Thursday, December 31, 2020

Poets in Hades

Read "Poets in Hades" at The Eldritch Dark:

This humorous little poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) suggests that although poets may end up on the wrong side of the afterlife, they don't have to be bitter about it.  Even if they find themselves removed from the enjoyment of earthly vintages, the dark "ebon wine" served at the Sign Of the Acherontic Pump will do the job in a pinch!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Passing of An Elder God

Read "Passing of An Elder God" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) references the passing of one of the giants of Greek mythology, famous for his role in the war between the Giants and the Olympian gods.  

Earlier in his career, CAS wrote several poems about the Titanomachy, or the war between the Titans and the Olympians.  The Gigantomachy in which Enceladus was involved was a separate event, but another milestone in the Olympians' quest to make their power absolute.

All of that said, it appears that in "Passing of An Elder God" CAS is following John Keats' lead, for in the abandoned long poem "Hyperion", Keats has Enceladus as one of the Titans, rather than as one of the Giants:

Upon his elbow rais’d, all prostrate else,
Shadow’d Enceladus; once tame and mild
As grazing ox unworried in the meads;
Now tiger-passion’d, lion-thoughted, wroth,
He meditated, plotted, and even now
Was hurling mountains in that second war,
Not long delay’d, that scar’d the younger Gods
To hide themselves in forms of beast and bird.

The defeat of this mighty figure at the hands of the Olympians informs CAS' brief poem, which seems to have echoes as well of Poe's "The Bells", using end rhymes with a hint of onomatopoeia ("clangorous", "monotonous") suggesting the reverberations of a tolling bell.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Nightmare of the Lilliputian

Read "Nightmare of the Lilliputian" at The Eldritch Dark:

This quintain from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) combines a reference to Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) with a reference to the sacred tree of Norse mythology (the more common spelling is Yggdrasil).  The roots of Yggdrasil are usually represented as gateways to three of the nine worlds of Norse legend.

"Nightmare of the Lilliputian" seems to describe an ultimate feeling of insignificance, given that the speaker is "a midge / With broken wing / Crawling" beneath the immensity of the cosmic tree.  It really does describe a terrifying nightmare, where one is so low as to be totally inconsequential.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Mummy of the Flower

Read "Mummy of the Flower" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a beautiful short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) celebrating a memento of a past romance.  The use of the past tense nouns "Coffined" and "mummified" adds a gothic edge to the the speaker's reminiscence.

Sunday, December 27, 2020


Read "Mithridates" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) shares a similar title and subject with his prose poem "The Mithridate":

The two works were written almost twenty years apart: the prose poem in 1929, and the verse poem likely in 1947.

Both works refer to the mythical universal antidote for any poison.  Interestingly, A.E. Housman addressed the same subject in the last stanza of "Terence, this is stupid stuff", poem LXII from his famous collection A Shropshire Lad (1896).

CAS' short take on the subject in "Mithridates" is a simple paean to love:

Life the toxicologist
Proffers all the magistrals
Of death:
I chose love,
And I draw immortal breath.

I'm not sure I've ever read such a succinct evocation of the power of love to counter life's disappointments and degradations, making "Mithridates" one of CAS' most successful poems of love.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Late November Evening

Read "Late November Evening" at The Eldritch Dark:

This quintain from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) brilliantly captures an autumn experience, and does so largely through aural cues: "I heard the clack and clatter" and "The noise of cymbals clashed by night".  That latter line is especially evocative of the particular magic of a windy fall evening.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Bird of Long Ago

Read "Bird of Long Ago" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) paints a simple but evocative image of a distinctive mark on a blackbird's wing, and how that anomaly becomes entwined with a springtime remembered.  Despite the brevity, there is a distinct feeling of wistfulness to "Bird of Long Ago".

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Heron

Read "The Heron" at The Eldritch Dark:

This quintain from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is certainly not the most remarkable item from his series of "Quintrains"; I think the weakest aspect is the perfect end rhymes used in the final three lines.  CAS wrote a lot of rhymed poetry, but he was typically a master of subtler rhymes, rather than the sing-songy cadence of gleam/stream/dream that is used in "The Heron". 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Epitaph for An Astronomer

Read "Epitaph for An Astronomer" at The Eldritch Dark:

This second in the series of "Quintrains" from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a great example of a poem where the title is absolutely integral to the complete work; without it, the opening line "Shall he find" would be ambiguous.  

So in a sense, these are really six-line poems, and I'm beginning to appreciate that although the Quintrains are longer than the haiku form with which CAS would soon be experimenting, the six-liner already demonstrates the poet's aptitude in distilling and expressing ideas with great economy.  Even in his early fifties, CAS was still discovering new poetic techniques, and always doing so with great skill.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was included in a group of "quintrains" in Spells and Philtres (1958).  The same grouping of poems was also included in his omnibus Selected Poems (1971).  Quintrain is apparently CAS' own word; the more usual term for a five-line poem is quintain.

