Saturday, February 26, 2022


Read "Seeker" at The Eldritch Dark:

The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has several minor typos, just enough to warrant including the complete corrected text here:

In valleys where the lotos falls
And rots by lily-stifled streams,
A sleeper, dreaming of the sea,
Shall rise, and leave the halcyon lawns,

And follow fainting trails alone
Into the waste that has no well,
O fare on some fantasmal quest
To climes beyond the boreal snow.

For, sated with the lotos-fruit,
He craves again the vanishing brine,
The sunken ships, the siren isles,
The maelstroms haunted by the mew.

Amid chimera and mirage
He plucks the acrid outland pome
And mordant herbs that make him whole,
And trails the meteor and the star,

To leave his vulture-burnished bones
In lands of knightlier sleep than they
Shall haply share whose bones are laid
Where now the lotos-blossoms blow.

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has the character of an artistic manifesto, as a "sleeper" arises from a life of idleness "where the lotos falls / And rots by lily-stifled streams" and sets off in pursuit of legends: 

He craves again the vanishing brine,
The sunken ships, the siren isles,
The maelstroms haunted by the mew.

The protagonist of the poem certainly shares some of the history associated with the Odysseus of Homer's Odyssey, but it seems quite clear the CAS intends for this poem to be something more than a portrait of that particular figure.

In the end, the sleeper's fate is not so different than that of those "whose bones are laid / Where now the lotos-blossoms blow", and yet his journey enabled him to encounter exotic wonders unknown to his fellow lotos-eaters.  For in following a path beneath "the meteor and the star" The Seeker has risen above the ordinary and the obvious, and created a life genuinely worth living.

Friday, February 25, 2022

"Not Altogether Sleep"

Read "Not Altogether Sleep" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first appeared in the January 1952 issue of Weird Tales magazine, alongside another poem from CAS, "Sonnet for the Psychoanalysts".

The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a significant typo in the twelfth line; the corrected text is shown below:

From suns expired and cycles yet to come-

The title of this poem is derived from a line in George Sterling's sonnet "Afterward". The complete stanza from Sterling's poem is shown below:

And ah! may then thy face, a changeless light,
Companion me thro' aeons of the night! —
            Filling that realm with marvel and desire
        And making death not altogether sleep,
        But rather as a gloom whose altars keep
    A timeless vision and a ghostly fire.

It's fascinating to examine the two poems together, since they share the same technical form (the sonnet) as well as the same subject matter: memories of a departed paramour that are much too treasured to surrender to death's dominion.

Of course, George Sterling was a significant mentor to the younger CAS, but what strikes me immediately is the vigorous quality of the student's language, rich with powerful visual and olfactory accents:

Wholly must I the rose-drawn essence lose
Upon unbalmed oblivion, and diffuse
Its odor on the dust? 

In contrast, Sterling's work features a sweeping use of language that is articulated in a grand and somewhat stiff manner:

One mercy would I beg from Time and Space—
    The final contemplation of thy face
Till Lethe sunder and the darkness fall.

Both poets draw from the lineage of Romantic poetry in English, but Sterling seems so determined to adhere to the tradition that his verse lacks animation and passion.  On the other hand, CAS manages to honor all that came before while injecting his own particular cosmic sensibility ("From suns expired and cycles yet to come") that invigorates "Not Altogether Sleep", something that Sterling's "Afterward" simply does not achieve.  

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Hesperian Fall

Read "Hesperian Fall" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) seems more obviously personal than much of his other verse, with its reference to Point Lobos and other indicators of a California setting.  The speaker has a melancholy tone, tinged with an acceptance of the richness of life's ups and downs:

But for awhile I spurn
The peace that comes to all or rathe or late,
And clasp the cherished pain
As one with face amid thorned blossoms pressed
Who finds them fragranter
Than those that bear no thorn.

