Friday, November 9, 2018

The Temple of Night

This early poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was not published is his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here is the text of the poem itself:

Fear-encompassing, night's temple arches high,

          Indefinitely doming hill and plain,
          With massive walls that comprehend that main
And clasp the distances of sand that lie
Forgot and desolate.  Against the sky
          It rises bold and vast, with towers that gain
          The ether's desert and immense domain
And in the wastes of outer sunlight die. 

Lo! This is beauty's fellest, perfect shrine
          Her consecrated temple, pure, divine,
With wind-swung flower censers rendered sweet.
The moon and star, her steadfast symbols gleam,
          And wistful-sighing wind and cadenced stream,
          With lyric symphonies the goddess greet.

The opening octet of this sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) delivers a really striking image of an immense temple, and the opening line of the sestet ("Lo! This is beauty's fellest, perfect shrine") challenges traditional ideas of beauty, which is generally thought to describe something that is pleasing or delightful.  CAS builds on that idea in following lines of the sestet by using words such as "pure" and "sweet".

What I like about this sonnet is that in the octet, the temple itself is described in somewhat foreboding terms ("Fear-encompassing", "Forgot and desolate"), but in the sestet CAS switches to a slightly cheerier tone.*  So in the end he reinforces the association between beauty and the night, a slight trick of perspective that is handled with authority.

*One might quibble with the inclusion of the word "fellest" in describing the sestet as having a cheerier tone.  However, "fell" as an adjective has several definitions, one of which is "Exceedingly great, mighty."

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