as a person and an artist.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Dominium in Excelsis

Read "Dominium in Excelsis" at The Eldritch Dark:

The Latin title of this poem can be translated into English as "The Lord in the Highest".

I take this to be an exaltation of Satan, in the tradition of John Milton and Paradise Lost.  But it seems to me that it also speaks directly to the reader, calling for an engagement of the bold creative spirit within all of us:

Thy feet shall tread the Scorpion's lair,
Thy hands shall catch the comet's hair;
Or over Endor thou shalt ride
Unfrighted on the tamed Nightmare.

Although the many encounters described in the poem are weird, dark, and supernatural, the speaker sees the possibility for greater things beyond all that travail:

Till stones and atoms, shadow-wrought,
Dissolving shall return to naught,
Or into fairer shapes be brought.

It's not one of CAS' very best poems, but the grand cosmic sweep on display recalls the huge scope of his youthful works from the Star-Treader era, albeit expressed with a certain mature restraint that does not diminish the overall impact.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Where Sleepest Thou, O Eldorado?

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Mistress mine, in thy loftiness
Forget never our love;

In thy sweetness and grace
Reject not my grief.

I am still an exile
From the magic shores

Beautiful and pagan.
(Where Sleepest Thou, O Eldorado?)

Forget not this love
In future kisses...

And remember the heart
Upon the laurelled hills;

And remember our sea
Sleeping in the distance

And the bliss of a pagan day...
Reject not my repentance.

This poem also exists in a Spanish version entitled "¿Dónde duermes, Eldorado?".

As a paean to the memory of a past romance, "Where Sleepest Thou, O Eldorado?" rings with all of the bold emotion of a lover who has come to see the error of his ways, and now finds himself prostrating himself before the object of his affections: "Reject not my grief."

The lines at the heart of this poem are powerfully expressive in a way that often eludes CAS' other romantic verses:

And remember the heart
Upon the laurelled hills;

And remember our sea
Sleeping in the distance

And the bliss of a pagan day...

That closing phrase "the bliss of a pagan day..." is CAS at his best, articulating the primal forces that animate the most joyful parts of the human experience.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Song of the Free Beings

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Cat of the wilderness, my soul's own brother
be thou untamed and tetherless;
follow no path that men have made,
be watchful on the heights and in the thickets.

Hawk of the heavens, winged companion,
descend never save to seek thy plunder;
and even as in some tower, make thy nest
in a craggy mountain moated round with torrents.

Great hornéd owl, that has outwatched the night with me,
in thy cavernous cloister of cypresses,
guard thou the secrets hidden
from him that sees no light in darkness.

CAS also created a Spanish version of this poem titled "El Cantar de los seres libres".

It's not surprising to find CAS admiring wild creatures and celebrating their separateness from the human-dominated world around them.  All throughout his fiction, poetry, and his letters, he makes it clear that he has little sympathy with modern industrial society.  In his own life, he worked as little as possible in conventional occupations, and in the spirit of a true artist, seemed to "follow no path that men have made", at least in terms of making reasonable accommodations with the demands of the technocratic culture in which he lived.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Poets of Optimism

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

We are the masters
of all the dreams
of daylight and night.

We repeat
and always we embroider
this melody:

The world is his,
the sun is yours,
the moon is mine.

There is also a Spanish-language version of this same poem titled "Las Poetas del optimismo".

I'm not sure whom CAS was referring to as "The Poets of Optimism".  In general, these lines read like a sarcastic comment on writers who seek to uplift and ennoble the human experience, sort of like versifying self-help authors.  But without a better sense of who specifically CAS might have been writing about, it's a difficult poem to interpret.  

Tuesday, January 11, 2022


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was not published in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Whoso follows thee, O mystic Beauty,
will find, before the ultimate abyss,
thy face a pearl that founders and is lost
in the black billows of oblivion.

CAS also translated this poem into Spanish with the title "La Hermosura".

"Beauty" presents a rather dark vision of the final reward to be found at the end of a poet's life journey.  CAS penned this when he was in his late fifties, and I can't help but wonder if he wrote it during a dark moment when his many years of living in near poverty began to weigh on him.  

And yet there is another way to read these lines, in which the poet sees the face of Beauty just before it is lost to "the black billows of oblivion".  The very end may still be grim, but in those last moments the poet gazes upon the face that he has pursued all his life: the goal has been attained.

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Poet Talks with the Biographers

Read "The Poet Talks with the Biographers" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) also exists in a French version, titled "Le poète parle avec ses biographes".

Although I normally focus more on content than technical form in this blog, there is an intriguing structure to this poem that I can't ignore.  Each of the five stanzas is constructed as a question and answer, and the end of the reply always echoes the last word of the question.  For example, in the second stanza, the question is posed in the first two lines:

O diggers all so diligent, O sapient ghouls,
What have you found in your prodigious toils?

The last word of the question ("toils") repeats in the answer, which comprises the last three lines of the same stanza:

—We have exhumed with all their antique evils
Thy loves, with features gutted by the worms,
In our enormous toils.