The reflective quality of the speaker's thoughts reach an apotheosis at the end of third stanza:

Now must I muse on passions that unfold
Slow as the lichen grows,
Or swiftly as the fungus of the night;
And think on how
The many have withered but the one abides. . . .

I read these lines as coming directly from the poet himself, as he contemplates the sources of his inspiration, and of his passion for the possibilities inherent within human creativity, as expressed in the excellent outro:

Meanwhile the southward-drooping sun shines warm
On grasses pale and foliages that fade
And on the fadeless lichen of the stone;
And still, O season of Circean dreams
Preferred from long ago,
I find a music far and sorcerous
Like one who hears the dryad singing from her tree;
And still, beneath this latter sun,
Love is the freshness of your shadows, love
The flame that in your distant azure sleeps.

The second and third lines from the section quoted above perfectly capture the duality of this poem, as the "foliages that fade" are contrasted with "the fadeless lichen of the stone", acknowledging that throughout our lives the ephemeral coexists with the perpetual.

"Hesperian Fall" is an absolutely beautiful meditation on the creative journey, and the rewards thereof ("I find a music far and sorcerous") enriched by the setting within CAS' native California.  It feels like one of the most direct expressions of his own voice to be found in his poetic corpus, and richly rewards multiple readings.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Alpine Climber

Here's another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime.  Since it's not available on The Eldritch Dark, here's the complete text:

Above the zone of scented pines, above
The stance of granite-mortised junipers, 
He climbs by cliff-won inches.  The bleak sun
Flames like a titan pharos based with snows
Upon the untaken tower he covets. Earth
Broadens afar its bowl of vertigo

With peak-fanged chasms deepening underneath...
As one who mounts a throne of vanished gods,
Wind-clean and vacant, gazing on stark visnes
Of white-horizoned Thule he takes hold
Of the ultimate ice-sharp edge, and rears upon
That glacial source from which no trickle flows

To torrents nursed by lesser alps. He stands
Till, tranced amid the hawkless heavens lone,
He feels the world turn under him, he hangs
Nadirward-pointing from an inverse peak,
And hears the cataracting eons roar
And crash adown the planet-bouldered deeps.

As with several poems that CAS wrote about the group of Christian ascetics known as the stylites, "Alpine Climber" concerns a seeker.  This alpinist initially has material concerns ("the untaken tower he covets"), but in the last stanza, his experience transfers significantly upon achieving his goal.

At the very tip of the peak he has sought to conquer, the climber "feels the world turn under him", and his perspective is shifted, almost literally turned upside down, and he "hears the cataracting eons roar / And crash adown the planet-bouldered deeps."

Similar to poems such as "The Stylite" and "Paphnutius", CAS presents "Alpine Climber" as a metaphor for the act of seeking the ineffable, reaching beyond the ordinary and the everyday in search of what lies at the very extremity of our sensual perceptions.  It's a powerful statement from a poet who lived a humble life on the material plane, but whose imagination and creativity allowed him to soar to heights his neighbors probably never imagined!

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Not Theirs the Cypress-Arch

Read "Not Theirs the Cypress-Arch" at The Eldritch Dark:

There is a significant typo in the fourth line of this poem as rendered at The Eldritch Dark; the correct line reads:

And searing splendors of the doomsday sun:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a powerful metaphor for the burdens of history (both personal and societal) that we can never leave behind: "They rise, they gather about us now, / Crowding the quiet day."

The author really gets to the crux of the matter with the opening lines of the second stanza: "To us, entombed in time, / Asleep within a vaster vault".  That's both a striking image and a grim distillation of the human condition, a potent demonstration of the power of poetry to say much with not so many words.

This poem was written in 1951, when CAS was in his late fifties, and the maturity of the artist's vision is certainly on display in this work.  Thematically, it's not so different from verse that he wrote as a much younger man, but his ability to use words with a scalpel-like precision had clearly advanced to the point where there is no wasted verbiage at all in "Not Theirs the Cypress-Arch".

