Wednesday, September 12, 2018


This poem was unpublished during the lifetime of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) so let's begin with the text itself:

He sits encrowned upon his awful throne
Of skulls; within the vast and ambient gloom
Which strive the red-flamed torches to illume
In vain, and leave full half its reach unknown.
A sword across his knees, he reigns alone
With merciless proud eyes, and mien of stone,
While 'fore him go like spectres from the tomb
In long review the victims of his doom,
In silence broken only for a groan
From bloodless lips.  Here mighty kings o'erthrown
Look toward him with accusing eyes as go
They past, and once great captains moan
And soldiers pass, with swords and helms made low
In ghastly file of shapes the dead assume.

This poem makes me think of some of the characters created by Robert E. Howard (REH), such as Conan the Barbarian and Kull the Conqueror. So much so, that I would have guessed it to be the work of REH if I had encountered the work with no authorial attribution.

Of course, CAS wrote this poem around 1911, more than twenty years before he came into contact with REH.  But it's interesting to see that in an early poem like "War" CAS was dealing with themes that would be dear to his future correspondent.

This poem has a powerful sense of atmosphere, all the more impressive since the subject who "sits encrowned upon his awful throne" doesn't actually do anything other than watch a somber parade go by.  The lines "A sword across his knees, he reigns alone / With merciless proud eyes, and mien of stone" provide a strongly developed characterization, and the image of a brooding yet victorious warlord really lingers in my mind after reading these very impactful lines.

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