Monday, December 31, 2018

In the Desert

Read "In the Desert" at The Eldritch Dark:

This verse by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) reminds me of his poem "The Moonlight Desert" which I read last month, and likewise it has echoes of his poem "Nero".  Compare these lines from "In the Desert":

A wind
Rose loudly on the middle night, and passed,
Laden with nameless, immemorial dust,
The shapeless ghost of empires.

With these wonderful lines from "Nero":

There have been many kings, and they are dead,
And have no power in death save what the wind
Confers upon their blown and brainless dust
To vex the eyeballs of posterity.

While "In the Desert" is not necessarily a standout in CAS' poetic corpus, it is nonetheless a solid meditation on a theme that he revisited in many different works: that of the transience of all human endeavor, and even of life itself.  That CAS could render such a morbid theme with such beautiful language is a cornerstone of his impressive powers as a poet.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ode to Light

Read "Ode to Light" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the sixth ode that I have read so far by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) in my more-or-less chronological journey through his poetic corpus.  For the most part, I have not been very impressed by the Odes ("Ode on the Future of Song" being an exception).  And sad to say, "Ode to Light" is not really working for me either, since it feels quite pedestrian and lacks the strong and musical voice that animates so much of CAS' best work.

Saturday, December 29, 2018


Read "Finis" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem was included in the first published collection of poetry from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), and was later incorporated into his Selected Poems (1971) in a somewhat revised text.  The version of the poem available at The Eldritch Dark is the later one, presumably CAS' preferred reading, so that's what I'm considering in this blog post.

Something that catches my attention right away is the use of similar adjectival phrases throughout the poem:

  • "cold insensate peaks"
  • "gaunt black sockets"
  • "chill insensible mountains"
  • "dead infinite skies"
  • "dumb impassible skies"

Each of those phrases helps to reinforce the eerie dislocation at the heart of this poem, and one of those phrases anchors these lines which summarize the larger work:

Null, blank and meaningless
As a burnt scroll that blackens
With the passing of the fire,
Lay the dead infinite skies.

When CAS included this poem in his debut collection The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912), he made it the very last entry, which is certainly fitting given the title, a word whose alternate meaning in The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary is "The conclusion, the end, the finish; the end of life, death."  This poem coldly (but beautifully) describes a starless night which may portend the end of life and the universe itself, a heady topic that few writers can address with the elegance and musicality that CAS brings to the task.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Mad Wind

Read "The Mad Wind" at The Eldritch Dark:

This early poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is short but quite powerful.  The richly evocative title sets the reader up with high expectations, and the poet delivers with a suggestion of things beautiful and terrible that the wind has encountered, and from which it seeks no "safety nor respite".  The combined hints of ecstasy and madness are well-developed, and all the more impressive for the brevity of the work.

Thursday, December 27, 2018


Read "Nero" at The Eldritch Dark:

This outstanding poetic monologue from the young Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a true tour de force, and one of his signature artistic achievements.  The entire poem is instantly memorable, with rich and evocative lines at every turn, such as:

There have been many kings, and they are dead,
And have no power in death save what the wind
Confers upon their blown and brainless dust
To vex the eyeballs of posterity.

Not surprisingly, CAS led off his first published collection of poetry (The Star-Treader and Other Poems) with this very piece, and several reviews of that volume singled this poem out for praise.  CAS' early mentor George Sterling also praised the poem*:
It has a maturity, a vertebration, a pertinency and grasp beyond those other poems, and I'd give a reasonably-sized slice off one of my ears to have done anything so great for this many a year.  Ah! yes! it's a tremendous thing--I wonder where you're going to wind up, with such a beginning as you are making!
Also of interest: this poem is the subject of a dedicated modern critical article authored by Carl Jay Buchanan, which is available at The Eldritch Dark**:

Paradox is one of the notable themes of "Nero" that Buchanan discusses, as exemplified by this quotation:

As in many of the best poems ("Ode on a Grecian Urn," for instance), the ironies and cumulative paradoxes enrich our understanding as the rich imagery and well-balanced Miltonic and Keatsian rhythms satisfy our aesthetic natures.