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Two on a Pillar

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:

Two on the Stylite's lofty pillar--
Which was above and which below?
Or still upright, did the Stylite thrill her
With many a happy thrust and throe?

The saint and his leman on the pillar
Jiggled dizzily to and fro,
And lustily he tried to fill her
While the Devil laughed in hell below.

His dick that was hard as the high hard pillar,
It melted away, to his shame and woe,
Too soon, and she left him there on the pillar
By the rope that hung to the ground below.

Erotic themes are not unusual throughout CAS' poetic works, but "Two on a Pillar" is substantially more ribald than is the author's norm.  Given that CAS did not seek to publish this poem, one can assume it was created as a bit of fun, taking aim at religious ascetics and their lives of deprivation.  

If nothing else, this poem can be enjoyed for lines like "Jiggled dizzily to and fro / And lustily he tried to fill her".  Not only is that unusually explicit for CAS, but there's also a hint of Edward Lear's nonsense poetry in there, with a touch of shock value to keep the sophomoric quality of the work from being a complete disappointment.  For comparison, see Lear's "There was an Old Man of the Nile":

Monday, February 14, 2022

The Stylite

Read "The Stylite" at The Eldritch Dark:

Stylites make occasional appearances in the poems of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS): see for example my comments on his haiku "Paphnutius" in an earlier blog post:

As Anonymous commented on that blog post, CAS' short story "The Door to Saturn" also mentions the phenomenon, although in a decidedly science-fantasy context:

And during the following day they journeyed among more than one of those unusual races who diversify so widely the population of Saturn. They saw the Djhibbis, that apterous and Stylitean bird-people who roost on their individual dolomites for years at a time and meditate upon the cosmos, uttering to each other at long intervals the mystic syllables yop, yeep, and yoop, which are said to express an unfathomed range of esoteric thought.

The Stylite lifestyle is certainly a curiosity among the legends of Christian asceticism, and in "The Stylite", CAS focuses on the strange hallucinations and worldly temptations that can plague one engaged in such a lonely pursuit:

Behind dissolving peristyles
Lithe sphinxes crouch and rear in rut;
And mincing from Gomorrah's night,
Vague-membered gods androgynous
Invert an ithyphallic sign.

On the older blog post I linked above, Anonymous left this thoughtful observation:

I wouldn't be surprised if he (CAS) was inspired by the idea of a person who could spend much of their life in the boundless heavens, where no one else would go, and at the same time allowed his pagan and cosmic interests to fill that heavenly space.

That comment applies equally to "The Stylite" as it does to the haiku "Paphnutius".  I don't doubt that CAS found the extremity of the Stylite practice to have a strong connection to his own cosmic viewpoint, as well as to the rather reduced lifestyle to which CAS was often subjected, given his aesthetic pursuits and their limited financial rewards.

This is not the last poem from CAS that deals with Stylites: in my next blog post, I'll  look at a ribald take on the same subject that was not published in the author's lifetime.

Friday, February 11, 2022

The Dead will Cuckold You

Read "The Dead Will Cuckold You" at The Eldritch Dark:

This verse drama from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) might not normally be considered in a review of his poetry, but since editors S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz have included it in their edition of The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith, I'll follow along and include it in this blog.

Although it was unpublished in his lifetime, "The Dead Will Cuckold You" is a key work in CAS' corpus, both because of its multi-act dramatic form (unique among his extant works) and because it provides a unique perspective on his fictional realm of Zothique.  

CAS wrote a number of stories set in that far-future continent, and a few of his poems reference it as well.  But "The Dead Will Cuckold You" takes the gloves off and introduces necrophilia, something that was probably too much even for the pulp markets that published CAS' short fiction.

