Monday, September 30, 2019

Recompense

Read "Recompense" at The Eldritch Dark: 

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/459/recompense

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) hits a more positive note than is typical for his work, by declaring the power of love to compensate for "all the crownless, ruined years."

I notice how CAS ends the first and last lines of each stanza with the same word; an unusual technique that seems to work well in this short poem, but might well become distracting in a longer work.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Motes

Read "The Motes" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/352/the-motes

The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a typo which would make it seem that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) tried to rhyme a word with itself; in reality, he did not do that, so here's the second stanza with the corrected word in the third line marked in bold:


Each had its swift and tiny noon;
In orbit-streams I marked them flit,
Successively revealed and lit.
The sunlight paled and shifted soon.


"The Motes" is a minor poem from CAS' body of poetry, but one could almost think of it as a something of a palate cleanser, a gentle break from the bolder verses of soaring imagination and boundless scope that he is best known for.  This poem reminds us that CAS' imagination could encompass the cosmos while not missing the small details of daily life that, if noticed and contemplated, make all the difference to one's lived experience.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Mirrors

Read "Mirrors" at The Eldritch Dark: 

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/338/mirrors

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) introduces an unusual rhyme scheme in the closing sestet.  The opening octet uses the ABBA ABBA rhyme scheme typical of the Italian sonnet, but the sestet seems to break with tradition by following a CDE CED scheme.  None of this really impacts the enjoyment of the poem, but it's an interesting technical variation on the common Italian sonnet form.

CAS makes extensive usage of internal (aka middle) rhyme throughout these lines, which lends a hypnotic effect to the reading.  That technique works well with the poem's subject matter, as the reader is transported through visions of all the exotic places and events that mirrors have witnessed.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Mirage

Read "Mirage" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/337/mirage

In this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), the brilliant mirage described in the middle stanza makes use of all of CAS' descriptive powers, and the line "A river like a dragon coiled in light" is worth the price of admission all by itself.

This poem contains elements of the exotic and the fantastic, and given that CAS was the author of these lines, it's no surprise that the final stanza presents the fall, as the spectacular mirage is lost and the hostile desert environment reasserts its dominion.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Melancholy Pool



Read "The Melancholy Pool" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/329/the-melancholy-pool

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was published (several years after he wrote it) in Weird Tales, marking one of his early appearances in the pages of The Unique Magazine.  It's interesting to look at the table of contents for that issue, which also featured pieces from Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, among others.

The poem itself feels quite appropriate for inclusion in Weird Tales, since it has a distinctly supernatural feel, established with considerable skill in the opening lines:


Marked by the priesthood of the Night's misrule,
The shadow-cowled, imprecatory trees—
Cypress that guarded woodland secrecies


As he did in other poems, CAS plays here on the symbolic associations of cypress trees with graveyards and the underworld, and his description of those trees as "the priesthood of the Night's misrule" is wonderfully evocative.



Monday, September 23, 2019

Crepuscule

Read "Crepuscule" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/104/crepuscule

This is a rather minor poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS); an enjoyable read as always, but not really anything notable compared to more interesting poems from the same author treating of similar subjects.   

That said, I can't help but admire phrases like "The murmuring wind on a slow loom / Weaves the rich purples of the night."  Incorporating terminology associated with the craft of weaving is a device CAS has used in previous poems, and it's quite effective in describing the unique motion and sensory impact of an evening wind.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

At Sunrise


Read "At Sunrise" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) originally appeared in the collection Ebony and Crystal (1922), and was later updated for inclusion in CAS' Selected Poems (1971).  The changes were all in the second stanza, and they are quite interesting as a study in the poet's changing approach to his art over time.

In the original appearance in Ebony and Crystal, the second stanza read:


Within a crystal interlude,
Stillness and twilight rest awhile
Ere the bright snows, illumined, smile
From peaks where solemn purples brood;


For the appearance in Selected Poems, that same stanza was updated to:


Now, in a crystal interlude,
Stillness and twilight briefly rest,
Ere sudden gules illume the crest
Of peaks where solemn purples brood;


The third line includes the greatest extent of the edits, and there is a shift in tone between the two renditions.  The original line "Ere the bright snows, illumined, smile" not only animates the "bright snows" via the verb "smile", but the very charming nature of that particular verb lends the poem a certain lightness not generally found in CAS' verse.

