Monday, January 28, 2019


Read "Nirvana" at The Eldritch Dark:

This early poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) reminds me of "Retrospect And Forecast", another of his poems that was included in his first published collection (The Star-Treader and Other Poems(1912)).  "Retrospect And Forecast" addressed the personification of Death, while this present poem speaks of "the vampire-lips of Sleep" and presents a vista of cosmic imagery that CAS often wove into his verses.  

In general, "Nirvana" strikes as a somewhat unexceptional item from the oeuvre of CAS, primarily because he handled similar themes with greater power in other of his poems.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Night Forest

Read "The Night Forest" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem really plays to all of Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) strengths as a writer, incorporating a reverence for nature, a sensitivity to phenomena mysterious and supernatural, and the ability to engage the reader's senses as part of the journey.  

Although CAS is best known for metrically and rhythmically precise verses, this poem utilizes the open-ended feel of blank verse to great advantage, as exemplified by these stirring lines spoken from within a grove of pine trees:

Far in their secrecy
I stand, and the burdenous dusk,
Dull, but at times made keen
With tingle of fragrances,
Falls on me as a veil
Between my soul and the world.

The entire poem has a delicate, pensive quality, as the narrator senses things that are just out of his reach.  He grasps, but cannot take hold of that which he senses, as expressed in the lines "I feel but enter not / Your distances of dream".

CAS' reputation as a poet rests upon bold, epic verses such as "Nero" and "The Hashish-Eater".  But a poem like the "The Night Forest" is an excellent example of his range and his ability to capture elusive experiences on the printed page.  Once again, I am in awe of his poetic abilities.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The Medusa of the Skies

Read "The Medusa of the Skies" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) substantially altered this sonnet between its original appearance in The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912) and a later appearance in Selected Poems (1971).  I'll focus on the latter text, which is also available on The Eldritch Dark.

As an aside, it's worth noting that CAS later translated this poem into French, with the title "La Méduse des cieux".

This poem presents quite a grim image of moonlight:

Under her beams the breasted lands assume
Dead hues, and charnel shapes unceremented;
And shadows that towering sepulchers might shed
Move livid as the shadows on dials of doom.

In the closing sestet, the grim character of these lines resolves into a personification as "reptant Death at last rears absolute", and the poem closes with an echo of the title, strongly associating the moon with the baleful powers of the mythical Gorgons.

Although I've read less than two hundred poems by CAS so far, this is the third to include "Medusa" in the title, and The Eldritch Dark lists two others that I have not yet gotten to.  While I can't yet draw any big conclusions, it's interesting that CAS made quite a bit of use of this theme from classical mythology, tapping into the raw terror associated with the character of Medusa.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Maze of Sleep

Read "The Maze of Sleep" at The Eldritch Dark:

Since this early poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a single stanza quatrain, I'm going to reprint the entire original text from The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912):

Sleep is a pathless labyrinth,
Dark to the gaze of moons and suns,
Through which the colored clue of dreams,
A gossamer thread, obscurely runs.

In the version of this poem that is available on The Eldritch Dark, as well as in Selected Poems (1971), line three has had a word substitution, so that the later version reads: "Through which the exile clue of dreams".

Since this is such a short poem, that minor update caught my attention, as it makes me curious about how CAS viewed his own verses over the course of his life, and how he wanted them to be experienced by future readers.  

The original phrase "colored clue" is a bit vague, but not out-of-place in a poem about the nebulous world of sleep and dreams.  The updated phrase "exile clue" has more precision, assuming that CAS intended his readers to think of a secondary definition of the noun "clue", which the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED) gives as "The thread of a story; a train of thought."  Likewise, I believe CAS' choice of the word "exile" hinges on an adjectival definition of that word which the SOED gives as: "Thin in consistency; fine, tenuous, insubstantial."

In this context, the last two lines of the poem ("Through which the exile clue of dreams, / A gossamer thread, obscurely runs.") are quite powerful, given that the word "exile" is echoed by the following phrase "gossamer thread", and we exit with the phrase "obscurely runs" where the choice of the word "obscurely" builds upon the words and phrases that I've highlighted.

