Sunday, December 31, 2023


Read "Cycles" at The Eldritch Dark:

This was the last poem that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote before his death in August 1961.  It was commissioned by Donald Sidney-Fryer for his CAS bibliography (Emperor of Dreams), although oddly enough it did not appear in that volume when it was published in 1977.

In his essay "A Memoir of Timeus Gaylord", Sidney-Fryer commented on the origin of this poem:

I...asked him (CAS) to write for the bibliography a sonnet in alexandrines which would symbolically comment on the canon of his writings.

In that vein, it's worth noting that the first three words of this poem match the title of an earlier poem by CAS, which I read a few years ago:

Back then, I read "The Sorcerer Departs" as something of a prophecy, wherein the artist speculated on the future prospects of his creations, those "cryptic runes that shall / Outblast the pestilence, outgnaw the worm".  "Cycles" is clearly thematically related to the earlier poem, but enriched with the notion of endless deaths and rebirths.  

If indeed CAS was responding to Sidney-Fryer's request that he "comment on the canon of his writings", then "Cycles" speaks to CAS' confidence that "My volumes and my philtres shall abide", but furthermore that his words would continue to resonate with readers, "to blaze with blinding glory the bored hours".  Not a bad way to close out a long and amazing poetic career.

Saturday, December 30, 2023


Read "H.P.L." at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the second poem that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote about H.P. Lovecraft, a peer whom he never met in person.  I wrote about the first of these poems ("To Howard Phillips Lovecraft") several years ago:

Twenty-two years (from 1937 to 1959) separated the writing of these two works, and yet the same theme can be found in both of the them.  In the first poem, CAS enshrined Lovecraft's words like so: "And from the spirit's page thy runes can never pass."

In the later poem ("H.P.L."), CAS expresses a similar sentiment, but with an exalted technique that befits the cosmic imagination of its subject:

Some echo of his voice, some vanished word
Follows the light with equal speed, and spans
The star-set limits of the universe,
Returning and returning, to be heard
When all the present worlds and spheres disperse,
In other Spicas, other Aldebarans.

What writer could wish for a greater legacy than to create work that "spans / The star-set limits of the universe"?  Almost ninety years after his death, Lovecraft's work continues to have a major impact on contemporary culture, so one can't help but wonder if CAS' prognostications may well turn out to be correct.

Friday, December 29, 2023

High Surf

Read "High Surf" at The Eldritch Dark:

There are quite a few typos in the text of this poem at The Eldritch Dark, so here's a corrected version:

Loud as the trump that made the mortised walls
Of Jericho to tremble and lean and sway,
The voice of ocean sweeps this granite verge.
The cormorants today,
Back-diving through the falling walls of surge,
Float not too near the rocks;
And smoky, white haired phantoms ride the long-spined rollers
Curving across the bay
From gulfs that round Cipango, arc Cathay.

For me,
Who stand enchanted and exalt,
Seized up into a short eternity,
No anger and no sorrow that men feign
Informs the risen main:
I hear alone the impassible roar
Of years and centuries and cycles rolling
Under that solar and galactic vault,
Over the cliffs and cities, over the mountains
From shore to crumbled shore.


"Cipango" is an archaic name from the age of Marco Polo, associated with modern-day Japan (日本).

As an ode to the vast powers of nature, "High Surf" soars with all of the huge scope of Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) imagination.  The speaker's encounter with the palpable energy of ocean waves meeting the immovable "granite verge" at land's end blooms into a broader vision of "centuries and cycles rolling / Under that solar and galactic vault".  It's a beautiful piece of poetic inspiration; further evidence that CAS was truly possessed of the spirit of the muse.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Tired Gardener

Read "Tired Gardener" at The Eldritch Dark:

In many ways, this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is simply a richer expression of the same ideas found in "Lawn-Mower", which I read yesterday.  In that work, CAS used the mythological figure of Procrustes to imagine a manicured lawn as a metaphor for humanity's fumbling attempts to create order out of the "chaos" of the natural world.  "Tired Gardener" expands significantly on the same theme, although with quite a bit more poetic flair.

The grotesque and luxuriant foliage of the first stanza seemingly exists "only to prove the old Mammonian power".  In spite of all that floral beauty, the sole object of tending those showy blooms is a pretentious exhibition of mankind's inflated self-conception.  But the tired gardener knows all too well "how soon / the lovely weeds half-disinherited / return".

And so in the second stanza, the speaker encourages the embrace of un-manipulated natural splendor, and CAS delivers incredible images such as "willows following the dark sunken channel / of marsh-lost waters toward the sea."  