"Essence" is available on The Eldritch Dark with the alternate title "Attar of the Past":

It's a lovely little poem, and in less than twenty words captures a feeling inspired by the season after the rose flowers have wilted and dropped their petals.  From the crushed remains of those petals arises the hint of their fragrance.

CAS could be both an expansive poet and a concise one; "Essence" shows that he had fully mastered the latter approach.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Love and Death

Read "Love And Death" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a caustic short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), as the participants in a covert tryst consume freshly butchered cuts from the slaughterhouse.  It conveys a certain grim decadence particularly reminiscent of the author's short stories set in his fictional realm Zothique.

Sunday, December 20, 2020


Read "Copyist" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) almost reads like a manifesto, as the poet elucidates his sources of creative inspiration.  Compact though it is, "Copyist" speaks volumes and does so with elegance.

Saturday, December 19, 2020


Read "Calenture" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was first published in the Autumn 1949 issue of The Arkham Sampler.

"Calenture" presents a twisted vision, well in keeping with the delirium implied by the poem's title.  The withering landscape serves as a metaphor for the vicissitudes of love, and the exhaustion of a frustrated paramour:

The wine-flask at his side
Shown empty: he had spilled
The last drops for oblation on the dried
Pale rootlets dead with May
Of the small-seeded oats no man had tilled.

The harrowing image of "A faceless and colossal woman" that ends the poem has an almost misogynistic quality, and yet is strangely neutral at the same time.  The poem's speaker is clearly exasperated, and yet seems to be feeling thwarted rather than resentful.  One can only wonder if "Calenture" was inspired by a romantic interlude from CAS' own life.

Friday, December 18, 2020

To Bacchante

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was included as the dedicatory piece to his posthumous collection The Hill of Dionysus (1962), and was also included in the omnibus Selected Poems (1971).  However, it does not appear to be available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

There was a place, belovèd,
Wherein we drank of beauty and of tears,
Before the days had closed their iron circle,
Before the sullen lassitude of years.
(But who shall break the circle,
And drink again of beauty and of tears?)

Take thy war-shafts, O Cypris, and go at thy leisure to some other target; for I have not space left even for a wound.

- The Greek Anthology

The epigraph is attributed to Archias, and is taken from The Greek Anthology of ancient poetic manuscripts.  "Cypris" (Lady of Cyprus) is an alternate name for the goddess Aphrodite.

As with the poem "Bacchante", which I reviewed several weeks ago, this poem presumably celebrates CAS' friendship with the dancer Madelynne Greene.  As with that earlier work, "To Bacchante" is simple, direct, and exquisite.  The phrase "we drank of beauty and of tears" is indelible, and expresses in a handful of words a wealth of emotional experience.  

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Pursuer

Read "The Pursuer" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the later, published version of a much earlier draft by CAS using the same title.  I blogged about the earlier version (manuscript dated May 1912) two years ago:

CAS is known to have revised many of his verses as part of the preparation of the omnibus Selected Poems (1971), and "The Pursuer" appears to be one of the works that underwent this treatment.

And it's undeniable that this later version of "The Pursuer" is quite an improvement, losing some of the awkward diction that marred the original, while retaining the better lines from the older draft.  Focusing solely on the opening tercet, the improvement is dramatic:

1912 version:

Ascendant from what dead profundity,
          Of lives that Death, methought, had compassed round--
          Sealed with the night of suns, forever bound

Later version (probably 1946 or 1947):

Climbing from out what nadir-fountained sea,
From nether incarnations none may sound—
Sealed with the night of suns, forever bound

Even for The Star-Treader himself, "Ascendant" is a horribly awkward word with which to open a sonnet.  Likewise, the use of the word "methought" as a caesura (or pause) in the second line of the original is rhythmically off, while the revised line "From nether incarnations none may sound" flows smoothly into the third line, which is common to both versions.

It's fascinating to see how CAS' poetic voice changed over the years, and how his mature style is both subtler and more technically effective than his youthful technique.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Some Blind Eidolon

Read "Some Blind Eidolon" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) uses a variation on the Spanish septet form (aka the septilla) with the fourth line being repeated as the seventh line.  I've never seen this specific form before, so I'm assuming it might have been CAS' own invention.

The work opens with an ominous declaration: "I chose for mine / The love whereto some ancient evil clings".  And of course, nothing good can come from such a start:

Have we not known, O witch, O queen, O maid,
The stain that creeps unstayed
In love's alloy?
The fretful moth that frays the bed of lust?

