Saturday, August 31, 2019


Read "Dissonance" at The Eldritch Dark:

I'm always impressed by the strong musicality present in the work of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), and in this wonderful sonnet, the poet uses references to specific musical instruments (among other elements) to lend a physical dimension to the aural aspect of the clamour he so richly describes.

Although there is a lot to admire in this sonnet, I find myself completely captivated by the final line of the opening octet: "And sigh of swords withdrawing from the wound".  Not only is the description of this particular sound convincing and evocative, but CAS makes masterful use of internal rhymes based on the letters "s" and "w" to give the line a perfect rhythm based on common iambic pentameter.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Read "Mors" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) presented this poem as being translated from the original French of Christophe des Laurières, but according to Donald Sidney-Fryer*, des Laurières was simply a pseudonym for CAS himself.  So I'll proceed on the assumption that this poem is exclusively the work of CAS!

And it's quite a morbid little affair, yet rich with the melodious voicing that is present in CAS' very best work.  Phrases such as "moonlight on the marble sea" and "The bitter splendors of the sun" are practically short poems by themselves, and woven into the sixteen lines of "Mors" they cast a hypnotic spell that lasts all the way until the exquisite closing stanza:

They pass. . . . The secret peace I crave
Like a black shroud enwraps me round—
Lost, and voluptuously drowned
In the dark languor of the grave.

This is one of those poems from CAS that really just cannot be improved - the use of iambic tetrameter is regular, musical, and morbid, all in perfect proportion.

*See the "Pseudonyms" section of Sidney-Fryer's Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography published in 1978 by Donald M. Grant.

Sunday, August 25, 2019


Read "Palms" at The Eldritch Dark:

Here Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) once again presents a poem in the form of an Alexandrine, featuring lines of six metric feet.  

What jumps out at me from this poem are a couple of unique phrases in the second stanza: "flamingo-colored" and "lion-colored."  In full context:

Inclining fretted leaves above some red lagoon-
Careless alike, in mystic and immense repose,
Of the flamingo-colored, flying sun that goes,
Or the slow coming of the lion-colored moon.

In using those animal references to describe the color of the sun and the moon, CAS subtly introduces a note of exoticism to go along with his palm trees, but ultimately those compound adjectives feel a bit out-of-place, and more distracting than effective.

Saturday, August 24, 2019


Read "Sepulture" at The Eldritch Dark:

Recently I've read several poems by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that had to do with the theme of romantic rejection, and how the spurned lover uses such a dismissal as a spur for other things entirely.  "Sepulture" takes a different approach, as the narrator seeks to preserve the memory of a lost love in his heart and his imagination.  

This is a very touching sonnet as only CAS could deliver, and the closing sestet has an astonishing beauty that is worth repeating:

And though the bleak Novembral gardens yield
Rose-dust and ivy-leaf, nor any flower
Be found through vermeil forest or wan field—
Still, still the asphodel and lotos lie
Around thy bed, and hour by silent hour,
Exhale immortal fragrance like a sigh.

I believe "Novembral" is an invented word, and yet it is perfect in context and thus needs no definition.  I am not aware that CAS was regularly in the habit of formulating new English vocabulary, but it's a practice I'll be keeping an eye out for as I read ever further into his poetic corpus.

Friday, August 23, 2019

A Vision of Lucifer

Read "A Vision of Lucifer" at The Eldritch Dark:

It's worth pointing out a significant typo in the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark.  Line 13 as captured there reads: "A column of clear tame, in lands extreme", but Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) actually wrote: "A column of clear flame, in lands extreme".  The latter version, of course, makes much more sense contextually!

In reading "A Vision of Lucifer", I am immediately reminded of the long poem "Satan Unrepentant" by the same author.  That poem was strongly influenced by the work of John Milton, and "A Vision of Lucifer" shares the same theme, and does so powerfully in the shorter form of a sonnet.