But this is CAS, the poet with the vivid (and sometimes vicious) imagination, and he takes it one step further, as the "last empire" of humanity becomes little more than "a fat mandragora / uprooted by its rebel gardeners."  The poet's preference for unspoiled natural landscapes extends to a vision of the downfall of Mammon and the coarse civilizations that gave birth to it, envisioning a future in which the artifacts of those expired human realms surrender to encroachments of that which they had attempted to suppress.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023


Read "Lawn-Mower" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) references Procrustes, the villain from Greek mythology who, as Wikipedia notes, "attacked people by stretching them or cutting off their legs, so as to force them to fit the size of an iron bed."

CAS worked informally as a gardener after his 1954 marriage and move to Pacific Grove, California. It could not have been an easy occupation at his age (early sixties) and this poem, slight as it is, reflects a broader dissatisfaction with human civilization and its preference for compliance and obedience.  The obvious metaphor of the cut grass may not be highly original, but it communicates the poet's ideas perfectly.

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Centaur

Read "The Centaur" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) provides the title source for the most comprehensive volume of CAS criticism to date: The Freedom of Fantastic Things: Selected Criticism on Clark Ashton Smith (2006), an excellent collection edited by the estimable Scott Connors.

"The Centaur" was likely written when CAS was either in his late fifties or early sixties, and thus certainly represents the poet's mature viewpoint.  In contrasting "the freedom of fantastic things" with "the infamous labyrinths of steel and mortar",  CAS suggests that those of us who inhabit the latter have permanently lost our access to "the boundless realms of legend".

Or perhaps not entirely: for if the centaur can be "glimpsed by poets / Whose eyes have not been blinded", then there is still hope that some few of us may voyage to those elusive domains, at the very least on the strength of our imaginations.  I can think of no more worthy life goal than to be included among that rare set.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Dedication: To Carol

Read "Dedication: To Carol" at The Eldritch Dark:

The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark is missing a couple of lines and has some typos, so here's the complete corrected poem as it appeared in Spells and Philtres (more info on that below):

From this my heart, a haunted Elsinore,
I send the phantoms packing for thy sake:
Sea-wind and sun walk now the halls; I take
Funereal wreath and fanon from my door;
I banish demons called by mantic lore:
The pentagrams are changed, the circles break 
For thee in whom, by twofold thirst to slake,
Naiad and saint unite forevermore.

Here the grey seas have drunk an azure day:
The goblin-shaped miasmas of the night
And ghostly dragons of the mist take flight
Where the re-risen Cypris leads us on,
Unzoned, along a vervain-flowered way
Behind the fervent footprints of the sun.

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was included as the dedication for his 1958 collection Spells and Philtres, the last volume of his work published by Arkham House during his lifetime.  It is of course dedicated to his wife, Carol Jones Dorman, whom he married in 1954. 

As an expression of the transformative power of love, "Dedication: To Carol" is quite remarkable, and suggests the emotional release that must have accompanied CAS' relationship with Carol.  

These lines describe something of a rebirth, as CAS clears away the solemnity of "Funereal wreath and fanon" to be replaced by "a vervain-flowered way / Behind the fervent footprints of the sun."  In describing Carol as a "re-risen Cypris" (aka Aphrodite or Venus) he conveys upon his spouse the attributes of that ancient deity, which (according to Wikipedia) include "love, lust, beauty, pleasure, passion, procreation, and...desire, sex, fertility, prosperity, and victory."  Suffice it to say that CAS thought the world of Carol, and if she was indeed his "re-risen Cypris", he was a very fortunate man to have met her.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Saturnian Cinema

Read "Saturnian Cinema" at The Eldritch Dark: 

This is an another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was first published in one of Roy Squires' letterpress editions from 1976.  It's a minor attempt at humorous verse, most notable for the use of a strict ABAB rhyme scheme, a basic poetic structure that CAS rarely used in his mature poems.  Although it doesn't follow the formal structure of a limerick, "Saturnian Cinema" certainly has a spiritual connection to those bawdy songs!

Tuesday, December 19, 2023


Read "Thebaid" at The Eldritch Dark:

The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a significant typo in line seven: the correct reading of that line is:

Thin out and vanish on the waste and vast

Joshi & Schultz's edition of CAS' The Complete Poetry and Translations mentions that this poem had a couple of alternate titles: "Arctica Deserta" and "Ultima Thule" (hence the image I've selected to accompany this post).

The theme of isolation is evident throughout this poem: isolation in such totality that it speaks even to separation from the divine:

What shall we do
For whom the heavens are throneless, and there is
No demon prince to supplicate and serve?