Of course, there's quite a bit more to "The Dead Will Cuckold You" than the simple transgression referenced in the title.  It seems as though this unpublished work allowed CAS to fully flesh out the Zothique setting, where torture, murder, necromancy and much else are morbidly routine.  There's something decidedly modern in a plot that is animated by a homosexual necromancer (Natanasna) animating a corpse, and compelling it to pursue an amorous liaison with a king's attractive young wife (a tryst she is more than happy to participate in).  The malicious tyrant Smaragad cannot use his considerable power to prevent himself from being cuckolded.  Power to the people!

And because this work flowed from the pen of CAS, his language makes even a catalog of iniquities into something beautiful:

I mean but this, that you the king have filled
More tombs than I the outlawed necromancer
Have ever emptied, and detest not idly
The raising of dead men. Would you have me summon
For witness here against you the grey shade
Of Famostan your father, in his bath
Slain by the toothed envenomed fish from Taur
Brought privily and installed by you? Or rather
Would you behold your brother Aladad,
Whose huntsmen left him with a splintered spear
At your instruction, to confront the fen-cat
That he had merely pricked? Yet these would be
Only the heralds of that long dark file
Which you have hurried into death.

"The Dead Will Cuckold You" allows CAS to apply his literary skills to a form that he did not often work in, and to depict Zothique in all the extremities of its decadent glory.  But it is much more than a mere shocker.  As with the story "The Dark Eidolon" (also set in Zothique), this short play is a revenge tale, an upsetting of the established order driven by unbridled passion and the dark arts.  The themes at work in "The Dead Will Cuckold You" are found throughout CAS' body of work, but rarely in such a concentrated and uninhibited form.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Eros of Ebony

Read "Eros of Ebony" at The Eldritch Dark:

The version of this sonnet at The Eldritch Dark includes a couple of typos in the last line of the third stanza; the corrected text is:

Selling all my ancient idols,
I worship the new god: before his altar
I bring the mythic fruits of distant lands
and cast the loot of ocean-sepulchres....

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) created both English and Spanish versions of this poem; the latter was entitled "El Eros de ├ębano".

"Eros of Ebony" would seem to be inspired by the tale of Pygmalion from book X of Ovid's Metamorphoses.  In that famous tale, the sculptor Pygmalion falls in love with an ivory statute wrought from his own hands, and his supplications to the goddess Aphrodite reward him when that very sculpture comes to life, eventually becoming his bride and mother to his daughter Paphos.

In this poem, CAS instead presents a sculpture of ebony, but as in the story of Pygmalion, CAS' sculptor becomes enthralled with his creation, leading him to "worship the new god".  But there is no beneficent intervention from Aphrodite in "Eros of Ebony": the worshipful artist can only face the grim reality that "The god is blind . . . and my oblations / have vainly hued his ebon heels with blood."

CAS was no great fan of organized religion, and one cannot help reading a commentary on the very act of worship into "Eros of Ebony".  The carefully wrought idol is a thing to be admired, and yet "His mouth and brows, capricious, / mingle their honey with a great bitterness."  Buyer beware!

Monday, February 7, 2022

Sinbad, It Was Not Well to Brag

Read "Sinbad, It Was Not Well to Brag" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem ranks as something of a curiosity from the pen of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), for while he had a lifelong interest in orientalism, the short lines and strong, punchy rhymes are not at all in line with his usual poetic practice.

The poem picks up on the sometime characterization of Sinbad the Sailor as a braggart given to great invention in recalling his legendary voyages to Sinbad the Porter.  In this poem, CAS follows the device of other translators in naming the porter "Hinbad" in order to distinguish the two characters.  The irony of their respective roles forms the central crux of the poem, as Sinbad "Carried upon his back the Old Man of the Sea" while:

Bemoaning his fate
Like the sad estate
Of a Baghdad porter, a Caliph's flunky—

Thus is Sinbad the Sailor portrayed as a whiner, especially in reference to his audience, the lowly Sinbad (or Hinbad) the Porter:

Sinbad, it was not well to brag
At the sunset end of your ocean-road:
For others have carried a heavier load
On aching shoulders a-sag—
A load that they could not lose.