That perfect repetition of line-ending words within each stanza creates the sort of strong aural cadence often associated with the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and fits perfectly with the back-and-forth character of "The Poet Talks with the Biographers".  It's an easy technique to overuse, and CAS thus used it rarely in his poetic corpus, but I think it's a very effective approach for this particular poem.

Sunday, January 9, 2022


Read "Zothique" at The Eldritch Dark:

As with the poem "Averoigne" (which I blogged about yesterday), this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) concerns one of the imaginary realms that he created for his work in prose, in this case the decadent future continent beneath a dying sun.  

The Zothique cycle of stories contains much of CAS' very best short fiction, and this poem captures all of the dark, exotic mystery that makes the setting so fantastic, for it is:

Where cities crumble in the black sea-sand
And dead gods drink the brine.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Zothique stories is the idea that so much of human history lies buried and forgotten, largely ignored by Earth's last inhabitants as they go about their grim lives.  Little of that history emerges in the stories themselves, but that weighted presence is continuously present, with its suggestion that of all humanity's achievements in science and technology will ultimately be obscured by the sands of time, and black magic will reassert its power over our lives.  It's a sinister vision of the last days of the human race, but a beautiful one nonetheless.

Saturday, January 8, 2022


Read "Averoigne" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is named for one of the fictional realms that provided settings for his short stories (along with Poseidonis, Zothique, etc).  Averoigne is purported to be a remote, mountainous region of France, where the power of medieval Christianity is constantly tested by ancient remnants of the pagan world.

The poem "Averoigne" perfectly captures the darkly sorcerous spirit of the fictional realm.  The opening stanza is particularly effective, as CAS describes an enchantress going about her doubtful business:

At evening, from her nightshade bowers,
The bidden vipers creep, to be
The envoys of her malison;
And philtres drained from tomb-fat leaves
Drip through her silver sieves.

The phrase "philtres drained from tomb-fat leaves" is CAS at his very best, using language that is genuinely vigorous, practically writhing with a malign vehemence that few other authors could hope to match!

Thursday, January 6, 2022

"O Golden-Tongued Romance"

Read "O Golden-Tongued Romance" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was first published in the March 1952 issue of Weird Tales magazine.  The title is derived from the first line of John Keats' "On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again".

I love how this poem combines graveyard imagery with the quest to find, grasp, and retain the romantic spirit, the very thing that John Keats sought in the pages of one of Shakespeare's greatest dramas:

And yet the thing we yearned for,
The thing that we returned for
From tomb and catacomb,
It may not wholly dwindle
While moon or meteor kindle
A phantom beacon on the ebon foam.

"O Golden-Tongued Romance" seems entirely appropriate for Weird Tales, given that much of the content found in those pages was built around a distinct core of romantic yearning, albeit draped in the fantastic and the supernatural.  I think that CAS was the best writer ever to contribute to that legendary publication, and it's entirely fitting that he should contribute a poem that so perfectly captures the very best of the Weird Tales spirit.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Isle of Saturn

Read "The Isle of Saturn" at The Eldritch Dark:

In his younger days, Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote several poems regarding the mythological Titanomachy, the war between the Titans and the Olympians which ended in victory for Zeus (aka Jupiter) and his peers.  "The Isle of Saturn" marks a late return to that subject, and is imbued with a theme found in much of CAS' mature poetry: nostalgia for the glories of the Classical Age.

(You can click the "Titanomachy" tag at the bottom of this post to see my comments on other related poems from CAS).

This poem in particular seems to be inspired by John Keats' unfinished epic poem "Hyperion", which concerns the defeated Titans and their desire for revenge.  The sixth stanza of "The Isle of Saturn" beautifully expresses those great hopes, while simultaneously capturing the remoteness of their realization:

Darkly, in the gaunt and gleamless mountain-sides,
Drowse the metals for the mail of gods rewakened;
And the trees of savage forests hold on high
Still-unshapen hafts of Titan battle-maces
To be wielded in vast wars.

Ultimately, CAS' vision does not seem to bode well for the king of the Titans, who is not alone, for "Others there are sleeping":

Gods who rose and reigned and died before the Titans,
Lying in topless tombs undomed.

I've often pondered CAS' interest in the Titanomachy, with its sweeping narrative of a war that came close to destroying the universe.  Of course, it also represented a fundamental displacement of the existing order of that same universe, with the emergence of an entirely new pantheon of gods.  

I suspect that such a "clean sweep" on a cosmic scale spoke to CAS on a number of levels, not least in respect to his dissatisfaction with the modern industrial society in which he found himself living.  More importantly, CAS the romantic found himself born into an age that seemed little concerned with lyric beauty, and one suspects that the poet yearned for a epic change to the universal order, one which would displace the values of Mammon in favor of those of Apollo.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Don Quixote on Market Street

Read "Don Quixote on Market Street" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem marked another late appearance of work by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) in Weird Tales magazine, in the issue for March 1953.

