Along with "The Eternal Snows" which I read yesterday, "The Moonlight Desert" is among a batch of early poems that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) sent to his eventual mentor George Sterling. However, the poem remained unpublished in CAS' lifetime.
This poem makes me think of CAS' short story "The Black Abbot of Puthuum" which is one of my favorite pieces of fiction. Although there are no references to specific characters or events from that story in the poem, both pieces share a moonlight desert setting. One of my favorite passages from the story is:
A saffron-yellow and lopsided moon was soaring above the wall, and he knew by this that he had been absent overlong from his vigil with Cushara. All, however, seemed tranquil: the drowsing animals had not stirred; and the monastery was dark and soundless.
That emphasis on moonlight and silence in the story's desert setting creates a strong connection between the two works.
This poem ends with the description of the desert as "A dead, unutterably ancient land", and so again we have a thematic connection between these two pieces by the same author. The story was written more than two decades after the poem, but for me it suggests that CAS developed recurring imaginative landscapes that he re-visited throughout his career.
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