Such goings on lead to hints of doom:

The laughter of some blind eidolon mounts
Where the self-deluded mourner sobs alone
Amid the ruined flowers and the founts.

"Some Blind Eidolon" does not end on a happy note - the two lovers are apparently bound together in an immortality with no prospect of escape:

What sea wherein the unshapen planets sleep
Shall make us one in its potential deep—
Washing the lethal dross of self away—
What sea wherein the unshapen planets sleep?

This is quite a dark poem from the pen of CAS, reminiscent of his youthful verses of cosmic doom and malevolent forces on a grand scale.  

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Tin Can on the Mountain-Top

Read "Tin Can on the Mountain-Top" at The Eldritch Dark:

This unusual poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has elements of both cynicism and celebration.  The opening lines have a mocking sensibility, where the titular tin can is lauded as a "bright beacon of liberty and civilization" at odds with its natural surroundings:

The wind, that ancient lecher, plays with the label
and it falls away like a slip
from around your dazzling flanks.

Beginning at line nineteen, the sardonic tone gives way to a voice in a somewhat different register:

In you we behold the ultimate avatar
of stellar slag and neutrons long dissolved
into nebulous vapor;
in you the transgalactic goal
of atoms endlessly broken and re-alchemized
in the dark laboratory of time and space
by the demiurge who wears the night for mask.

One could argue that the lines quoted above are just a more elegant expression of the cynical voice, and yet it seems to me that the speaker begins to recognize the incredible eon-spanning forces that lie behind the physical phenomenon of the tomato-can.  

Another shift occurs at line thirty-four: "But soon, too soon, your glory tarnishes".  Now this artifact of modern civilization meets its ultimate fate, but there is no hint of derision in the closing lines.  Rather, we get an unexpectedly beautiful description of the process of natural metallic decay.

"Tin Can on the Mountain-Top" is a fascinating work from the pen of CAS, and speaks to the theme of "uncivilization" that is present in some of his mature works, something that I hope to explore in more depth at a later time.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Reverie in August

Read "Reverie in August" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote many love poems, and not a few of those evoke the palpable aspects of one of the seasons of the year as metaphors for events in human relationships.  

"Reverie in August" fits perfectly into that pattern, as CAS sets the stage: "The heat is like some drowsy drug".  In something perhaps of a semi-conscious state, the speaker's memories of romance begin to stir:

Again some gently murmured word
Lights the great fire in my blood . . .
Till rapture like a singing sun
Is in the riven spirit stirred.

The poem is rife with words and phrases that surround the reader with summer heat ("warm oblivion", "earth and air that burn with drouth") reflecting the speaker's passionate reawakening.  It very much reminds me of Terrence Malick's wonderfully enigmatic film Days of Heaven, which is built from similar strains of erotic energy fueled by the waning days of summer.

Sunday, December 13, 2020


Read "Nevermore" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a very simple beauty informed by the changing seasons:

Let me forget the flowers
Of blown Aprilian bowers,
When autumn shades and showers
Besiege the flowerless day.

Despite its brevity, it has a lyric magic that lingers with me well after the first reading.

Saturday, December 12, 2020


Read "Dancer" at The Eldritch Dark:

Although this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) would seem to have a lot in common with the poems that make up the The Hill of Dionysus (1962), it was not included in the published version of that cycle.  I certainly suspect that CAS' friend Madelynne Green was the subject of this work, even if she is not directly named.

It's a simple verse, but highly effective in visualizing the motive art of dance and the complex emotions that it can express without words.  The vision of the dancer's feet crushing out a red vintage "That shall restore the summer" is both beautiful and uplifting.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Sea Cycle

Read "Sea Cycle" at The Eldritch Dark:

As I read through the poetic works of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), every once in a while I come across a work that really takes my breath away, and reinforces my belief that CAS was one of the truly great English versifiers of the twentieth century.    

"Sea Cycle" is a such a poem.  In it, CAS builds a lush world of mythic grandeur, immortal love, and the mysterious powers born of the meeting of the land and the sea:

The billows, wreathed with sea-weed and sea-flower,
Mount landward from the mermaid's plundered bower,
And shells and pebbles, torn from sunken strands,
Shift idly on the rainbow-haunted sands.

Throughout "Sea Cycle", CAS plays with the rich symbology associated with the oceans, brilliantly summarized by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant in The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols (1982):

With its tides, the sea symbolizes a transitory condition between shapeless potentiality and formal reality, an ambivalent situation of uncertainty, doubt and indecision which can end well or ill.

In "Sea Cycle", CAS explores that inconstant terrain as few other writers have, and renders it all with an ecstatic beauty that celebrates the ineffable power of the deep.  Truly a standout work from The Bard of Auburn!  