The references to John Keats and John Milton are by no means misplaced, since this poem is really just that good.  As Buchanan suggests, the subtle but effective use of alliteration lends these lines a powerful musicality.  Some examples:

  • "darkling dream's effulgency"
  • "wandering will and wastage of the strong"
  • "music forced from tongueless things"
  • "radiance redder for the blood of men"
  • "The strong contention and conflicting might / Of Chaos and Creation"

If CAS is known as a writer with a notably cosmic vision, then "Nero" is certainly an apogee of that particular creative vein:

And were I weary of the glare of these,
I would tear out the eyes of light, and stand
Above a chaos of extinguished suns,
That crowd and grind and shiver thunderously,
Lending vast voice and motion but no ray
To the stretched silence of the blinded gulfs.

There is no reason to hesitate in praising "Nero" too much.  It's a spectacular triumph of the English language, and if CAS had written only this, he would still be a poet to endlessly read and admire.

*See letter #28 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

**Also available in The Freedom of Fantastic Things: Selected Criticism on Clark Ashton Smith from Hippocampus Press.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Echo of Memnon

Read "Echo of Memnon" at the Eldritch Dark:

This dream poem paints a languid portrait of the hours before dawn, as the narrator visits the famous "singing" Colossi of Memnon and witnesses the opening of water lily blossoms somewhere in the region of the Nile river.  There's nothing in particular that stands out with this poem; it's competent but by no means a standout in Clark Ashton Smith's poetic corpus.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Pursuer

This poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was never published in his lifetime, and is apparently an early draft of a later poem with the same name that appeared in his Selected Poems (1971).  This early version is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the poem itself:

Ascendant from what dead profundity,
          Of lives that Death, methought, had compassed round--
          Sealed with the night of suns, forever bound
With dust of systems,--comest thou to me,
Despair, whose other name in memory
          Is tongueless now--whence comest, thus enwound
          With Night's forgotten purples, to astound
All present days with old inveteracy?

O shape of subtler horrors, here unguessed,
          Have I not climbed secure from their abyss,
Those lower spheres by trampling Death deprest?
          Those tearest me beyond the hells of this,
                    Down chasms dreadful for the light of tears,
                    And ampler glooms alive with crawling fears!

I'll be interested to see how CAS revised this sonnet later in his career, since this version is a bit muddled, so much so that it almost seems like a parody of CAS' vocabulary and stylistic nuances.

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Shadow of the Unattained

This early poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the full text:

O mists that move upon the breeze,
          On borrowed wings that have the power 
          To shape and shift ye for an hour
Along the hills, among the trees!

O mists that hang upon the pines,
          And from the many-pointed green,
          Confused with grey for all its sheen,
Drip slowly down in shaken lines!

What phantom voice has come to me
          With hush of magic on the heart--
          Fainter than winds that breathe apart
The folds of twilight's drapery?

Ah, why the swift imperious sense
          As of horizons far, forlorn
          Of griefs wherewith the stars might mourn,
And bonds of alien exigence?

Is it that Ye are less of Time
          Than flower and wind, than hill and tree,
          That with the voice of dreams to me,
Of visions from a hidden clime,

Ye call, and all the griefs of earth
          Are overcast with starrier woe--
          Sorrow that I may never know
Attainment, and the vision's worth;

And grief that sighs in Beauty's breath--
          Beauty, whose lyric laughters hold
          A sadder music learned of old,
An echo from the halls of Death?

Akin to thine, a sadness lies
          In dawn-anterior moons that set          
          Through night's receding violet,
That thickens down the western skies,

Or in last summer's whitened grass,
          Ghostly above the green of spring,
          And lonely birds that lowlier sing
When colored autumns sadly pass,

In all of strangely beautiful,
          A wistful or impassioned pain--
          In cobwebs laden with the rain
Through fullest morn's white, listening lull;

Or the wild rose's single rim
          Of simplest petals exquisite,
          And irised dragon-flies that flit
Through mesh of shadows, fine and dim.

Lo, past all present beauties fall 
          The shadows of the unattained;
          From purest song that each ear gained,
Uncompassable echoes call.

In quest of visions half-forbid,
          My soul must put aside the screen,
          And walk in regions vaguely seen,
Round Mind's half-conscious borders hid,

As one who seeks a mystic bloom
          On ways beset with nightly chance--
          Circled with alien vigilance,
And rustling of the ghostly gloom.