As I mentioned in my commentary on "Satan Unrepentant", the character of Satan as defined by Milton in Paradise Lost seems to hold a particular fascination for CAS, not just as a fictional character, but also as a philosopher.  And I think the closing sestet of "A Vision of Lucifer" expresses CAS' attitude towards this character with crystal clarity:

And straight I knew him for the mystic one
That is the brother, born of human dream,
Of man rebellious at an unknown rod;
The mind's ideal, and the spirit's sun;
A column of clear flame, in lands extreme,
Set opposite the darkness that is God.

That's as perfect a piece of poetry as you're likely to find anywhere in the English language.  And I think there is no mistaking CAS' own viewpoint as reflected in the character of Satan, given how boldly the poet closes this work with the lines "A column of clear flame, in lands extreme, / Set opposite the darkness that is God."

Thursday, August 22, 2019


Read "Autumnal" at The Eldritch Dark:

I like the use of repeated words and images in this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), creating a clear linkage between the first and last stanzas.  In the opening quatrain, we have:

Blossom the mournful immortelles alone;
The fallen roses crumble, and are blown,

Then in the final verse, CAS re-visits the same theme:

And we have found, where fallen roses stir,
The immortelles that flower mournfully.

This refrain echoes the use of thematic passages in a piece of music, and reinforces the idea that CAS fully understood the link between music and poetry, and used that knowledge as one of the foundational building blocks of his versifying.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


Read "Alexandrines" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a grim little poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) using iambic lines of six feet each, as referenced in the poem's title.  

These two lines from the middle stanza have a certain quality of dark clarity that only CAS could deliver:

Knowing how in the witless brains of them that were,
The drowsy, wiving worm hath prospered and hath died;

A phrase like "The drowsy, wiving worm" prompts such rich visual imagery, giving the poem a lurid animation that I've rarely experienced at the hands of any other writer.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Tears of Lilith

Read "The Tears of Lilith" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) makes interesting use of repeated words to shift the emphasis.  Initially, the word "mouth" is repeated making the reader think of a kiss, but then the word "tears" is repeated, with the transition occurring right at the beginning of the middle stanza:

Thy mouth I love: but most of all
It is thy tears that I desire—

It's a subtle technique to re-focus the poem on its true subject, but it gets the job done!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Ave Atque Vale

Read "Ave Atque Vale" at The Eldritch Dark:

This wonderful poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a rich musicality, and the poet's judicious use of internal rhyme adds a languid, hypnotic pace to the reading.  The dark intent of the poem's narrator is clear, and suggests an ambition much broader than the poisoning of a person, but rather a design with a sweeping scale as described in the final lines:

I proffer thee to drink; and on thy mouth,
With the one kiss wherein we meet and part,
Leave fire and dust from quenchless leagues of drouth.

The ending line "Leave fire and dust from quenchless leagues of drouth" is bold and vast, a hallmark of CAS' creative vision. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Exile

Read "The Exile" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) combines the cosmic scope of his imagination with the experience of romantic rejection, a mixture that sounds awkward but works wonderfully in the hands of such a talented poet.

Although this poem presents a lovelorn narrator seeking to "lose this ever-aching loneliness", the gloomy diction of the opening stanza ("Desolate oceans", "Dead moons", "lonely plains") is not a constant; by the time we get to the final quatrain, the mood has shifted:

Faring to seek with alien sun and alien star
The strange, the veiled horizons infinite and far;
Spaces of fire and night, the skies of steel and gold,
Or sunset-haunted seas where foamless islands are.

In these closing lines, there is no mention of romantic disappointment, as the speaker envisions all the incredible things he may experience as he turns away from a failed human bond.  Thus we get an unexpected uplift, as the romance of "the veiled horizons infinite and far" becomes a new obsession and cause for celebration.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


Read "Impression" at The Eldritch Dark:

This slight poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) does a wonderful job of painting a visual image of a moonlight scene set in a "sleeping garden".  I think the closing stanza is particularly good:

Like mirrors made of lucid stone
The pools lie still and bright and cold,
Where moon and stars behold,
In some eternal trance, themselves alone.

The rhythmic pulse of those four lines is strong, with the second line being especially propulsive when read aloud.  On the last line, the placement of the comma is perfect to emphasize the closing phrase "themselves alone", reflecting what the heavenly objects see in the pools "Like mirrors made of lucid stone".  