Although the solitude expressed in "Thebaid" has troubling aspects, there is also a note of freedom in these lines: "Where codes and cults, philosophies and gods / Thin out and vanish on the waste and vast".  This landscape is remote, but it's also free of the detritus of human civilization, with its rigid social expectations and fabricated deities.  Thus "Thebaid" strikes me as a wonderfully pure distillation of some of CAS' own values, given his dislike of progress and urbanity and his strong belief in the value of artistic expression and the creative life.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Isle of the Shipwrecked

This poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was apparently first written in Spanish with the title "La Isla del náufrago".  The Spanish version is available on The Eldritch Dark:

That version of the poem is accompanied by an English translation rendered by Ramón Cabrales.

Neither of CAS' original versions were published in his lifetime, so here's the complete English version:

Orphan of shipwreck,
I am in a gardenless terrain
with no tilled fields, an isle
which the volcano has desolated,
in part, and savages have invaded,
holding now the greater half,
the fruits and the caught fish their booty--
they besiege me, and they keep me
afar from the bananas and the sea:
Of this domain,
I have only the leafless rock
in which will grow 
one day the lichens with their leaves
and with their semblances of flora
that all the mornings cannot wither....

No sail 
whitens the dark green seas....
In such an islet,
can I outlive the other islanders?

This is a surprisingly mundane poem to emerge from CAS' pen, reading more like an outline of a short story than a work in verse.  It feels to me like some sort of exercise, as though CAS was mentoring a younger poet on the basics of the form, leading to the inclusion of odd juxtapositions, such as the speaker's lament that the "savages" are keeping him "afar from the bananas and the sea".  It's no surprise that CAS did not publish "Isle of the Shipwrecked" in his lifetime, as it's little more than a curiosity.

Sunday, December 17, 2023


This is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that exists only in archival manuscript (at Brown University's John Hay Library).  It's not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Beneath a lover's ardent sophistries,
Perhaps you read the truth, 
And find, beyond the blood's impassioned pleas,
Love that is made of tenderness and ruth,

An exile cast upon the world's dark shore,
Something in you I seek
Of that long-vanished motherland of yore
Beyond the deepest sea, the bluest peak;

Some hint of fallen banners, loves foregone,
The soft and sad perfume
Of jasmines blown, and salt of waters drawn
By moons no latter sun shall re-illume.

I had to lookup the archaic word "ruth" as used in line four: according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, it means "Compassion, pity; the feeling of sorrow for another."

There's a hint of something rich and splendid in "Verity", particularly in the last few lines where CAS gives us tantalizing hints such as "The soft and sad perfume / Of jasmines blown".  But ultimately, this short poem doesn't really develop into anything substantial, marking it as a minor effort from CAS' overall canon. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was written in September 1952, but unpublished in his lifetime.  His wife (Carol Jones Dorman) noted on the manuscript that it is "Obviously a poem to Ede Hoppmoor."  That name is unfamiliar to me: perhaps one of CAS' paramours?

Since this poem is not available on The Eldritch Dark, here's the complete text (note that the end of the third line was rendered illegible in a fire):

You have not come...and time stands over me,
a torturer pouring
sluggish, slow-burning drops of molten p_____
which are the minutes numbered into days.

How shall I suffer this delay?  Accurst
the lover who must wait, and waiting, doubt:
until your promised coming, better it were
to be the satyr hibernating 
dim months within the icy-chitoned oak,
the snake that sleeps beneath the winter stone.

Those last few lines are quite striking, as the impatient speaker is transformed into a hibernating satyr and then into "the snake that sleeps beneath the winter stone."  That final image is powerful and evocative, as the scaled reptile rests in anticipation of warmer days, ready to spring back to life with the ardor of a lover finally embraced.

Friday, December 15, 2023


Here's another poem unpublished in Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) lifetime, and since it's not available on The Eldritch Dark, here's the complete text:

Four sacraments have we partaken,
four sacraments unite us.

The sacrament of mutual desire
when we were still half-strangers yet not strange
like wanderers meeting in the mist
drawn darkly to that common motherland
whose moons are borne upon Astarte's brow.

The sacrament of joy
whereof your body was the tilted chalice,
with breasts adored beneath the autumnal sun,
with limbs and loins that opened
within the room darkened against the morning
or under the secret lamps that shone not streetward.

The sacrament of mirth--
full-bellied, earthy, Rabelaisian laughters
at quips and tales the bawdy gods might relish 
after ambrosial banquets.

The sacrament of pain
when the strange illness bowed you, and your head,
nestling upon my shoulder,
slipped downward in that cryptic agony
I could not follow, could not fathom,
yet must share obscurely 
through nerves of some profound and love-wrought nexus.