Desirous dreams imperative,
          What wings are thine of baffled flight!
          What spheres mysterious to the light--
Skies where empyreal colors live

Past zeniths of the violet's wing,

          And ethers of seraphic sound,
          Prolonged swift music, free of bound,--
Await thy search and entering!

Still shall I strive, nor hope to find
          Their entrance's fantasmal clue:
          The road that one must walk thereto
Is thinner than a thread of wind.

Their fires of cloudy mystery
          Sing all unheard, except when fall
          Into my soul antiphonal,
Like starlight on the sleeping sea,

Their least low spectral echoings.
          And thought's arising wave must break
          Each glimmering image that they make--
Vague vision of exotic things

All alienate and unretained.
          Like faintest iris on the sky,
          What ghostly dreams appear and die
That sleep nor day has wholly gained!

Cliff-shadows edged with opal foam,
          Sloping to meet the shadowy sea;
          Pale dreams that fall forgetfully
Into the morning's mirrored dome.


White flowers with colored shadows crossed;
          Translucent-winged butterflies,
          And hueless birds of haunted skies,
In iridescent twilight lost--

Such things my soul soliciteth,
          And far delight of lyric spheres,
          With unintelligible tears
In clearest realms of tear-white Death--

A land of strange forgotten dooms,
          And fair as ancient death is fair,
          For stranger beauty broodeth there,
Like moonlight on the sands of tombs:

Dull permanence of foam that clings
          On moveless wave and soundless sand,
          And stirless amaranths that stand
In garths forgot of winds and wings;

Time in those gardens by the shore,
          Moves softlier than the feet of Sin;
          It seems a god hath wept therein,
And saddened them forevermore.

I turn; the mists have taken flight;
          Above the fallen sunset-gleam,
          Lost, as the fabric of a dream,
The silence thickens into night.

This seems like something of an artistic manifesto for the young CAS, a yearning after those vistas that are just out of reach but whose presence is felt nonetheless.  It strikes me as being rather rambling and unfocused, but then again it was never published in CAS' lifetime, and I suspect that may be because he regarded it as an unfinished poem.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Read "Saturn" at The Eldritch Dark:

Among the early poems by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that I have read so far, I've felt that the longer works (such as "Ode to the Abyss" and "The Star-Treader") have not been entirely successful.  But "Saturn" is something else: this long poem is a tour de force, a solid demonstration of CAS' considerable poetic abilities, and apparently written before his twentieth birthday.   

In this poem, CAS describes events from the mythical Titanomachy, when the Olympian gods warred with, and ultimately defeated, the Titans.  Like John Keats before him, CAS includes Enceladus among the Titans, although he is usually considered to have been one of the Giants from Greek mythology.  

And speaking of Keats, there are obvious parallels between CAS' "Saturn" and Keats' long (but unfinished) poem "Hyperion", which presents a similar scenario, and also features the Titan Saturn as a central character.  And of course, it's hard to read "Saturn" without thinking of Book I of John Milton's Paradise Lost.

Despite these obvious influences, "Saturn" is a strong work on its now merits, and there is some truly beautiful music in these lines, such as:

His sword, whereon the shadows lay like rust,
He took, and dipping it within the moon
Made clean its length of blade and from it cast
Swift flickerings at the stars.

Moreover, there is a truly thrilling narrative in this poem, vividly describing battle between the Titans and the usurping Olympians.  CAS' description of the clash of arms is quite as lively and engaging as anything that Robert E. Howard wrote in his many tales of deadly combat.  

There are at least a couple more poems that CAS wrote about the Titanomachy ("The Return of Hyperion" and "The Titans in Tartarus") which I will be reading soon, and I've very much looking forward to them.  "Saturn" is really a stunning work, and I'm eager to see how CAS handles the same theme when he revisits it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Said the Dreamer

Read "Said the Dreamer" at The Eldritch Dark:

This early poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is thematically simpatico with other poems by the same author that I have read recently, such as "The Song of a Comet" and "The Star-Treader".  Each of these poems describes a fantastic journey, often within a dream.