There is no great drama at work in ""Impression", but I had the opportunity to read it by late evening moonlight, and the poem fit the occasion beautifully.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


Read "Strangeness" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) exists in several different versions.  When it was originally published in Ebony and Crystal (1922), it was composed of six stanzas of four lines each.  For a later appearance in Selected Poems (1971), it ran to five stanzas, and that same five-stanza version is available on The Eldritch Dark.

When the poem was later included in the three-volume set The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith (2008) from Hippocampus Press, it ran to seven stanzas.  In the notes to that edition, S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz note that their text restores one stanza that CAS had written in pen on the typescript for Selected Poems.

Since the version of the poem available at The Eldritch Dark is missing two of those stanzas, here's the complete text.  The stanzas not present on The Eldritch Dark are the fifth and seventh stanzas:

O love, thy lips are bright and cold,
Like jewels carven curiously
To symbols of a mystery,
A secret lost ere time was old.

Like woven amber, finely spun,
Thy hair, enwoofed with golden light,
Remembers yet the flaming flight
Of some unknown archaic sun.

Thine eyes are crystals green and chill,
Wherein, as in a shifting sea,
Wan fires and drowning lusters flee
To starless deeps for ever still.

Fallen across thy dreaming face,
The dawn is made a secret thing,
Like flame of crimson lamps that swing
In midnight caverns dim with space.

Thy smile is like the furtive gleam
Of fleeing moon a traveler sees
Through closing arms of cypress-trees
In secret lines of night and dream.

Sphinx-like, unsolved eternally,
Thy beauty's riddle doth abide,
And love hath come, and love hath died,
Striving to read the mystery.

Thy face a dream the dawn illumes
Makes mild and marvelous the light--
As flame from lamp of chrysolite
Amid an altar's azure fumes.

Each stanza focuses on one aspect of the physical embodiment of love.  In order, those points of focus are lips, hair, eyes, face, smile, beauty, and (once again) face.  The fact that two stanzas describe the face makes me suspect that CAS did not really intend for all seven stanzas to be a part of the final poem.

After all that, this poem is nothing particularly notable from the canon of CAS.  Many of the images are familiar from throughout his body of work, but in this particular poem they're not used in any especially interesting way.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Give Me Your Lips

Read "Give Me Your Lips" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is quite a bit more erotic than his standard fare.

Something that caught my attention right away is the repeated use of the words "fire" (used four times) and "wine" (used five times).  Those words anchor a couple of key passages in each of the two stanzas.  In the first stanza, we have:

Shall magically melt to wine and fire
To wine beyond the wine of earthly hours
To fire
More than the fire of heavens many-starred.

And the second stanza contains a linked passage:

Not one, nor all of these,
Shall take away the taste of fire and wine
Your lips have left on mine.

That's one heck of a kiss!  CAS really leverages strong associations provided by the heat of flames and the intoxication of alcohol to lend this poem a delirious nature.  It's not one of his greatest verses, but has a certain raw power that appeals all the same.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Kingdom of Shadows

Read "The Kingdom of Shadows" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) presents a variation on a theme that features prominently in his work, that of human achievement being lost and buried with the march of time.  It reminds me of one of CAS' most exquisite passages, from his bellwether poem "Nero":

There have been many kings, and they are dead,
And have no power in death save what the wind
Confers upon their blown and brainless dust
To vex the eyeballs of posterity.

"The Kingdom of Shadows" is less epic in scope than "Nero", and that makes it an attractive companion piece, since one could choose to read "The Kingdom of Shadows" as describing the outcome of the emperor Nero's depredations.  The repeated quatrain that both opens and closes this poem could well be Nero's own epigraph:

A crownless king who reigns alone,
I live within this ashen land,
Where winds rebuild from wandering sand
My columns and my crumbled throne.

Saturday, August 10, 2019


Read "Coldness" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) reminds me of his similar "The Crucifixion of Eros", which I read a few days ago.  Both poems lament a lack of romantic reciprocation in a relationship, but "Coldness" is a more straightforward work, lacking the religious connections woven into "The Crucifixion of Eros".

