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This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text: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

No comments:

Post a Comment