It's certainly a minor poem from CAS, perhaps little more than a bit of fun created after a re-reading of the One Thousand and One Nights.  

As an aside, it's worth noticing the unusual word "Yclept" in the final line.  Even for a writer with such an extensive vocabulary as CAS, that's an uncommon, archaic word, meaning (according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary) called, named, or styled.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Shapes in the Sunset

Read "Shapes in the Sunset" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem presents musings on cloud shapes as only Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) could conceive them.  Not surprisingly, many of the images are drawn from classical Greek mythology, and some of the more obscure characters are drawn from the lineage of ancient Greek and Roman literature, such as the Astomians, Blemmyes, and a Sciapod.

As is not uncommon in CAS' verse, the poet's own voice rings clearly in the closing stanza:

I, the watcher, cried: "O clouds of wonder,
Fables, carry me where an age-long sunset
Arches your lost Thule, by no sullen
Earth-born shadows blotted!"

The many fantastic shapes seen in the sunset clouds are more than imaginative visualizations, as they come to embody the speaker's longing for the glories of the great age of myth and fable.  And yet the rich visions of the preceding stanzas suggest that the speaker has in fact achieved his goal, albeit within the non-corporeal realm of the mind's eye.

Saturday, February 5, 2022


Read "Malediction" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) seems to be the very definition of "weird poetry", powered by the grim, rich imagery that only CAS could articulate:

While the kraken, blind and white,

Guards the greening books abhorred
Where the evil oghams rust—
In accurst Atlantis stored;

A line like "Guards the greening books abhorred" is my kind of poetry: vivid, musical, and capable of inspiring the reader's imagination to travel to all sorts of exotic realms.

But what catches my attention in "Malediction" is the broken rhythm, an unusual technique for CAS which works very well here.  The poem roughly follows a villanelle form, but only in its general outline.  Where a traditional villanelle uses repeated lines in a predictable sequence, CAS abandons that approach in favor of introducing several lines with the word "While" ("Where" is substituted in one instance), but the sequence is not regular: of the nineteen lines in "Malediction", six of them begin with one of those key words: the first, fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth, and thirteenth lines.

The pattern noted above speeds the cadence of reading in the middle stanzas (two through five), and then suggests a natural pause at the beginning of the final stanza:

Never shall the spell be done
And the curse be lifted never
That shall find and leave you one

With forgotten things for ever.

(I'm considering the final four lines of "Malediction" as a quatrain, even though the last line has been offset, since these lines read as a single sentence).

The repetition of the word "never" with an unusual rhythm (fist appearing at the beginning of a line, and later at the end of a line) injects a sense of inescapable fate, the malison that will haunt you forever.  

I imagine (although I can't really know) that CAS began writing "Malediction" as a traditional villanelle, and then altered the form to fit the intended meaning in revision.  It's a great example of CAS' formalist tendencies giving way as needed to best serve the language and the subject matter.  And by any measure, it's a great poem!

Friday, February 4, 2022


Read "Amithaine" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) described this poem in a letter* to August Derleth from October 1950, discussing a selection of verses included with his letter:

Of these verses, Amithaine seems to me particularly significant since it seems to crystallize an ideal of romantic and imaginative beauty...what would the typical science fiction fan make of a symbolism such as "Whose princes wage immortal wars / For beauty with the bale-red stars?"  He'd probably think the "princes" were making war on Aldebaran, or Antares, or repelling invaders from Mars or Saturn! instead of battling against destiny as symbolized by the "stars" of astrology.

This poem is certainly full of "romantic and imaginative beauty" derived from the strong musicality of the language, which almost compels reading aloud.  A reader can enjoy this poem simply at the surface level (ignoring the symbolism) because the strains of chivalric glory sound so clearly throughout.  Viewed in those terms, the fourth stanza is particularly effective:

Dreamer, beware! in her wild eyes
Full many a sunken sunset lies,
And gazing, you shall find perchance
The fallen kingdoms of romance,
And past the bourns of north and south
Follow the roses of her mouth.

