Tuesday, August 21, 2018

To the Nightshade

Read "To the Nightshade" at The Eldritch Dark:


This is another poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) unpublished in his lifetime, and I'm a bit surprised, since this early example of CAS' penchant for "weird poetry" is quite effective.  

Atropa belladonna (or "deadly nightshade") has been referenced many times in western literature, and is even believed to be the instrument used to poison the Roman emperor Augustus.  CAS taps into this rich cultural and historical vein, and it's notable that this is his first use of blank verse among the early poems that I have read so far.

The ending of the poem is particularly strong:

Such a flower art thou
As might spring from the rotting of ancient sin,
Its unavoidable latter confession,
Or from the corroded altar-stone,
Now merged with the blood of its victims—
A hideous and fruitful wedlock—
In some place of sacrifice to monstrous gods.

As an aside, I can't help but note that CAS was quite fond of the word "monstrous".  It appears six times in his famous long poem "The Hashish-Eater", and his ending of this present poem on the phrase "monstrous gods" is the sort of detail that really puts his recognizable stamp on the work.

"To the Nightshade" does seem to me to anticipate both "The Hashish-Eater" and other verses from CAS that have been categorized as "fantastic" or "weird" poetry.  The device of "A hideous and fruitful wedlock" is wonderful and memorable, and the choice of the word "fruitful" imparts some additional meaning, given that the attractive dark fruit of the deadly nightshade plant is toxic to humans.

As mentioned earlier in this post, I'm surprised CAS chose not to include this poem in any of the collections published during his lifetime.  It's a strong poem that plays to his strengths as a writer, and is thematically compatible with the fantastic verses from later in his career that are his best-known poetic works. 

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