Monday, December 17, 2018

Retrospect And Forecast

Read "Retrospect And Forecast" at The Eldritch Dark:

There is an interesting textual change that occurred over the published life of this poem. Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) included this item in his first published collection of verse, The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912).  In that version of the poem, line three read:

Even now, within thy mouth, from tomb and urn,

Note the fourth word "thy".  When this poem was later incorporated into the career-spanning Selected Poems (1971), that same line changed to:

Even now, within my mouth, from tomb and urn,

"Thy" has been replaced by "my".  This seems like a significant edit to me, since the poem opens with an address to Life, and the original version of line three preserves the context of the speaker directing their words to that audience:

Turn round, O Life, and know with eyes aghast
The Breast that fed thee--Death, disguiseless, stern:
Even now, within thy mouth, from tomb and urn,
The dust is sweet.

The remainder of the octet (first stanza) continues in the same vein of words addressed to Life.

When I first read this poem, it was in the later version, which I found a bit ponderous at first, since the speaker referenced by "my" is not otherwise directly incorporated into the poem.  

But on further reflection, I think this small one-word edit has strengthened the poem, since now the speaker is saying that he tastes the dust of "tomb and urn" in his own mouth.  Assuming the speaker is a living human being, the change in wording reinforces the central argument of the poem, that life is engaged eternally in a vampiric relationship with death, and a perceptive person can experience evidence of that directly.

Just for the record, between the two published appearances of this poem noted above, there was also a change in line eleven, but that one does not impact the meaning of the poem, so I'm ignoring it here.

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