When this stanza was included in Selected Poems, the re-worked third line shifted the action so that the snows on the montane summits are now passive, as the rays of the red sunrise "illume the crest / Of peaks".  The change from active to passive alters the tone of the middle stanza, as the sunrise takes on the role of causal agent, lending the stanza a remoter, less "friendly" feel.

The second version certainly feels more familiar to the work of CAS, with a more sedate intonation used throughout the entire poem.  But the variant reading in the original version is interesting for providing a different note from the voice of the younger poet as he was still learning and refining his craft.


Saturday, September 21, 2019

Ashes of Sunset

Read "Ashes of Sunset" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/33/ashes-of-sunset

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) distills some of the strongest elements of his art.  On the one hand, we get bold descriptions of natural phenomenon ("the falling of an ashen sky"), and on the other hand, we get visions of the exotic and the fantastic ("A pharos on some alienated shore").  

This poem may lack elements of the weird and supernatural that were also part of CAS' creative domain, but given the short length, "Ashes of Sunset" is a concise journey through territory that CAS had well mastered.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Antepast

Read "Antepast" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/26/antepast

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was titled "Anticipation" when originally published in Ebony and Crystal (1922).  Despite the change in title, only one line (the second) was updated for the later publication in Selected Poems (1971).

Despite the focus on death, this poem has a seductive power built upon exquisite phrasing ("silver evening on the desert's rim") and a lush sense of calm and the expectation of life's final reward.  For so many, the experience of death is unlikely to be easy or tranquil, and yet contemplating the other side of the journey is not without some reassurance.  Few poets could express such sentiments with the skill exhibited in these lines from Clark Ashton Smith.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Ode to Peace

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


Goddess, arise!
I invoke thee,
Thou Aphrodite of dammed-up gutters,
O Venus of sewers
Clogged by an accumulation of excrement,
Or of wells
Where someone has dumped a wagon-load of tin cans
And empty bottles;
And within whose waters
Dogs a month deceased,
And slowly decomposing cats,
Lie side by side in amicable corruption.
Arise, and languidly
As a prostitute disrobing for a cheap lover, 
Remove thy chemise,
And lightly tossing it heavenward,
Net in its meshes the unnumbered dimes and nickels of the stars,
Together with the moon's moidore;
And take them all to settle up the booze-bills of thy devotees,
And to start a new account
At the corner saloon.


On first reading, I had trouble reconciling the title of this poem with its rather cynical content.  However, it is significant to note that this poem was written in the same month (November 1918) that World War I finally came to an end after more than four years of hostilities.  

With that information in mind, we can see that CAS is presenting his vision for the aftermath of war.  Although the post-war peace was likely a welcome prospect for many, CAS gives us an alternate take on what there was to look forward to, and he does not pull any punches.  

Reading this poem more than one hundred years after CAS wrote it, there is an undeniable (if somewhat grim) truth to the poet's take on human behavior even at the best of times.  And yet the picture CAS gives us is obviously a bit one-sided, since the post-war period of the twenties and thirties saw a flourishing of the arts across the western world, a glorious period to which CAS himself contributed.

I'm not entirely surprised that CAS never published "Ode to Peace", and yet I'm glad it has been made available for reading.  It may be a minor poem, but it presents an unguarded side of the author that helps to complete the picture of him as an artist and a man.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Disillusionment

Read "Disillusionment" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/129/disillusionment

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) reads like the musings of an older man than CAS was when he wrote it; based on the chronology used in the Hippocampus Press edition of The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton SmithCAS was just in his twenties when he penned these lines.

The opening stanza presents a fantastical vision typical of CAS' early poetry, in strong contrast to the more banal descriptions of the second stanza.  And yet the speaker's disillusionment doesn't feel quite complete; it may be that "the clouds are toy-animals for children...made of cotton-batting", but therein lies a nod to the imaginative powers of young people.

It seems there is a circularity at work here, as the speaker acknowledges the creative potential inherent in the daydreams of youth, while reminiscing about his own magnificent imaginings as a (presumably) young adult.  And to complete the cycle, as an older man he has come back to the commonplace (yet fanciful) dreamscapes that he experienced as a child.  

Perhaps the end result is indeed disillusionment, but that does not equal defeat; rather a coming to terms with the inevitable patterns of a long creative life.


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Autumn Orchards

This is one of two poems with the same title from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).   This particular poem was unpublished in the author's lifetime, and is not available at The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:


Templed beneath unmoving skies,
          From saffron unto red aspire
          The trees with unconsuming fire
Of Autumn's smokeless sacrifice.