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Parnassus à la Mode

Read "Parnassus à la Mode" at The Eldritch Dark:À-la-mode

This is a cynical little poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), denouncing the literary modernism of his own age for the desecration of ideals born of the legendary age of classical Greek mythology.  

Erato is the mythical muse of love poetry, and her sister Melpomene is the muse of tragedy.  Presumably these two were symbolically important to CAS in his role as a literary artist, and so the soiling of "the altars of the Muse" described in this poem is all the more tragic for him personally.    

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

The Horologe

Read "The Horologe" at The Eldritch Dark:

This very short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is rather foreboding, depicting as it does the relentless march of time.  The final line is quite striking with its image of "broken tombs and thrones."  There's not much of the joyous in "The Horologe", but it's hard to argue with the logic of the argument.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Do You Forget, Enchantress?

Read "Do You Forget, Enchantress?" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) originally appeared in the March 1950 issue of Weird Tales magazine.

It seems an unusual item to run in The Unique Magazine, since it's much more of a love poem than anything else.  CAS does inject these lines with many references to classical Greek Mythology, but there are no suggestions of the supernatural or the weird.

As a love poem, it's really quite beautiful, as it ascribes to a beloved the power to reawaken sleeping glories, merely from "the invocation of your kiss."  Before ending on that line, the poem presents cascading images of all that is idle now, but might live again in a ecstasy of pagan wonder.

CAS often wove elements of Greek mythology into his verse, but he rarely used that technique more effectively than in "Do You Forget, Enchantress?"

Monday, December 7, 2020


Read "Paean" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) stays true to its title with a melodic refrain that is woven throughout the three stanzas, and is varied slightly with each response:

  • First stanza: "Hereafter song shall praise"
  • Second stanza: "Hereafter with wild glory", "Song yet shall leave..."
  • Third stanza: "Song shall repeat hereafter"

One really can imagine "Paean" being set to music, since these similar phrases paced throughout the text create natural points of inflection for a singer to emphasize. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Surréalist Sonnet

Read "Surréalist Sonnet" at The Eldritch Dark:

Note that the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a typo in line 10; the word "hones" should read "bones": "still rise the verdant bones of gluttonies".

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) briefly described this poem in a letter* to August Derleth from July 1946:

Did I ever send you my Surréalist Sonnet, written as a take-off on Dali?

(A copy of the poem was enclosed with the letter to Derleth).  

The reference is of course to Salvador Dalí, the flamboyant Catalonian artist who was living in the U.S. at the time. 

Inspired by Dalí's idiosyncratic imagery, "Surréalist Sonnet" succeeds in painting an off-kilter scene with culinary overtones.  But lest one forget whose work this is, in line twelve we encounter "The sage arachnidan from Regulus", a character that would have been at home in The Hashish-Eater.

As a "take-off" on the work of Dalí, this poem certainly hits the target, and displays CAS' dry sense of humor seasoned with his own personal stamp.  While not characteristic of CAS' larger body of verse, "Surréalist Sonnet" is quite enjoyable on its own terms.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Sorcerer Departs

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a variant of the poem "Cycles", which was the last poem that he wrote before his death in 1961.  This early version was published in fan magazine The Acolyte in 1944.

(A draft version of this poem also appears as item #71 in the Arkham House edition of The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith).

It's also probably the first poem by CAS that I ever read, since Donald Sidney-Fryer used it as the coda for his 1978 volume Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography, a book that I had access to long before I ever saw any collection of CAS' verse.

The full text of "The Sorcerer Departs" is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here it is:

I pass . . . but in this lone and crumbling tower,
Builded against the burrowing seas of chaos,
My volumes and my philtres shall abide:
Poisons more dear than any mithridate,
And spells far sweeter than the speech of love . . .

Half-shapen dooms shall slumber in my vaults,
And in my volumes cryptic runes that shall
Outblast the pestilence, outgnaw the worm
When loosed by alien wizards on strange years
Under the blackened moon and paling sun.

After all these years, this is still one of my favorite poems from CAS.  Using the classic English form of blank verse in iambic pentameter (so familiar from the plays of William Shakespeare), CAS delivers some of his most characteristic and spellbinding phrases, such as "the burrowing seas of chaos" and "cryptic runes that shall / Outblast the pestilence, outgnaw the worm".

Presented as the last thoughts of a mage at the end of some phase of existence, it's hard not to read something of the author and his own legacy into these lines.  At the time that CAS wrote "The Sorcerer Departs", his works of fiction had just started to be issued in hardcover by Arkham House, giving him the assurance that some part of his creative output would persist.

Following this train of thought, the act of reading "cryptic runes" penned by CAS is the act of releasing the "Half-shapen dooms" that the poet describes.  By extension, that makes those of us who read CAS today the very "alien wizards" he so wisely prophecies.  I can't think of a better way for a writer to sum up his life's work and his hopes for the future.