The "Market Street" of the poem's title presumably refers to the road of the same name in San Francisco (SF), a city that CAS visited many times in his life.  Even today, Market Street is a major transit artery and one of the principle thoroughfares in the Golden Gate City.  I briefly lived in SF a few years ago, and crossed Market Street multiple times a day walking between my residence in the Tenderloin and my job in the SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood.

I'm currently reading Born under Saturn: The Letters of Samuel Loveman and Clark Ashton Smith, and in that correspondence, CAS often mentions his dislike of cities in general, and SF in particular.  His complaints usually focus on noise, crowds, and distraction, all of which inform "Don Quixote on Market Street".  The figure of Quixote fits the scenario very well, bringing with him so many associations of grand ambition untethered to earthly realities:

Has flown to stars unsooted by the fumes
That have befouled these heavens, and romance
Departing, will unfurl her oriflammes
On towers unbuilded in an age to be.

The poem is an amusing rendering of some of the author's own concerns, and although I think he addressed some of the same ideas more succinctly elsewhere (as in the excellent "Desert Dweller"), "Don Quixote on Market Street" succeeds by tapping into the rich vein of world literature to create a work that speaks well beyond the author's own lifetime.

Monday, January 3, 2022

The Dark Chateau

Read "The Dark Chateau" at The Eldritch Dark:

It's worth noting that in the version on The Eldritch Dark, the fifth stanza has a couple of significant typos, so here's the corrected version of that stanza:

Hoar silence is the seneschal
Of court and keep, of niche and coigne.
With drumless ear no lute annoys,
Nor clang from farring jambarts drawn,
Death, with dulled arrasses for pall,
Waits whitely there; and none will join
Your quest, nor ever any voice
Speak from the chambered epochs gone:

This is the title poem from Clark Ashton Smith's first collection of poetry published by Arkham House: The Dark Chateau and Other Poems (1951).  

It's a powerfully supernatural poem, rich with Poesque detail ("Beneath a swathed and mummied sun").  It traces a journey beginning with death, through the nether regions to a ghostly reincarnation, a doom to haunt forever the dark chateau of the title.  The ultimate absence of life is beautifully expressed in these lines from the fourth stanza:

Pause, and look forth: no ghost remains
Save you to gaze on that dim ground
Where once the budding almond-bough
Waved, and the oleander-spray.

CAS is justly renowned for his extensive English vocabulary, and "The Dark Chateau" gives him plenty of opportunity to put that knowledge to work, with such unusual terms as "jambart" (a piece of leg armor) and "lampadephore" (a contestant in a torch-race).  

Although the use of exotic diction can challenge the reader, CAS' word choice is always very deliberate.  The word "jambart" provides an interesting case study.  "Jambart" is more commonly rendered in English as "jambeau"; the word is derived from the French term "jambe", which simply means "leg" in English.

CAS puts the word to use in the fifth stanza in the lines "With drumless ear no lute annoys, / Nor clang from farring jambarts drawn".  By referring to one small piece of a complete set of medieval armor, the author invokes the clanking sounds of knights in motion, which his ghostly protagonist cannot hear.  The use of the word "jambarts" grants those lines a wonderful contrast to the sweeter sounds of a lute, challenging them with the harsh metallic tones of war.  

It's an impressive effect that expands the soundscape of the poem, and a perfect demonstration of CAS' careful use of language to achieve masterful poetic art.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Sandalwood and Onions

Here we have another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

I kissed you once, 
And left in half an hour
Without kissing you again:
You have perfumed yourself with sandalwood,
And also, you had been eating fried onions
      For supper.
I like sandalwood,
And I like onions, too, 
      In their place;
But I simply couldn't stand the mixture!

This reads like something that CAS must have dashed off rather quickly following a meeting with a friend (or lover?).  It's no surprise that he chose not to publish this one, since it feels very casual and personal; the sort of thing that was never meant for public consumption.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Poèmes d'amour

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

She said: "They're beautiful, but bad for you, your poems."
I thought that I had paid her a compliment
In well-timed verse designed to praise and woo,
And was taken quite aback.

                                         Yet maybe she was right,
Or partly right at least.  We poets turn
Our slender loves to swollen verse, and thus
The verse builds up the complex of our loves,
Refining and exasperating them
Ad infinitum, past the scope of nature,
How much is love, how much is poesy?
But it's a pretty game and hardly matters
Beyond the morgue, when toothless maggots eat
The hand that wrote, the fingers that caressed
Or, peradventure, failed to make the curves.
We only hope the poem, by some chance, 
May last a little longe than the amour.

The French title of this poem can be translated into English as "Love Poems".  And it provides an interesting insight into CAS' own feelings regarding his romantic poetry, much of which I've found to be rather mundane (there are, of course, notable exceptions).  It's no surprise that the poet chose not to publish this particular work, since it might provide a little too much of the behind-the-scenes "sausage making!"