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Here's another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text: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

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