Given that "Said the Dreamer" revisits one of CAS' oft-used themes, it doesn't seem to me that it is any sort of exemplar among its peers.  As with "Ode to the Abyss", this present poem reads too much like a succession of images without much sense that those pieces are being wrought into any sort of meaningful whole.  

Although this poem was apparently written around 1912, it was not included in a published collection for more than four decades, when Arkham House issued Spells and Philtres in 1958.  That suggests that CAS saw something in the poem later in life than he did around the time he wrote it, but I can't say that this particular poem has made much of an impression on me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Song of A Comet

Read "The Song of A Comet" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) included this poem in his first published collection, The Star-Trader and Other Poems (1912) where it ran to 60 lines of verse.  When it was later collected in his Selected Poems (1971), it was significantly edited and expanded to 71 lines.  

Since CAS included the longer version in his career-spanning Selected PoemsI'm assuming it is the author's preferred version.  That same longer version is available via The Eldritch Dark, so that's what I'm considering in this blog post.

This long poem presents quite a journey, as a comet follows a unique path all its own through the cosmos.  Some of the visions that the comet encounters along the way are quite thrilling:

Upon the shadowy heavens half-revealed,
I show their planets turned,
Whose strange ephemerae,
On adamantine tablets deeply written,
In cities long unlitten,
Have left their history
And lore beyond redemption or surmise.

CAS emphasizes that the comet follows a route that it does not choose, and nor does it have any notion of where that route will take it in the future. I don't believe any sort of metaphor is intended by the author, but it is appealing to imagine the comet experiencing an endless series of incredible visions as it wends its way through the limitless universe.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Retrospect And Forecast

Read "Retrospect And Forecast" at The Eldritch Dark:

There is an interesting textual change that occurred over the published life of this poem. Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) included this item in his first published collection of verse, The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912).  In that version of the poem, line three read:

Even now, within thy mouth, from tomb and urn,

Note the fourth word "thy".  When this poem was later incorporated into the career-spanning Selected Poems (1971), that same line changed to:

Even now, within my mouth, from tomb and urn,

"Thy" has been replaced by "my".  This seems like a significant edit to me, since the poem opens with an address to Life, and the original version of line three preserves the context of the speaker directing their words to that audience:

Turn round, O Life, and know with eyes aghast
The Breast that fed thee--Death, disguiseless, stern:
Even now, within thy mouth, from tomb and urn,
The dust is sweet.

The remainder of the octet (first stanza) continues in the same vein of words addressed to Life.

When I first read this poem, it was in the later version, which I found a bit ponderous at first, since the speaker referenced by "my" is not otherwise directly incorporated into the poem.  

But on further reflection, I think this small one-word edit has strengthened the poem, since now the speaker is saying that he tastes the dust of "tomb and urn" in his own mouth.  Assuming the speaker is a living human being, the change in wording reinforces the central argument of the poem, that life is engaged eternally in a vampiric relationship with death, and a perceptive person can experience evidence of that directly.

Just for the record, between the two published appearances of this poem noted above, there was also a change in line eleven, but that one does not impact the meaning of the poem, so I'm ignoring it here.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Nemesis of Suns

Read "The Nemesis of Suns" at The Eldritch Dark:

The personification of Night as the "nemesis of Suns" is quite gripping in this sonnet by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  The closing sestet is so powerful that it's worth repeating:

All gyres are held within the path unspanned
          Of Night's aeonian compass--loosely pent
                    As with the embrace of lethal-tightening weight;
All suns are grasped within the hollow hand
          Of Night, the godhead sole, omnipotent,
                    Whose other names are Nemesis and Fate.

Those last three lines are really powerful stuff, and the identification of Night as "the godhead sole" really speaks to the darker aspects of CAS' cosmic viewpoint.  What hope is there for humanity in a universe where all those life-giving suns are little more than playthings to be "torn or furled / By Night at will?" 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Dream-Bridge

Read "The Dream-Bridge" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a straight-forward nature poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), but quite effective, especially in the first stanza's description of a rainy, gloomy day.  Further evidence that CAS was a poet with a much broader palate than his cosmic reputation would suggest.

Friday, December 14, 2018

To George Sterling

Read "To George Sterling" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the fourth poem of the same name by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that I have read so far.  George Sterling was an older poet who served as something of a mentor to CAS over many years, beginning when CAS was still in his late teens.

