Sunday, February 24, 2019

To the Darkness

Read "To the Darkness" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a fatalistic bent, presenting an almost  nihilistic outlook with distinctly philosophical overtones.  

But first things first - the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a significant typo at the beginning of the second stanza.  The first few lines of that stanza should read as follows, with my edit highlighted in bold on the third line:

Many men there were,
In the days that are now of thy realm,
That thou hast sealed with the seal of many deeps;
Their feet were as eagles' wings in the quest of Truth-—
Aye, mightily they desired her face,
Hunting her through the lands of life
As men in the blankness of the waste
That seek for a buried treasure-house of kings.

Moving on to further consideration of the poem's themes, there is powerful dark magic at work in these lines, and I think the heart of it is captured here:

But against them were the veils
That hands may not rend nor sabers pierce;
And Truth was withheld from them
As a water that is seen afar at dawn,
And at noon is lost in the sand
Before the feet of the traveller.
The world was a barrenness,
And the gardens were as the waste.

CAS' poems often deal with the pursuit of Beauty, and here he is dealing instead with the pursuit of Truth.  In this telling, men have been frustrated in that pursuit within their native world of light and life, leading them on to The Darkness:

They have looked on thy face,
And to them it is the countenance of Truth.
Thy silence is sweeter to them than the voice of love,
Thine embrace more dear than the clasp of the beloved.
They are fed with the emptiness past the veil,
And their hunger is filled;
They have found the waters of peace,
And are athirst no more.

As a reader, I am most interested in CAS' philosophy of life (more so than I am with technical aspects of his versifying).  "To the Darkness" is a powerful statement in that vein, suggesting that only in death can mankind find The Truth.  There are echoes here of morbid classics such as Edgar Allan Poe's "The Conqueror Worm", and yet I find "To the Darkness" to be in sympathy with humanity's natural sense of striving and questing.  All those efforts may indeed lead only to The Darkness, yet at the very end of this poem CAS leaves us with comforting thoughts: "They have found the waters of peace, / And are athirst no more."  Here death is a release, not something to be dreaded.

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