While zephyrs tell her sacred name,
          I find a little time to kneel,
          Ere lightless Winter's silent heel
Stamp out the smouldering altar-flame.



This is another excellent nature study from CAS, providing a contrast to his better-known poems of the cosmic and the weird.  The image of "Autumn's smokeless sacrifice" is exquisite, and perfectly echoed by the ending phrase "the smouldering altar-flame".  

I often wonder what greater recognition as a poet CAS might have received if his reputation was not based primarily on his short fiction.  Although poetry in general lacks widespread cultural impact in the modern era, it's also a fact of life that writers of genre fiction tend to be dismissed as serious artists.  

I love many of CAS' works of fiction, but poems like "Autumn Orchards" are strong enough to warrant notice on their own merits, regardless of the author's other literary pursuits.  I suppose it's best to just read and enjoy, and not spend too much time thinking about what might have been!

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Chimera

Read "The Chimera" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/88/the-chimera

This is a powerful sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  On reading it I am immediately reminded of one of my favorite lines from CAS' outstanding long poem "Nero".  The line from that earlier poem reads: "Destruction crouching at the back of Time", which provides an interesting echo on how the subject of Time is handled in "The Chimera", particularly in the wonderful final stanza:


He crouches like a passive sphinx before
Some temple-gate, or grinning, moves to grant
Thine entrance at the monarch's golden door.


In this poem, CAS has captured the notion of Time as a vector of inevitable destruction, and the characterization of Time as "a passive sphinx" that is "grinning" serves to drive the knife in further with a tone of mocking finality.  If CAS is a jester in the court of human vanity, this sonnet could well be his ultimate quip.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

The Whisper of the Worm


Read "The Whisper of the Worm" at The Eldritch Dark:


This is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that he presented as a translation from the original French of Christophe des Laurières.  However, des Laurières was one of CAS' own pseudonyms.

These lines strongly remind me of the work of Edgar Allan Poe, of whom CAS was a great admirer.  So much so that this particular poem almost feels like a Poe pastiche, and having presented it as a translation from a French author, CAS seems to be echoing Charles Baudelaire's great love of the work of Poe.  Not one of CAS' best verses, but interesting for the literary connections which it suggests.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Inferno


Read "Inferno" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/264/inferno

This melancholy sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is worth several re-readings, both for its lush language and the unusual rhythm created by the ellipsis in the first line of the sestet.  The Italian sonnet form typically has a clear split between the "proposition" in the opening stanza and the "resolution" in the closing stanza, and CAS' slight violation of that arrangement in "Inferno" creates a notable tension.

The narrator of this poem finds a certain solace in linking his "soul that found no sanctuary" to the experiences of Lucifer and his minions, for whom "hell is anywhere".  It's a grim vision, but somewhat alleviated by the exotic description of "the blowing spice / In winds from off Sumatra", which suggests that even the experience of a hell is rich with sensation and and lived experience.

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Winter Moonlight

Read "Winter Moonlight" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/655/winter-moonlight-%28the%29


Having read a couple hundred early poems by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) over the last year, I find myself increasingly enthralled by his simple nature poems, which are quite a contrast to his better-known verses from the realms of the cosmic and the supernatural.  I don't in any way dislike his work in those latter categories, but the nature studies reveal a more personal side of the poet that I find very appealing.


And in that vein, we have "Winter Moonlight".  First things first - there is a significant typo in the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark, so here's the corrected first stanza, with the corrected word noted in bold:


The silence of the silver night
Lies visibly upon the pines;
In marble flame the moon declines
Where spectral mountains dream in light.


The phrase "marble flame" is both visually rich and much more intelligible than "marble tame"!

However, what I enjoy most about "Winter Moonlight" is the closing stanza:


Carven of steel or fretted stone,
One stark and leafless autumn tree
With shadows made of ebony
Leans on the moon-ward field alone.


That image of a single pine tree casting a shadow on a moonlit field is crystalline and indelible, so much so that I can almost believe that what I picture while reading the poem is exactly what CAS sought to capture in writing it.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

In Saturn

Read "In Saturn" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/253/in-saturn

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has an exotic quality, but other than an alien setting, there's not much of note in this minor poem other than the memorable phrase "the flame-tongued, sonorous flowers enchant / The hanging surf to silence".  

