Sunday, November 18, 2018

To Thomas Paine

This is one of two poems with the same title that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote, but neither of them were published in his lifetime.  I'll look at the companion work tomorrow, but here's the first of the pair:

O thou who dared the sacred truth proclaim
Who took the stand alone but unafraid
By calumny and danger undismayed
How have they soiled and trampled on thy fame!
How ignorance doth execrate thy name,
Superstition taught, whose minions laid
Gainst thee the charge of infidel and made
Thy name its synonym.  But all the blame
By hierophant and layman on thee placed
Shall yet be theirs, as men who helped delay
The righteous cause of Truth and Liberty,
And when the rule of superstition is abased
No name of kings (than thou) upon that day
Shall higher stand, as one who made men free.

This is an unusual subject for CAS.  Among the over one hundred poems by CAS that I have read so far, he has never addressed a topic or person from American history, and I don't believe he did much more in this vein in his later poetic career.

So that point alone makes this a very interesting poem, which apparently references Thomas Paine's treatise The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology (see the Wikipedia article for more background on that work).  Paine's popular but controversial best-seller advanced his personal philosophy of deism, and denounced organized religion as well as the Bible itself.

The sentiments expressed by Paine in The Age of Reason do seem to be a perfect match for what little I know of CAS' own philosophy of religion.  The phrase that ends this poem ("as one who made men free") is especially poignant, since it establishes Paine as a significant figure by right of his arguments against the "superstition" associated with a corrupt Christian church and its embrace of the concept of miracles.

This I like.  CAS was a determined individual who pursued his own unique path through this life, and was apparently not a fan of cant or accepted doctrines, especially those associated with the sad and debilitating practice of organized religion.  For CAS to admire the philosophy of Thomas Paine makes sense, and makes me admire CAS all the more for the intelligent free thinker that he was.

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