Friday, December 4, 2020


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so the complete text follows.  The "Puliakamon" to whom the poem is dedicated has not been identified.

For Puliakamon

Thou art both the yonic altar and the goddess,
And I am thine acolyte, 
The bearer of the lingham.

Thou hast become the Muse--
Sweet, bawdy, sacred, pagan and profane.

I invoke thee,
Yet know not wholly that which I invoke.

I have brought thee earthly gifts as well as divine gifts:
For in earthliness there is also a sanctity and a sublimity.

The sound of thy laughter and mine has mingled with the sound of tabors in the adytum,
And the echoes thereof shall not be silenced,
And sidereal ears shall harken
And sidereal lips repeat the laughter.

I have poured into thee my seed,
And of that seed love shall be the progeny,
Since love was the father;
And generations of dreams and eons and divinities shall be born;
And the Mystic Rose shall spring thereof,
Unfolding in gardens tilled by seraphim,
And breathing on all the paths an attar of sevenfold delight.

Thou hast lain wholly naked in my embrace,
Nearer to me than my soul--
And yet thou standest on the flaming apex of the Star,
And cradlest in thine arms the fate that has not yet descended into flesh.

Of all the poems from CAS that I have read so far, this one feels the very most personal, and it seems like an intrusion to even read it.  The explicit nature of the first stanza reinforces the idea (introduced by the dedication) that this is indeed based on one of CAS' own experiences, clearly one that involved the very closest physical intimacy.

It's a truly beautiful poem, and one of the more successful uses of blank verse in CAS' poetic canon.  But due to the very personal nature of the content, I can well understand that CAS chose not to publish this one in his lifetime.

Thursday, December 3, 2020


Read "Alternative" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) features dramatic contrasts between the chthonic realms of the first stanza set against the lofty heights of the second stanza.  Each of these provide intimidating choices for "Who turns him from his earthly love".

Whichever path that forlorn individual chooses, the results will be grim: either to "kiss / The coal-hot lips of Baaltis" or become "starkly mad / In some delirium strange and glad".  

CAS wrote many poems of love, but "Alternative" stands out for an unconventional approach to the subject, dressed in the rich strands of the fantastic and the weird that the author could weave so well.  This is the sort of love poem that only CAS could write, and demonstrates his versifying talents at their very best.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

A diversion: CAS on love poems

I've found the love poems of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) to be something of a mixed bag, so it's interesting to come across the following from a letter* that CAS wrote to August Derleth in 1934, critiquing three poems that Derleth had shared with CAS:

These convey well the effect of emotion on a sensitive nature; and the only objection I can think of is one that applies to nearly all love-poetry: that is to say, the underlying sameness inevitable in the expression of feelings so universal.  But perhaps this is not an objection at all: certainly I know that it isn't to one who is in love: at that time the universal becomes the unique.

CAS wrote quite a lot of love-poetry, so it's fascinating to learn that he well understood the difficulties inherent in working with such a familiar genre.

*See letter #188 in Eccentric, Impractical Devils: The Letters of August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Lines on A Picture

Read "Lines on A Picture" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) described the origin of this poem in a letter* to August Derleth from January 1944:

Here's my first poem of the year.  It was suggested by a photo of herself that Lilith Lorraine sent me.

Lilith Lorraine was a literary pseudonym for Mary Maude Dunn Wright, a woman of many talents who wrote fantastic poetry, and was a mutual admirer of CAS' work.  The Bard of Auburn also wrote an introduction to Lorraine's poetry collection A Wine of Wonder (1951).  The text of that introduction is available on The Eldritch Dark:

As a tribute to a fellow poet, "Lines on A Picture" is quite heartfelt, and CAS beautifully captures the unique qualities of a writer steeped in the supernatural and the weird:

Perchance your mouth is strangely wistful
For hidden things you know not of:
Your eyes forget, your lips remember
Some lost and Atlantean love.

It's hard to imagine higher praise from CAS than the opening line "O face upturned to alien splendors!"  It seems clear that CAS had found a kindred poetic spirit in Lilith Lorraine, and it's quite moving to read his lyric tribute to her.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Two poems on T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets"

Here are a couple of oddities from the poetic canon of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  Both were unpublished in his lifetime, and the surviving copy of the first was damaged in a fire, so it is incomplete.

I group these two short poems together since they are both critiques of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, a sequence of connected poems published in a collected edition in 1943.  CAS apparently wrote his own poems shortly after Eliot's volume first became available in the U.S.

On Trying to Read Four Quartets

There is a bard name T. S. Eliot
(Perhaps the British call him Heliot).
To one like me, like mind ingenuous
His poems seem too fine and ten[uous.]
In fact, the stuff's so dessicated [sic]
I half suspect he's constipated.
Methinks the beggar needs a _______
I find more pleasure in Ella's _______.