What catches my attention most in "Coldness" is the repetition of the same word at the end of the first and last line of each stanza, so that the abba end rhyme scheme within each stanza actually has identical "a" elements.

This is a rhyme scheme that I don't recall CAS using before (in terms of my more-or-less chronological reading of his poetic corpus), and to my own surprise, I rather like it.  I've commented before on this blog about the negative impact that strong end rhymes can have, given that they can distract from the meaning behind the poet's words.  

But in this case, since each stanza ends with a slight boomerang effect (courtesy of a repeated word), the rhyme actually loses some of its "punchy" impact, which is reinforced by the judicious use of internal rhyme, as in the fourth stanza:

Thy days are void and vain as death:
The moons and morrows weave for thee
A sleep of light eternally,
Where life is as a dream of death.

In this stanza, CAS has used a combination of end and internal rhyme to disperse the impact of rhyming words, and the repeated use of the word "death" contributes to this outcome. Read loud, this stanza has a very even flow that does not accentuate the words at the end of each line.

Friday, August 9, 2019


Read "Desolation" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) underwent considerable revision between the original appearance in Ebony and Crystal (1922) and the subsequent publication in Selected Poems (1971).  The version posted to The Eldritch Dark is the later version, and since I think it is the better of the two, I won't focus on what changes CAS made.

After reading several good (but not great) poems by CAS over the last few days, "Desolation" marks a return to CAS at his best.  His artistic outlook is often characterized as "cosmic", and this poem certainly has echoes of that strain.  But "Desolation" adds a human element that takes it beyond the cosmic, and that yearning humanity is expressed so very beautifully in the closing lines:

                                               ...I crave
The friendly clasp of finite arms, to save
My spirit from the ravening Infinite.

Coming from an artist whose esteem for the human race could be fickle, "Desolation" is a powerful expression of a yearning for human connection in the vast bleakness of the cosmos.  And I'm not even commenting on the technical bravura demonstrated by this sonnet, which is worth a discussion of its own.  As a reader of poetry, I'm simply awed by the sheer beauty of CAS' words and the significant way in which he has refined his cosmic vision to embrace a vibrant human component.  "Desolation" easily earns a spot on my list of favorite poems (by any author)!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

November Twilight

Read "November Twilight" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has an interesting directional pattern between the two stanzas.  In the first stanza, a "ruby-hearted star" is illuminating "November's winy sunset leaves".

In the second stanza, a "ghostly faint perfume" of roses ascends, heading in the opposite direction from the starlight described in the opening stanza.

Take together, those alternate patterns of movement give this short work a nice symmetry of content that matches the dual stanza structure.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Belated Love

Read "Belated Love" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) underwent considerable revision between the initial publication in Ebony and Crystal (1922) and the later re-publication in Selected Poems (1971).

However, what is interesting to me is the first stanza, which is the one part of the work that did not change:

Ah, woe is me, for Love hath lain asleep,
Hath lain too long in some Circean close—
Till on his dreaming wings the ruined rose
Fell lightly, and the rose-red leaves were deep.

I like the understated use of repeated words and phrases in this quatrain.  The rhythm created by the repetition of "hath lain" in the first two lines echoes the sound of a musical refrain, and is amplified by the repetition of the word "rose" in the last two lines.

Combined with the strong end rhymes, this opening stanza has a rich, melodious flow that doesn't quite carry throughout the rest of the work, but it does make for an impressive opening that could stand on its own as a complete poem.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


Read "Arabesque" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was the opening piece in his second collection of poetry, the self-published Ebony and Crystal (1922).  Between that initial publication and the later inclusion in the career-spanning Selected Poems (1971), CAS changed a single line.  The original version of the second stanza read as follows:

The coldly colored rays illume
A leafy pattern manifold,
And all the field is overscrolled
With curiously figured gloom.

In the later published appearance, the first line of that stanza was changed to "Like orient lamps the rays illume".  I'm always curious to notice these changes, and think about their impact on the poem as a whole. 

In the case of "Arabesque", CAS uses the same line ("Like arabesques of ebony") to open the first and last stanzas, and the original version of the first line of the middle stanza did not really echo those phrases, although the revised version does.