I feel like I could read an entire novel about a woman in whose "wild eyes...many a sunken sunset lies"!

A second reading focused on the symbolism reveals the true beauty of "Amithaine", where the poem becomes a manifesto for the creative life.  I can't help hearing CAS' own voice, particularly in the wonderful closing lines: "Dreamer, awake!... but I remain / To ride with them in Amithaine."  It's a powerful statement of the poet's own quest, a coda at the tail end of the spell whose magic persists throughout the artist's body of work. 

*See letter #440 in Eccentric, Impractical Devils: The Letters of August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Didus ineptus

Read "Didus ineptus" at The Eldritch Dark:

As with "Farmyard Fugue" (which I blogged about yesterday), this poem is a curiosity from the corpus of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  It reads almost like an encyclopedia entry in verse, with little evidence of CAS' vivid imagination being put to work.  

The actual Latin taxonomic name for the extinct dodo is Raphus cucullatus, so the poem's title "Didus ineptus" must be CAS' own invention, which can be translated into English as "Silly dodo" or perhaps "Unfit dodo".  Either way, it's an odd, minor poem from The Bard of Auburn, and it's rather surprising that he published this one (in 1958's Spells and Philtres).

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Farmyard Fugue

This uncharacteristic 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:

Cockadoodle dooo!
Baa baa baa baa mooo!
Oink oink quack quack gobble gobble 
Christ bime it yer a lot of trouble
Baa baa baa baa mooo 
Move yer goddam leg back so I can milk yuh.
Cluck cluck baa baa baa baa
cluck cluck quack quack
puppies (From the cornfield) caw caw caw
The better squirt squirt squirt
Oink oink hee haw hee haw
Cluck cluck baa baa haw haw
Caw caw quack quack gobble gobble
Spit mraar mraar <ms. burned>
Hee haw hee haw
Mriau spit mraw mriaw 
Cocka doodledoo
Hey but I heave a block a wood at these goddam cats
gome gome caw caw
Oink oink baa baa
     mriaw spit spit mriaw 
Here she goes paw
Hee har
Mriar cluckity cluck brup brup mrioow
     Cluck cluck quack quack pegs pegs mooo
Spit mriair spit mriow

"Farmyard Fugue" would appear to be another parody of modernist poetry, with its tendency to write about everyday subjects and to use words phonetically.  It's no wonder CAS chose not to publish this one, since it's a decidedly minor effort when evaluated from any angle.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

El Vendaval

Here's another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that he wrote in both English and Spanish.  Both versions have the same title, which can be rendered into English as "The Gale".

Neither version was published in his lifetime, and since they're not available on The Eldritch Dark, here's the complete English text:

Wind, thou blowest from the strand
where float the phantoms
of the past, the future hours
weep in the mists.

(From that land of my delight,
to seek other prey
like the swiftly flying falcon
whither hast thou flown, O love?)

Wind, thou blowest from the pines
filled with my sighs,
from the vaulted cypress
where my soul vainly lingers.

Wind hesperian, speak alone
before it the bitter waters? ...
Shall the cypress-fruit fall always
in solitude? ...

Wander still through heaven
and over the billows with the winds
our olden tears 
in the light and in the rain?

Does there abide beneath the noon
any laughter of the nymph
like an echo that still lingers
within the convoluted shell?

Wind, thou blowest from the strand
where float the phantoms
of the past and future
lamenting in the mists.

This poem exudes romantic yearning ("whither hast thou flown, O love?") expressed in the potent force of the west wind.  It's not a particularly original metaphor, but one that CAS enriches with his love of the great classical myths, as in the penultimate stanza:

Does there abide beneath the noon
any laughter of the nymph
like an echo that still lingers
within the convoluted shell?

The sound image of an echo lingering in the recesses of a "convoluted shell" is wonderful, and highlights the aural cues found throughout the poem that are a core part of what makes it work.