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Requiescat in Pace (M.L.M.)

Read "Requiescat in Pace (M.L.M.)" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/467/requiescat-in-pace-%28m.l.m.%29

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) dedicated this poem to Mamie Lowe Miller, who died in 1917. He said of her (in a letter to George Sterling*):

My best friend here is very ill.  She seems to have developed an attack of brain fever in addition to the consumption from which she has suffered for years.  I don't know whether she will live or not. If she dies, I think I will go mad with grief and a guilty conscience.

Fittingly, he titled the poem with the Latin phrase for "Rest in peace".  

My favorite stanza from this very moving poem also happens to have a significant typo as captured on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text of that stanza with the corrected word noted in bold:


Pass, with the music flown
From ivory lyre, and lute
Of mellow string left mute
In cities desolate ere the dream of Tyre.


The phrase "Of mellow string left mute" beautifully renders the passing of a human life as the silencing of music - a notion not unique to CAS, but rarely expressed with more feeling.



*See letter #154 in in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Friday, September 6, 2019

A Precept

Read "A Precept" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/446/a-precept

This is a wonderful artistic manifesto from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  The closing quatrain is a thing of beauty, and could serve as a complete poem all by itself:


No shining words of stone—
Shadow and cloud alone—
These shall the poet seek eternally,
Whose lines would carve the mask of Mystery.


In a mere twelve lines, CAS has managed to capture the essence of his poetic craft, and has articulated the raison d'être of that craft.  

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Memorial

Read "Memorial" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/332/memorial

This is a tribute to the departed with a delicate gothic beauty that only Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) could create.  The opening stanza especially is rife with both beauty and destruction:


Thy mouth, whereof the worm was amorous,
Thy brows, whereon some waning moon had power,
Thy breasts, corruptible as any flower,
And all thy troubled beauty tremulous—


Throughout this sonnet, CAS has scattered adjectives such as "corrosive", "mausolean", and "mournful" that reinforce the final destination of all human existence, and yet this is a love poem.  The mix of the awful and the delightful in these lines is something few poets besides CAS have been able to master.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

In November

Read "In November" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/252/in-november

I like the way this poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) interweaves the declining year with the end of a romantic affair.  It's a rather minor item in the overall poetry corpus from CAS, and interestingly it lacks the characteristic diction and dark themes which are present in so much of CAS' work.  This is perhaps because it was written specifically for magazine publication, as it was included in a 1919 issue of Ainslee's Magazine, a popular literary magazine aimed at women readers.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Image

Read "Image" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/248/image

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) includes a lot of imagery that is found throughout his body of work, as exemplified by the closing lines: 


I wait forever, and about my face is blown
The sand of crumbling cenotaph and sepulcher.


Those lines immediately call to mind one of my favorite passages from CAS' mighty 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.


However, what grabs my attention in "Image" is some exemplary use of internal rhyme, as from the second stanza:


Whom neither desert darkness nor the desert noon,
Nor dawns that render terrible the bare dead land;


Similar internal rhymes are found thoughout the poem, lending it a majestic cadence that sounds wonderful when read aloud.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Haunting

Read "Haunting" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/227/haunting

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) revised this poem between its original appearance in Ebony and Crystal (1922) and a much later publication in Selected Poems (1971).  I'm always interested in comparing versions of poems by CAS in order to try and understand how his thinking about his work changed over time.

In this case, I'm most interested in the very last line of the poem, which compares as follows:


  • From Ebony and Crystal: "Sweet with your tears, and warm with savour of your kiss?"
  • From Selected Poems: "Salt with your tears, and sweet with savor of your kiss?"

In this one line, by moving the word "sweet" to the middle of the line, CAS enhanced an internal rhyme on the letter "s" and more importantly, strengthened the poem's closing image, which in context reads:


Shall I not find the very draught that Lethe gives
Salt with your tears, and sweet with savor of your kiss?


Describing "your tears" as having the taste of salt (rather than sweetness) works much better, and adds a note of bitterness to the close of the poem to contrast with the "sweet...savor of your kiss".  Even in such a small edit, CAS significantly improved the final version of "Haunting".

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Eidolon

Read "Eidolon" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/151/eidolon

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) revels in the frigid, scattered as it is with images of ice and marble.  The narrator has his memories locked in stone, and one suspects he doesn't have much else, but the tone of this poem suggests that is enough.