Let not the sacraments be broken.

Although this does not feel like a finished work, the technical structure is solid, moving through a logical sequence of the stages in a romantic relationship: initial attraction, carnal delights at the peak, joyous fun at the point of maturity, and grief in later stages.

I can't help but be most moved by the fourth stanza focusing on "The sacrament of mirth".  At the end of the day, when physical aspects of a relationship have become familiar, a relationship can only survive for the long term if there is some version of "full-bellied, earthy, Rabelaisian laughters" to power through the challenging times.  

I don't consider "Sacraments" to be one of CAS' best efforts, but its mature sensibility is well-grounded in practical reality, something of a contrast to CAS' reputation as a poet with an imagination focused on limitless extraplanetary vistas.

Thursday, December 14, 2023


This is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was never published during his lifetime, so here's the complete text:

In smoke, in tapered darkness, and in mist,
Above the fateful suspect Flame 
My foaming loves distill.  I watch, as might
Some other and some darker Alchemist
Observe the starry bubbles dim or splendid
With the immense alembic of the night.

You have not come...and time stands over me,
A torturer, inquisitorial, and I seem
Supine in some colossal hour-glass, where the sands,
Burning and rasping, fall in my bared heart

The last line is apparently obscured in the original manuscript now in the collections of the John Hay Library at Brown University.

Compared to the poem "Geometries", which I read yesterday, the metaphor at the heart of "Alchemy" is much more effective, particularly in the second stanza, where the speaker feels himself to be "Supine in some colossal hour-glass".  The speaker may be something of a romantic alchemist, but his powers fail to deliver the object of his affections to him.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023


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

Your body and mine, upon the bed opposed,
presented changing forms and lines Euclidean.

Our heads' irregular and hairy spheres
pillowed in close conjunction, or describing
tangents, diagonals, parabolas
in the unresting play of love.

Your tongue's obtuse triangle
parting and rounded curves of our four lips,
advancing vibrantly, and vibrantly retracting.

The spiral of my kisses 
climbing from base to nipple gradually
about your full maternal breasts unspoiled,
whose hemispheres were flattened later 
beneath the planes of low male breasts.

Caresses of our straight-drawn fingers
in tender parallels,
of fingers bent, half-angled and half-arced,
of concave palms enfolding knee or buttock
or breast or shoulder;
and intersections multi-angular
of arms and legs embracing.

And lastly
the lingham's rigid rectilinear line
bisecting the yoni's cloven, soft triangle.

All these were figures formed in time,
figures that changed and vanished,
and passed, perhaps, into eternity,
rejoining their Platonic absolutes.

And afterward
you went away, and I was left to ponder
on love's geometries of straight and curved.

This poem is more explicitly erotic than most of what flowed from CAS' pen, and yet despite the references to the lingham (usually spelled "lingam") and the yoni, it's little more than a technical exercise in describing a carnal encounter in geometrical terms.  I doubt CAS intended for this particular piece to be read by others, but nonetheless it's an interesting example of The Bard of Auburn experimenting with a new mode of poetic expression.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

I Shall Not Greatly Grieve

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:

Is it your final wish that I forget
Your cool sweet kisses in the fervent eve?
Upon my lips their savor lingers.  Yet,
Though the blood chafe, I shall not greatly grieve
If these, the first, remain a scented score--

Chary lest passion, like a Sirian noon,
Bring not your fruit to sweetness at the core,
But haply mar or ripen oversoon.

What ardors wake, what fears restrain your blood,
Where Christus wars with pagan gods?  I guess
In you the untamed falcon's fretful mood,
The immature green orchard's earthliness.

Love has no will to harm you.  I shall stand
With empty arms, and find a strange delight: 
The unplucked apples hanging closer at hand;
The leashless veering of the wild hawk's flight.

Apparently at least one draft of this poem survives with the alternate title "Haply I Shall Not Greatly Grieve".  

CAS wrote many verses dedicated to love and passion, and these lines addressed to a lover wary of complete abandon to ardor read convincingly as the product of a real-life experience.  

What most captures my attention is the use of avian metaphors in the last two stanzas: "the untamed falcon's fretful mood" and "The leashless veering of the wild hawk's flight."  These are skillfully intertwined with images of "The immature green orchard's earthliness" and "The unplucked apples hanging closer at hand".  Taken together, these are powerful suggestions of a lover who turns away from the wild call of unrestrained passion.  The obviousness of the metaphors in no way detracts from their effectiveness, and demonstrates CAS' preference for clarity over obscurity in his use of literary devices.