Like the other tribute poems with the same title, this sonnet is fairly unremarkable, other than as a personal tribute to a mentor.  As with some of the previous tribute verses, this one conveys the impression that Sterling's poetic work will survive the passing years.  To some degree, that is indeed true, since CAS' reputation is almost solely responsible for maintaining that of his mentor.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Star-Treader

Read "The Star-Treader" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) named his first published collection of poetry for this work, and the version in that volume is slightly shorter than the version that was later included in his omnibus Selected Poetry (1971).  The version at The Eldritch Dark is the longer version of the poem, which I'm also discussing here.

Several commentators, including George Sterling, grouped this poem with other early verses from CAS that have a cosmic theme, such as "Ode to the Abyss".  That certainly makes sense, but I think this is the stronger work by far, since the author has presented the reader with a real narrative thrust that has vast scale and clear milestones, delineated by the seven numeric sections.

Particularly notable is section IV, where the narrator re-visits several different planets that were apparently known to him either in past lives or via ancestral memory.  Each world is described in only a handful of lines, some of which are exquisite:

One world I found, where souls abide
Like winds that rest upon a rose;
Thereto they creep
To loose all burden of old woes.

In section VI, the narrator witnesses the creation of life itself:

Some earlier awakening
In pristine years, when giant strife
Of forces darkly whirled
First forged the thing called Life—
Hot from the furnace of the suns—
Upon the anvil of a world.

Finally in section VII, the dream comes to a hard stop:

Till, lo! my dream, that held a night
Where Rigel sends no message of his might,
Was emptied of the trodden stars,
And dwindled to the sun's extent—
The brain's familiar prison-bars,
And raiment of the sorrow and the mirth
Wrought by the shuttles intricate of earth.

This isn't a perfect poem, but it's one of the better long works from CAS' early career, and he manages to keep the narrative drive actively moving forward, which was not the case with "Ode to the Abyss".  If both of those works can be considered as precursors to "The Hashish-Eater", I think "The Star-Treader" holds much more interest as a worthwhile work to be enjoyed on its own merits.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A diversion: CAS on the appreciation of poetry

I came across this interesting passage in a letter from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) to George Haas*:

As to poetry in general, I think that one usually has to cultivate, through more or less reading, an appreciation of its nuances and finer values.  And many readers never do develop such appreciation, stopping at the surface-thought or reducible idea-content - which is often the least of it.  The real magic is another thing - and often too elusive for definition in crude prose. 

I think this quotation is worth some consideration, since it presents the reader with the challenge of digging a little deeper and being a bit more thoughtful when interpreting poetry.  I'll keep that in mind as I continue my journey through the poems of CAS.

*Smith, Clark Ashton. "To George Haas." 1 Feb. 1954. Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith. Ed. David E. Schultz and Scott Connors. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 2003. 375.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Palace of Jewels

Read "The Palace of Jewels" at The Eldritch Dark:

Earlier in this blogging journey, I read a shorter poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) with the same name:

That shorter five-stanza work was apparently a draft for this sixteen-stanza version.  The longer version incorporates quite a lot of text from the draft version, while introducing many new images and ideas.  Particularly compelling is the idea of the various precious stones in this wondrous palace engaged in a sort of combat with the shadows:

Against the gloom their irised swords unite,
With shadow-sundering blades and points that fret.
From flickering looms they scatter wefts of light,
To catch the dusk as in a net.

The several descriptions of gemstones catching the sunlight are gorgeous, and even the onset of night brings on a beauty all its own:

Through evening halls the scattered jewels burn
Like broken chains of fire within the night,
Till comes the moon, and from her heavenly urn,
Bestows a stream of subtler light

On gems that seem some clear and stellar dew,
Orbed in the regions past the springs of morn;
And gems like magic flowers that fold anew
In lands beyond the sunset-bourn.

The magical imagery combined with the easily flowing rhymes make for a rich reading experience, lending more surprise to the fact that CAS never chose to include this poem in any of the poetry collections published during his lifetime.

Monday, December 10, 2018

A Song from Hell

Read "A Song from Hell" at the Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime.  He did send a copy of the poem to his mentor George Sterling, who found the subject matter to be "distasteful".  

