Wednesday, December 25, 2019

To Nora May French

There are two versions of Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) poem "To Nora May French" at The Eldritch Dark:


The second version most closely matches what was published in both Ebony and Crystal (1922) and Selected Poems (1971), so my discussion is focused there.

CAS never met Nora May French, and she had already taken her own life by the time he became aware of her work.  Despite not knowing the poetess personally, CAS has written a very moving work inspired by the scattering of her ashes into the Pacific Ocean.  The second stanza in particular is something of incredible beauty, closing with these near-perfect lines:

If now thy voice
In any wise return, and word of thee,
It is a lost, incognizable sigh
Upon the wind's oblivious woe, or blown,
Antiphonal, from wave to plangent wave,
In the vast unhuman sorrow of the main
On tides that lave the city-laden shores
Of lands wherein the eternal vanities
Are served at many altars; tides that wash
Lemuria's unfathomable walls,
And idly sway the weed-involvèd oars
Rotting amid the moles of orichalchum
In deep Atlantis; tides resurgent ever
From coral-coffered bones of all the drowned,
And sunless tombs of pearl that krakens guard.

The association between French's life and verse is intertwined with the life force of the mysterious ocean, a truly beautiful conception:

The western wave is eloquent of thee,
And half the wine-like fragrance of the foam
Is attar of thy spirit, and the pines,
From breasts of darkling, melancholy green,
Release remembered echoes of thy song
To airs importunate. 

This work surprised me with its deeply emotional lyricism, something I have seldom encountered in CAS' verse.  But the abundance of feeling is handled with considerable technical skill, creating a genuine standout verse from the Bard of Auburn.

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