In comparing how the two versions of the poem read, I find myself preferring the original version, since "The coldly colored rays illume" pairs nicely with the closing line of the same stanza ("With curiously figured gloom").  Taken together, the four lines of the original middle stanza introduce a darker element into "Arabesque" that has been somewhat lightened in the revised version, where the poem has a much gentler sense of melancholy.

Monday, August 5, 2019


Read "Suggestion" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime.  It's a lyrical exercise in remembrance and loss, and makes interesting use of repeated images and phrases to create a somewhat hypnotic effect.

The repeated phrases are found in the first stanza; they are "woven clouds" and "sombre, sullen gold", combining the images of sunset with the "glowing hair" of the one who is remembered.  

In the second stanza, there is a repeated image of the feet of the one who is remembered which is echoed in the very last line by the phrase "the silver-footed rain."

So each stanza has created a "Suggestion" reminding the speaker of the one who has been lost.  It's a moving work, and shows a tender side of CAS that is not his usual forte. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Crucifixion of Eros

Read "The Crucifixion of Eros" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is suffused with more Christian imagery than is typical of his work, and the connection is made clear from the title itself.  Of course, the title also introduces an element of tension, since Eros is typically associated with the humble concerns of earthy love, as opposed to spiritual love.

The closing sestet of "The Crucifixion of Eros" is so good that it's worth repeating entirely:

Though this thy fearful lips would now deny,
Love is divine and cannot wholly die:
Draw forth the nails thy tender hands have driven,

And we will know the mercy infinite,
Will find redemption in our own delight,
And in each other's heart the only heaven.

Here CAS is really working the Christian symbology.  Those first three lines of the sestet invoke the divine and imbue earthly love with immortality, and press the lover being addressed to embrace the idea that love between two humans can ascend to those heights.

The last three lines of the sestet verge on the blasphemous, as the narrator consecrates this human love and robes it in qualities of the divine.  There is perhaps a slight mocking tone to "The Crucifixion of Eros", since it can be read with an irreligious slant, but such mockery is not the driving force behind these lines, and that non-dogmatic approach shows the hand of a true artist at work.  

Saturday, August 3, 2019


Read "Nocturne" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the later of two poems with the same title written by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  I reviewed the earlier work a few months ago.

More interestingly, this version of "Nocturne" is strikingly similar to CAS' poem "Moon-Dawn" which I read more recently.  Both poems incorporate cypress and pine trees interacting with the moon.  On a more superficial level, both poems are short, consisting of only a pair of quatrains.

Given that this version of "Nocturne" essentially describes the same scene as "Moon-Dawn", I prefer this version for its gentler tone and moody evocation of a landscape.  There are fewer elements of this poem that immediately identify it as the work of CAS, and yet that simply demonstrates that as an artist, he was capable of quite a range.

Friday, August 2, 2019


This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Rays upward streaming from the hidden sun,
          Far-sunken in the realms of Night,
Brim all the West and render beautiful
          Each sunset cloud and height.

So may some life, gone far beyond our ken,
          Send backward flowing beams of light--
An afterglow from darkness that shall make
          Its skyline fair and bright.

Short and simple, these two stanzas speak to memory's power to imbue that which is gone with some semblance of life.  

As with many of the short poems from CAS that I have read, there is an immediacy to "Afterglow" that is not always present in his longer poetic works.  Which is not to say that I don't enjoy the longer works, but I do appreciate the range of CAS' talents in the poetic medium, and the fact that his verses are always worth reading,

Thursday, August 1, 2019


Read "Reclamation" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a gloomy little number from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that brings us back to a theme he has explored before, that of the vanity of human ambition.  

In this particular poem, that theme seems to take on a more explicit metaphorical manifestation, beginning with the reference to "vision" in the second line.  The second stanza then opens with the word "Eyes", and at the very end of the poem we have "the staring blindness of the tomb."  

It's a simple metaphor for the larger theme that CAS is working with, but quite effective, and (so it seems to me) makes "Reclamation" a good candidate for introducing a newbie to the poetry of CAS: the poem is short, it is not difficult to make sense of, and the authentic voice of the creator rings true despite the brevity.