The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has enough typos in the opening ten lines that it's worth offering a corrected version here:

This song I got me from the nether pits,
Where, as a witches' cauldron-brew, that blends
Envenomed roots and herbs malignly foul,
With poison-essence drawn from charnel things,
And carrion found by night, the various damned
Bubble and seethe with their own agony,
And cry to upward firmamental gulfs
(Reddened with blotching flame as though with stars)
A chant that rears like some distillment weird,
Atwist with urge of pain from writhing lips:--

Despite the the choice of very dramatic topic, the poem strikes me as being fairly pedestrian, basically a catalog of woes from the damned in the eternal pit.  There is some wonderful poetry in at least one stanza:

We heighten to a hate that beats
In rage all impotently strong
Against the worlds that league with wrong,
Whose pain each other's pain completes.

But outside of that quatrain, there isn't much about "A Song from Hell" that is particularly noteworthy.

Sunday, December 9, 2018


Read "Wind-Ripples" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a simple little quatrain from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that presents an appealing image of the unobtrusive presence of Beauty sensed in a fleeting moment.  Although a slight poem, it reinforces the notion that the appreciation of Beauty was one of CAS' central artistic concerns.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Live-Oak Leaf

Read "A Live-Oak Leaf" at The Eldritch Dark:

In this poem, I assume that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is describing a leaf from Quercus wislizeni, or the interior live oak (shown in the picture above), which is native to the Sierra Nevada foothills of California.

Allow this is a very short poem, it's quite poignant, with the second stanza being so impressive that I'll repeat it here:

In all the hidden toil of earth,
Which is the more laborious part-
To rear the oak's enormous girth,
Or shape its leaves with poignant art?

I love the way that CAS draws the contrast between the totality of the tree's growth ("the oak's enormous girth") and one of its smaller parts (an individual leaf).  It seems that the narrator has settled on the "poignant art" of the leaf as the thing which really captures his attention, and this ability to see the beauty in small things so easily ignored gives the poem its power. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Dream of Beauty

Although this poem is available at The Eldritch Dark, that version has transcription errors, so a better reading experience can be found in one of the anthologized appearances of this poem, available at Google Books:

This poem was included in several magazines and poetry anthologies published during Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) lifetime, in addition to appearing in several volumes of his own poetry either published or planned while he was still alive.  Among the early verses by CAS that I have read so far, this one probably had the widest distribution across a variety of published sources.

This sonnet returns to the subject of dreams, which CAS frequently wrote about.  Here he has verbalized nature as the heart of Beauty, and in general the poem is quite pleasant and anodyne.  At least up until the rather curious line twelve, referring to Beauty: "Her face the light of fallen planets wore".

The phrase "fallen planets" suggests CAS' interest in the cosmic mysteries, and within the context of this poem, prompts the narrator's reaction of "doubt and wonderment", before the dream abruptly ends.  I like this little twist at the end - CAS starts us on a charming journey, but then introduces a note of discord towards the end which alters the experience and gives the reader something of a jolt.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Horizon

While this poem is available at The Eldritch Dark, that version has several formatting errors, so the original published appearance in the Overland Monthly (via Hathitrust) is a better experience.  Scroll to the bottom of the page to see the poem by "C. Ashton Smith":;view=1up;seq=129

In this poem, Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has given us a lyrical take on an evergreen theme, the quest for that which is somehow always just out-of-reach.  Despite the deception mentioned in the last line, the narrator's voice does not have a bitter tone; rather CAS has chosen phrases like "eager, hastening feet" and "hoping hearts" which suggest that there is some joy in the quest, however futile it may be.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Chant to Sirius

Read "Chant to Sirius" at the Eldritch Dark:

This chant to the brightest star in the night sky is a worthwhile read, but not really any sort of a standout in the poetry corpus of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  I'm somewhat surprised that CAS chose to include this poem in his career-spanning Selected Poems (1971) since it really doesn't have any notable strengths in comparison to other poems that he was creating around the same time (1911-1912), and there are several poems from that period that I think are much more compelling.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Messengers

Read "The Messengers" at The Eldritch Dark:

This little poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is quite a contrast to some of the cosmic and myth-inspired verses by the same author that I have been reading recently.  It stands out both for its brevity and for its commonplace subject matter.  