Greek Epigram

There is a bard name T. S. Eliot
(Perhaps the British call him Heliot).
He writes a tough untoothsome line,
I'd rather read a Valentine.

The "Ella" in the first of these poems apparently refers to Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a popular poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose sentimental verses were sometimes mocked by more "serious" littérateurs.

While both of these are clearly casual poems, making partial use of the limerick form, they expand on a critique of Eliot captured in The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith.  The following is entry number 164 from the Arkham House edition of 1979:

Poetry, though its proper concerns are not primarily intellectual, is none the worse for having behind it a keen and firm intelligence.  But intelligence alone does not make poetry, as glaringly exemplified by the latter works of T. S. Eliot, which, while no doubt profound from a philosophical standpoint, has little or nothing of the bardic magic and mystery; all such elements having been ruthlessly sacrificed, leaving an obscurity which, unlike that of Gérard de Nerval, is devoid of color, glamour, and the allurement of new imaginative meanings and analogies which would justify obscurity.

The Four Quartets are Eliot's last major work of poetry, so it's safe to assume that the passage from The Black Book quoted above does apply to them.

While I enjoy T. S. Eliot's poetry myself, I can't disagree with CAS that the Four Quartets have a certain philosophical dryness and muddled religiosity that sap some of the power of Eliot's quite beautiful language.  The poems that Eliot included in this collection were written during World War II, and were something of a "back to God" exercise intended to inspire the British people during the difficult years of The Blitz and beyond.

I've never read anything by Gérard de Nerval, but based on CAS' comments quoted above, I'll have rectify that!

Sunday, November 29, 2020

For An Antique Lyre

Read "For An Antique Lyre" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) returns to a theme woven throughout the verses included in The Hill of Dionysus (1962): the bucolic ideal of the legendary days of Classical Greek mythology:

And happiness had been
A siren singing only
On shores unsought and lonely
Where Vesper falls to some untraveled visne.

The end of the poem refers to "A sleeping Venus hidden...Within her undiscovered hollow hill."  In his short story "The Disinterment of Venus", CAS makes the same association in describing the marble effigy unearthed by the Benedictine monks of the Perigon Abbey:

It was the masterpiece of an unknown, decadent sculptor; not the noble, maternal Venus of heroic times, but the sly and cruelly voluptuous Cytherean of dark orgies, ready for her descent into the Hollow Hill.

I'm assuming that CAS is deriving that association from stanza XV of Algernon Charles Swinburne's "Ave Atque Vale":

And one weeps with him in the ways Lethean, 
      And stains with tears her changing bosom chill: 
      That obscure Venus of the hollow hill, 
That thing transformed which was the Cytherean, 
      With lips that lost their Grecian laugh divine 
      Long since, and face no more called Erycine; 
A ghost, a bitter and luxurious god. 

Here, Swinburne describes the dark side of the mythical goddess of love, which Edith Hamilton summarized in her classic text Mythology (1942): "In later poems she is usually shown as treacherous and malicious, exerting a deadly and destructive power over men."

To circle back around to the last stanza of "For An Antique Lyre":

And joy had tarried still,
A sleeping Venus hidden
In sunless halls forbidden
Within her undiscovered hollow hill.

Assuming I'm correctly interpreting CAS' intent in this stanza, I take it that since the malign Cytherean Venus lies inert in "her undiscovered hollow hill" that her dark designs cannot impede the jubilant spirit expressed throughout the rest of "For An Antique Lyre".

Saturday, November 28, 2020

The Knoll

Read "The Knoll" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is another poem from The Hill of Dionysus cycle authored by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), celebrating his friendship with the dancer Madelynne Greene and the poet Eric Barker.  As with many of the poems in that cycle, CAS paints a bucolic picture evoking the glories of Classical Greek mythology:

From this high knoll against the brine
Like those about Dodona's shrine:
For here Apollo still is god
And living dryads tread the sod
And love is Grecian and divine.

As I read through CAS' poems from the early 1940's (many of which were included in the published version of The Hill of Dionysus), I keep encountering the idealism that the author associates with the world of Greek myth.  With this particular poem, he exalts that upon the knoll "dwells the fair antiquity / Glad and august and pagan still."  

I am particularly intrigued by the celebration of the pagan.  All of this plays into my evolving theory of CAS' mature point-of-view, which it seems to me had moved far beyond the cosmic visions of his youthful works.  

In modern terms, this might be termed an "uncivilized" viewpoint, an evolution from Robinson Jeffers' philosophy of "inhumanism" (with which CAS was familiar).