It seems to me that this small edit to a short poem is not insignificant.  In making that simple change, CAS achieved a greater coherency around the central idea of "The Maze of Sleep", all the more impressive since the subject matter at hand (sleep and dreams) is inherently imprecise.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Masque of Forsaken Gods

Read "The Masque of Forsaken Gods" at The Eldritch Dark:

Although I am reading the poems of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) in more-or-less chronological order (as presented in the Joshi and Schultz edition of the complete poetry), I have previously read some of his later works, and thus "The Masque of Forsaken Gods" reminds me of "The Centaur", given that both poems share the theme of departed beauty personified by gods and creatures from Greek mythology.

"The Masque of Forsaken Gods" is the first poetic dialogue by CAS that I have read (although I believe he wrote other such verses).  While it is a longer take on the subject than "The Centaur", this work has many passages of unusual power, as exemplified in the opening stanza attributed to The Poet:

Here were the theater of a miracle,
If such, within a world long alienate
From its first dreams, and shut with skeptic years,
Might now befall.

The setting is "A moonlit glade on a summer midnight", and The Poet recognizes that such a locale might indeed play host to rare events.  The Philosopher joins The Poet in the dialogue, and as both intuit what might happen, the gods do indeed appear and join the conversation, as do a pair of nymphs, the first of whom gets the best lines of all:

How can the world be still so beautiful
When beauty's self is fled? 'Tis like the mute
And marble loveliness of some dead girl;
And we that hover here are as the spirit
Of former voice and motion and live color
In that which shall not stir nor speak again.

This seems to be the crux of the argument - beauty still surrounds us, but we can no longer really sense or appreciate it.  In the poem's final stanza, The Gods Together use the striking phrase "The tyranny of nothingness", which seems an apt summation of a world in which beauty has lost its power over the souls of men.

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Read "Lethe" at The Eldritch Dark:

This somber sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) revisits a theme that he addressed several times in his poetic career, such as in a very early poem with the same title that I read several months ago.

That earlier quatrain did not impress me much, but in the present work CAS has developed the theme quite a bit, and has weaved Lethe's promise of forgetfulness throughout these lines, particularly in the impressive closing sestet:

The fruitless earth's denied and cheated sons
Meet here, where fruitful and unfruitful cease.
And when their lords, the mightier, hidden Ones,
Have drained all worlds, till being's wine is low,
Shall they not come, and from the oblivious flow
Drink at one draft a universe of peace?

The two middle lines of that stanza are absolutely gorgeous: "And when their lords, the mightier, hidden Ones, / Have drained all worlds, till being's wine is low".  

There is a sense of defeat in these verses, and yet the welcome gift of the river Lethe serves to annihilate defeat itself (and much else besides).  CAS had an apparent passion for the rich motifs of Greek mythology, and in this sonnet he has expressed that passion with great art and skill.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Lament of the Stars

Read "Lament of the Stars" at The Eldritch Dark:

I've sometimes found longer poems by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) somewhat difficult to warm to, with notable exceptions such as "Nero".  Unfortunately, my reaction to "Lament of the Stars" reflects my readings of longer poems like "Ode to the Abyss" and "Ode to Music" each of which lacked an essential focus, something that I believe is so critical to a successful poem.

In this particular work, CAS does start things off with a strong opening stanza rich with references to music and dance, which animates the verse and propels the reader forward.  But in following stanzas, the notions introduced at the beginning aren't really developed, and there is even some awkward writing (very uncommon for CAS) such as the strained couplet "All darker forms, and dubious forms, or pallid, / Are met and reconciled where none is valid."

While "Lament of the Stars" was included in CAS' debut collection of published poetry, it is notable that he chose not to include it in his Selected Poems (1971).  Thematically speaking, this poem is quite similar to other verses from the same author, and he handled the subject matter much better elsewhere, so I'm not totally surprised that this item did not make the cut when he assembled the Selected Poems.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Fugitives

Read "The Fugitives" at The Eldritch Dark:

This brief poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wonderfully expresses the fleeting nature of beauty, with the interesting dimension of aroma, presumably originating from flowers in the garden described.  CAS uses the poem's outro to capture the transient moment immediately after the sensation of beauty has fled:

Soon ye are gone, and the air
Forgets your faint unrest
In the garden's breathlessness,
Where fall the snows of silence.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


Read "Fairy-Lanterns" at The Eldritch Dark:

I'm assuming that in this brief poem Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is referring to Calochortus albus, a small plant that is native to the Sierra Nevada foothills where CAS spent most of his life. 

