Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Flight of Azrael

Read "The Flight of Azrael" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) used the poetic dialogue sparingly, but of the three such works I have read so far, they have all been excellent, and it seems like a formal structure that worked well for his particular creative inclinations.

As with many other pieces that flowed from his pen, here CAS' mood is rather gloomy, yet powerful and true:

                              It is the Earth,
A hoary planet, old in wrath and woe
As any hell. Red pestilence and war
Have now refunded to the usuring wind
The breath of all its peoples;

The cosmic vision that informs many of CAS' best verses provides the momentum in these lines, and some of the individual phrases have a dramatic focus that is breathtaking: "the thin wind / Will write man's epitaph in shifting sand".  

In the worlds that CAS created, nothing is permanent, and none of humanity's creations will last. But that notion never seems morbid in the hands of this poet, since his recognition of the temporality of Beauty encourages his readers to make the effort to appreciate what we have right now.


  1. I found this after reading Smith's "Dream of Vathek", to see if he wrote anything else of the angel of death. I'm glad he did.

    It's nice knowing that someone else sees beauty in this poem's desolation. It isn't pessimistic, nihilistic, or evil, or even truly desolate when you consider how lush the words and sentiments are. Rather it creates a sort of flow through life, one that all human beings are immersed in, and can appreciate wistfully if they allow themselves to feel it.

    Also, your comment on the ephemeral nature of Smith's fictional worlds is poignant. Too often when people create their own fictional worlds, they're meant to be a sort of cool or fun little theme park, an escape from reality in which all things are exactly as planned. Most conflicts in such worlds involve the defeat of an evil tyrant, in order to restore the world to exactly what it once was. This is not so in Smith's fiction and poetry, wherein even the astounding sorceries of Atlantis, Hyperborea, and advanced alien cities are destined to disappear. I love how in Smith's "The Tomb-Spawn", it is not only the humans who fade, but the evil wizard and the man-eating alien god who fade as well.

    1. One of the reasons I love CAS' Zothique stories so much is the way they hold a dark mirror to the more common sort of science fantasy world-building that you describe, the "fun little theme park, an escape from reality".

      As you noted with "The Tomb-Spawn", the Zothique stories share the idea that all things pass, and power (of any sort) lasts only for a while. Writers that came after CAS picked up on this "Dying Earth" theme, but I think none have managed to equal what CAS achieved in those wonderful stories of the last inhabited continent of earth.