What I appreciate about "The Messengers" is the lively sense of movement that CAS has captured, beginning with the languorous line "Catching a little wind’s unrest", and gathering intensity with following lines such as "Snared in the tangled zephyr-coil".  It's a pleasant and lyrical rendition of the familiar aerial journey of dandelion seeds.

Monday, December 3, 2018


Read "Medusa" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem re-visits the theme of the Gorgon, which was also presented in "Sphinx and Medusa", which I read last month.  I was very impressed by that earlier poem, and this one is another classic from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  Especially notable this time around is how contemporary "Medusa" feels; it's very compatible with much of the weird poetry that is being produced here in the early twenty-first century (see for example the journal Spectral Realms).

These lines especially are very effective:

Her eyes are clouds wherein black lightnings lurk,
Yet, even as men that seek the glance of Life,
The gazers come, where, coiled and serpent-swift,
Those levins wait.

The lure and the terror of the mythical Gorgons are brilliantly captured therein.  

This poem seem to anticipate CAS' later move into writing weird fiction (something that would not occur for many years after he wrote these lines).  It's a good, solid mash-up of mythology and horror, a strain of literature of which CAS was a master.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Ode to the Abyss

Read "Ode to the Abyss" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem has been included in several published collections of poetry by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), including his very first published volume, The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912).

It also attracted praise from George Sterling and Ambrose Bierce, both of whom were lineal mentors to the young CAS.

So it's with some regret that I can't really connect with "Ode to the Abyss".  Much like "Ode to Music" (which I read a few days ago), I find this ode to be somewhat rambling, with quite a lot of repeated ideas that don't really seem to build upon each other.  However, there is some great poetry contained within the whole, particularly in these lines from the second stanza:

What sound thy gulfs of silence hold!
Stupendous thunder of the meeting stars
And crash of orbits that diverged,
With Life's thin song are merged;
Thy quietudes enfold
Paean and threnody as one,
And battle-blare of unremembered wars
With festal songs
Sung in the Romes of ruined spheres;
And music that belongs
To undiscoverable younger years
With words of yesterday.

I think this would have been a stronger ode if those twelve lines were the majority of the text, with a few choice lines preceding to "introduce" the abyss as the subject of the poem. 

Long poems in English are difficult to pull off.  John Keats achieved the feat several times in his brief career, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's lasting reputation is built on a couple of lengthy poetic works.  In having read just over one hundred poems so far by the young CAS, I don't feel that at this stage his art was quite up to the task, with the notable exception of "Nero", which I'll be musing on soon.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Dream-Weaver

Here we have another poem unpublished in the lifetime of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS):

Who weaveth the web of dreams?

          He hath wrought a fabric strange
Whose threads are the moon's white beams 
          And the hues that pass and change 
In the sunset's coloured gleams;

Whose woof is in the joy of flowers,

          That wake in the dawn of spring 
And the music of passing showers,
          And the song the thrushes sing
Through the sunshine-colored hours.

He hath wrought a fabric dread-- 

          A web that is hued with night,
With fear as its awful thread;
          Whose warp is the ghostly might
Of the unremembered dead.

I have sought the weaver of dreams,
          In the soul's unfathomed deep;
I have followed a clue that gleams
          Through the labyrinth of sleep,
Of a wind that sweeps the spheres.

And lost in the titan surge
          Of a wind that sweeps the stars
I have neared the farthest verge,
          Where the ends of night are bars,
And the day and darkness merge.

But in vain is the endless quest:
          For, thin as a thread of wind,
The weaver eludes the test;
          And hideth where thought is blind
In depths 'neath the soul's unrest.

This poem is an ideal melding of foundational themes in CAS' body of verse: beauty, dreams and the sense of dread presented with a scope of cosmic dimensions.  The penultimate stanza is pretty much perfect:

And lost in the titan surge
          Of a wind that sweeps the stars
I have neared the farthest verge,
          Where the ends of night are bars,
And the day and darkness merge.

Those five lines describe the poet's journey to the very limits of the possible.  In the following stanza, we learn of the futility of the quest, but the lines above suggest to me that the failure doesn't matter.  The exploration of the source of dreams is such an incredible odyssey as to create its own reward.