There is nothing deep or dramatic in these brief lines, but as ever we feel CAS' strong connection to the ideal of beauty: 

I know this flower has lighted me
Nearer to Beauty's mystery,
And past the veils of secrets new.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Epitaph for the Earth

Read "Epitaph for the Earth" at The Eldritch Dark:

In this early unpublished poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), we see once again the author's vision carrying us well past the timeline of human existence, simultaneously expressing a note of futility regarding the significance of that existence.  The closing stanza is powerful and really gets to the heart of the matter:

With hope of some far-off, supernal goal,
Changeless, and independent of the years
He strove on low and shifting ways, and sent
Commissioned dreams ethereal-wing’d before,
On summits that achievement’s laggard feet
Scarcely approached, till on one lesser peak
He knew his own futility at last—
Himself an immaterial trick of Chance.

In other poems by CAS that I have read so far, such as his tributes to George Sterling, the poet does express something of a confidence that great art can last.  And despite the grim closing lines noted above, "Epitaph for the Earth" also contains these more hopeful lines:

And man himself—
An evanescent peak of foam that pointed
One wave, subsided now, of matter’s tide
Leaves but bequest of stories that he took
From forms long antecedent, that were not
As he; that shall not thus combine again
In all the future sequences of Change.

The phrase "Leaves but bequest of stories that he took / From forms long antecedent" reinforces the idea that what our species may leave behind in the far reaches of the future is only our legends and tales.  That's a pleasing thought, since in so many ways those are indeed the greatest of our achievements.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Eldritch Dark

Read "The Eldritch Dark" at (no surprise here) The Eldritch Dark:

"Eldritch" is a wonderful adjective apparently beloved of both Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) and his correspondent H.P. Lovecraft.  And this sonnet is a perfect evocation of all that adjective entails, featuring a cascading series of supernatural sounds and images that culminate with a nearly perfect outro:

The night grows whole again....The shadows rest,
Gathered beneath a greater shadow's wings.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

A Dead City

Read "A Dead City" at The Eldritch Dark:

The version of this early poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) at The Eldritch Dark has a somewhat vexing error on line 13, where "wailing" was captured incorrectly as "waiting".  The corrected line reads as shown below in the very evocative closing of this sonnet:

From out a shadow like the lips of Death
Issues a wind, that through the ruins blown,
Cries like a prophet's ghost, with wailing breath,
The weirds of finished and forgotten woe.

This poem really captures the feeling of a haunting, ghost-like wind stirring through the remains of the dead city.  The strong use of aural elements is very notable in this work.

Monday, January 7, 2019


Read "Copan" at The Eldritch Dark:

The ancient Mayan city of Copán has had some associations with the concept of "ancient astronaut" visitors to our planet, and it seems that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) picked up on that idea in this sonnet.  I find these lines especially appealing:

Sculptured with signs and meanings unconfessed,
Its lordly fanes and palaces attest
A past before whose wall of darkness fail
Reason and fancy, finding not the tale
Erased by time from history's palimpsest.

That's a really wonderful description of the nature of unknowable mysteries from the past.

The is the first poem I've read by CAS that deals with Mesoamerican history and the myths associated with it.  I'll be interested to see if he returns to this theme in later verses.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Cherry-Snows

Read "The Cherry-Snows" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a simple little nature study from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  It's interesting that in the closing quatrain, he rhymes the word "white" with itself:

The orchard earth, unclothed and brown,
Is wintry-hued with petals white:
Even as the snow they glimmer down:
Brief as the snow's their stainless white.

The rhyme works of course, but it does have an odd feel, and is especially noticeable in such a short poem.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Balance

Read "The Balance" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) reflects his cosmic and somewhat gloomy outlook.  While it's a perfectly competent poem, there is nothing about it that really stands out in relation to other verses he was penning around the same time (1911-1912).  

Friday, January 4, 2019

Averted Malefice

Read "Averted Malefice" at The Eldritch Dark:

For starters, I have to note that "each root maleficently fat" is an amazing phrase to describe a mandrake!

"Averted Malefice" is something of an outlier among the early poems by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that I have read so far, since it takes as its subject matter a fairly conventional encounter with a witch.  The magic is all in CAS' incredible command of the English language: the cadence of this poem is near-perfect when read aloud, and the rhymes are exact and musical.