That's a larger topic for another blog post, but "The Knoll" seems like a work that reveals something interesting about the man who wrote the words, and that is worth exploring in more depth.

Friday, November 27, 2020


Read "Cambion" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) marks a strong return to the realm of the weird, a theme that he was not writing about so much in the early 1940's.  

The speaker is one of the cursed offspring referred to in the poem's title: "I am that spawn of witch and demon".  His mission is of ill intent, much like the incubus who fathered him:

I am that swart, unseen pursuer
Whose lust begets a changeling breed:
All women know me for their wooer:
Mine is the whisper the maidens heed
At twilight; mine the spells that lead
The matron to the nighted moor.

CAS takes things up a notch in the last stanza, where the cambion's designs go much further than simply propagating his wicked bloodline, as he seeks "To plot...The bale of realms, the planet's fall."  

I can't help wondering if CAS considered submitting this poem for publication in Weird Tales magazine; although it never appeared in those pages, it seems like it would have been a natural fit for The Unique Magazine if he had sent it in.

Thursday, November 26, 2020


Read "Moly" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is named for the legendary plant that plays an important role in Book X of Homer's Odyssey.  As the hero Odysseus seeks to free his men from the sorceries of the enchantress Circe, the god Hermes (aka Mercury) comes to his aid with a magic herb:

This said, he gave his antidote to me,
Which from the earth he pluck’d, and told me all
The virtue of it, with what Deities call
The name it bears; and Moly they impose
For name to it. The root is hard to loose
From hold of earth by mortals; but God’s pow’r
Can all things do.

The English translation quoted above is that of George Chapman from 1614.

In line with with Homer's contention that mere mortals cannot harvest this botanical countermeasure, CAS' poem suggests that it is out-of-reach to those living in the earthly realm:

Seek no more! seek no more!
Not on mountain, moor or shore,
Not by noon, nor under moon,
Blows the plant of magic boon,
Not with eyes shall any find it
Nor with fingers pluck and wind it:
From the dust of limbs and heart
Shall the roots of moly start,
Over thy forgetful grave
Shall the flower of moly wave.

I read CAS' "Moly" as an allegory for the inability of the heterosexual male of the species to resist the charms of the fair ladies; for while moly is the "Flower that wards the flesh and heart / From beguileful Circe's art" it is unobtainable to those within the mortal coil. 

The author's use of short lines with near-perfect end rhymes enhances the prophetic nature of this poem ("Seek no more! seek no more!") and makes it a real pleasure to read.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Even in Slumber

Read "Even in Slumber" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a distinctly nightmarish quality, amplifying the experience of separation from a loved one.  These lines from the opening stanza are particularly fatalistic:

Even in slumber I am fated
To seek thee in vast throngs and dreamlands desolated—
And find thee nevermore.

Despite being so short, "Even in Slumber" packs a haunting punch as it recalls a bad dream with frightening precision.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020


Read "Omniety" at The Eldritch Dark:

There is a slight difference in the published versions of this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  When it was included in The Hill of Dionysus (1962), published shortly after his death, the last line of the first stanza read "And Hades opened honeyed wells."

When the same poem was included in the omnibus Selected Poems (1971), the last line of the first stanza read as it appears on The Eldritch Dark: "And Dis unseals Hyblaean wells."

It's a rather mysterious poem, beginning with the title, which is an archaic variant spelling of the word "omneity".  The speaker appears to be an omniscient former lover, recently come back from the dead, who declares himself:

Loosed from the coils of space and number,
I am the shadowy self who stands
Kissing your lips, holding your hands,
Warding your labor and your slumber.

Although the speaker's motivation may originate from a deep sense of everlasting love, his agenda has a creepy slant: "Dream not to escape me, day or night".  I don't think I've ever read a poem from CAS that has such an unusual combination of the romantic and the unsettling.   

Monday, November 23, 2020


Read "Illumination" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is resplendent with the power of love to reanimate the recipient:

Remembering now your tresses' heavy mesh
A little harsh beneath my pillowed face;
The savor of your bosom and the scent;
Your warmth, a blissful essence immanent,
Flooding my veins in the long unstirred embrace;

I'm often resistant to the charms of CAS' love poems; likely a combination of the inherent clichéd nature of romantic poetry and my own dour personality.  But "Illumination" wins me over with sheer beauty and heartfelt appreciation for the ability of one human being to uplift another.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Midnight Beach

Read "Midnight Beach" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) infuses the memory of a terrestrial reverie with elements of the weird purposed as powerful metaphors:

Some great, unspoken gramarie
Had exorcised that incubus,
The world, that fell away from us. . . .
Reborn, and dear, and perilous,
The past arose beside the sea.

The speaker relates the exultant feeling of release two lovers experienced at the meeting of the land and the water, and by describing that which they have been released from as "that incubus, / The world" CAS greatly enhances the feeling of ecstasy that informs this poem.  