Thursday, January 3, 2019


Read "Atlantis" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet was included in The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912), the very first published collection of poetry from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  Between that appearance and the later inclusion in his Selected Poems (1971), CAS edited much of the opening octet, so much so that I think it's worth comparing the two versions.

CAS also edited the closing sestet between the two appearances of this poem, but his changes there were less impactful, so I'm not commenting on them in this blog post.

Here is that first stanza as it appeared in The Star-Treader:

Above its domes the gulfs accumulate
  To where the sea-winds trumpet forth their screed;
  But here the buried waters take no heed—
Deaf, and with closéd lips from press of weight
Imposed by ocean. Dim, inanimate,
  On temples of an unremembered creed
  Involved in long, slow tentacles of weed,
The dead tide lies immovable as fate.

And here is the version from Selected Poems, which is also the version available on The Eldritch Dark:

Above its domes the gulfs accumulate.
Far up, the sea-gales blare their bitter screed:
But here the buried waters take no heed—
Deaf, and with welded lips pressed down by weight
Of the upper ocean. Dim, interminate,
In cities over-webbed with sombre weed,
Where galleons crumble and the krakens breed,
The slow tide coils through sunken court and gate.

It's quite remarkable for me how CAS has subtly but significantly strengthened the wording in the later (second) version.  I think this is especially evident in the final sentence of the octet:

Early version:

Dim, inanimate,
  On temples of an unremembered creed
  Involved in long, slow tentacles of weed,
The dead tide lies immovable as fate.

Later version:

Dim, interminate,
In cities over-webbed with sombre weed,
Where galleons crumble and the krakens breed,
The slow tide coils through sunken court and gate.

A line like "Involved in long, slow tentacles of weed" is rather vague, and is updated to "Where galleons crumble and the krakens breed".  The updated line features concrete visual images, and also introduces the strong verbs "crumble" and "breed", which really animate the reading and propel the reader forward.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

To the Daemon of Sublimity

Read "To the Daemon of Sublimity" at The Eldritch Dark:

This mystical sonnet by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is somewhat dense, featuring much of the exotic vocabulary that CAS is often noted for.  The yearning of the poet is deeply felt in these lines, and the entirety of the closing sestet is worth repeating:

Yea, in the fiery fastness of the star
That thine empyreal wings most often find,
Thy lordliest eyrie, lone in gulf and gloom,
Leave me and lose me, safe from wasting war
Of finite things unworthy, and resigned
To some apotheosis of bright doom.

The phrase "finite things unworthy" lingers in my mind, as the poet expresses his frustration with the limitations of the terrestrial realm.  While this sonnet explores thematic territory that CAS addressed in many other poems, the sense of a deep personal hunger for what lies beyond the earthly sphere is articulated in "To the Daemon of Sublimity" to a degree that I have not yet encountered in my journey through CAS' poetic corpus.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Return of Hyperion

Read "The Return of Hyperion" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is another case where Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) revised the wording of a poem between its original appearance in The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912) and an appearance many decades later in his Selected Poems (1971).  However, the changes do not alter the meaning of the poem, so I'll focus on the version available at The Eldritch Dark, which matches what was published in Selected Poems.

This is the second poem by CAS that I've read which references the Succession Myth from Greek mythology, more specifically the Titanomachy (the first such poem was "Saturn").  And of course the title "The Return of Hyperion" directly recalls the unfinished poem "Hyperion" by John Keats.

The two stanzas of "The Return of Hyperion" paint a very different emotional picture, with the darkness of the opening exemplified by these lines:

Alike on mountain and plain
The night is as some iron dream
That closes the soul in a crypt of dread,
Apart from touch or sense of earth,
As in the space of eternity.

Hyperion himself is introduced in the second stanza, and his emergence leads to a very different feeling:

The sentinel stars
Are dead with overpotent flame,
And in their place Hyperion stands.
The night is loosened from the land
As a dream from the mind of the dreamer;
A great wind blows across the dawn,
Like the wind of the movement of the world.

The association of Hyperion with the arrival of sunlight would seem to reference his role as the father of Helios, the Greek god of the sun.

While this poem lacks the impressive narrative drive of the related poem "Saturn", it marks an interesting return to the theme of the Titanomachy, which CAS also addressed in the later poem "The Titans in Tartarus".  I'm looking forward to reading that poem in a few weeks and seeing how the poet completes this trilogy.