This points directly at one of the reasons I think CAS was an unusually talented writer, able to reach well beyond the clichés of the fantasy and science fiction genres with which he is most associated.  The "weird" elements in CAS' writings are never employed solely to tell a fantastic tale, but are always used at least somewhat metaphorically to explore larger issues of the human role in the cosmos.  

This is not to say that his writings are always deeply philosophical, but rather that he used his tools carefully to create works that resonate beyond what is on the page, and point towards larger concerns that are never explicitly addressed, but almost always lingering in the background for the willing reader to explore further. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

De Profundis

Read "De Profundis" at The Eldritch Dark:

The bibliographic citation provided for this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a significant mistake: it is described as being a translation of a work by Charles Baudelaire.  That is not correct.

The confusion is not totally surprising, since Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) did indeed create an English translation of Baudelaire's "De profundis clamavi", poem XXXI from the 1868 edition of Les fleurs du mal.  However, the poem linked above is not that translation, but rather an original verse authored by CAS himself.

The Latin title can be translated as "From the Depths".  Whether or not CAS took any sort of inspiration from Oscar Wilde's work of the same title is not clear, although both works are profound expressions of love, so there is some continuity between them.

In this poem, CAS invests the spirit of romantic yearning with touches of the weird and the fantastic, as only he could do:

For her I have arisen
From many a broken tomb,
From out the darkling prison
Of sunken worlds and avatars of doom.

Despite the dark imagery used in the stanza quoted above, "De Profundis" ends on a hopeful note:

O Flame that shall not fail
In voids of time and space,
At last you shall avail
To light my feet to her abiding-place.

It's a rather uplifting conclusion for CAS, and shows that his predilection for the weird did not always result in grim finales. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Strange Girl

Read "Strange Girl" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) commented on this poem in a letter to August Derleth from 1943: 

Here's a poem (Strange Girl).  The girl claimed to be a cousin of Jack London and a niece of the late Henry Van Dyke--a combination of blood-strains that would drive anyone to the devil!

This poem relates a more earthy romantic encounter than we typically see from the pen of CAS, and the letter excerpt quoted above indicates that it was based on a real person.  

Although the poem contains the sort of references to classical mythology that often feature in CAS' love poems, he uses those elements sparingly, as in the fourth stanza:

Upon the delicate chin you turned
Venus had set her cloven sign.
Like embers seen through darkest wine
Your unextinguished tresses burned.

Overall, "Strange Girl" is quite a passionate ode to an apparently brief encounter, ending with the creation of a undeniably strong bond:

Sister you seemed to all the woe
My heart has known but never sung. . . .
Was it for this your fingers clung
To mine, as loath to let me go?

It's quite a bit more moving than CAS' more grandiose verses of romance, with the action located in a "familiar bar" rather than a bucolic woodland hideaway.  Even with his predilection for formal, metrical poetry, CAS could still write verse with a contemporary feel, and "Strange Girl" is an excellent example of that.

Thursday, November 19, 2020


Read "Postlude" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) revisits his common theme of ruminating on a past romance.  I think "Postlude" is one of the better examples of this sort of verse from CAS, since he uses the connection between two people as a metaphor for larger concerns about the place of the individual within human society:

What have you found amid the many faces?
Nothing remains for me, save the spent echoes
Of words we said in falcon-hovered places.

From a technical point of view, there are a couple of effective uses of repetition, creating slight refrains that reinforce the musical character implied by the poem's title:

  • Third stanza: "O tryst too long delayed, too long denied!"
  • Fourth stanza: "Empty the forest now, empty the stream;"

Although there are just two such occurrences of repetition in a twelve-line poem, CAS plants them strategically at the opening of each of the last two stanzas, giving the reading a rhythmic uplift as it comes to a close.  These small but careful uses of literary devices seem to be characteristic of CAS' very best verses, a group into which I place "Postlude".

Wednesday, November 18, 2020


This 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:

Ah! silent is my love
For stress of all the words can never say,
Of all that lovers prove
Only with endless kisses, or delay
Of some supreme caress before the day.

No more of speech or song,
No more of music now: my lips are mute,
Wanting your lips too long:
For what the lute-player without the lute?
The flutist, vainly seeking his flute?

On ways not yet forgot.
Return, O nimble feet that stray too far:
If April brings you not,
Black are the days and false the calendar. . . .
I wait you as the twilight waits the stars.   

"Interval" is a fairly straightforward poem of romantic yearning, but I like the musical references that compare the isolation of the speaker from his partner with "the lute-player without the lute" and "The flutist, vainly seeking his flute".  The suggestion that the reunited lovers will make sweet music together is effective, if not entirely original!