Friday, January 31, 2020

We Shall Meet

Read "We Shall Meet" at The Eldritch Dark:

Over the last several days, I've read a number of love poems from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), not all of which spoke to me in any way.  But with "We Shall Meet" things seem to be getting back on track:

From the tomb
Love shall rise
Mutely, in a specter's fashion,
To the seeming
Lamps for ever bleak and ashen
Of our necromantic eyes.

This mixture of the weird and the romantic reveals CAS' greatest strengths as a poet, twisting supernatural elements around earthly experiences in a manner that is both dark and enticing at the same time.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

On the Canyon-Side

Read "On the Canyon-Side" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was not included in his 1925 collection Sandalwood, but is thematically related to the many similar poems of love and eroticism that appeared in those pages.

While CAS could turn out impressive work in this vein, "On the Canyon-Side" is less impressive, not because it's a terrible poem, but because it's simply not up to CAS' usual standard of poetic excellence.

Perhaps more to the point, it seems that CAS simply was not inspired enough by the subject matter of this poem to invest much of his creative spirit into it.  I can't help but wonder if this poem is some sort of "fan service", wherein CAS supplied his lady-friends in his hometown of Auburn, California with romantic verses as part of the courtship process.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Witch with Eyes of Amber

Read "The Witch with Eyes of Amber" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton smith (CAS) combines elements of the erotic with the supernatural, a mix that would seem to play to all of his greatest strengths as a writer.  That said, the result in this particular poem is somewhat humdrum.  

The use of several hyphenated words ("furnace-flake", "many-needled", etc) only adds to this impression.  Given that CAS possessed such a large vocabulary the overuse of these compound words "The Witch with Eyes of Amber" simply suggests that he was not working at the top of his game when he wrote this poem.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


"Fashion" is a poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that went unpublished in his lifetime.  The text is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete poem:

Though my love display her limits,
          Though the longer dresses hide her
Knees from my enraptured gaze--
          I will never check nor chide her:

Though she wear them short and shorter
          There is always more to show;
And the dress that drapes her shoe tops,
          Leaves a vaster lot to know.

There's not much to say about this one - certainly a minor item from CAS' poetic corpus, and no great surprise that he chose not to publish this one.

Monday, January 27, 2020

By the River

Read "By the River" at The Eldritch Dark:

Once again, we have a poem authored by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that he attributed to his pseudonym Christophe des Laurières.  

For CAS, this is a relatively straight-forward poem in terms of technique, albeit one featuring an unusual rhyme scheme where the fourth line of each stanza rhymes across the stanza breaks. 

However, the real interest for me lies in CAS' invocation of elements of classical Greek mythology within the narrator's contemporary reality, and how the narrator puts those elements to work in praise of his subject's beauty:

I deemed the golden nymphs were gone. . . .
And then—I turned, and saw you rise
Nude as a nymph that flees the faun,
With anklets of the foam's white beads,
And Hellas in your halcyon eyes!

With "By the River", CAS has delivered a poem of erotic attraction that is cloaked in the grandeur of ancient myth.  It's sly and seductive, and yet charming at the same time. 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Nymph

Read "The Nymph" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is an amusing poem attributed to Christophe des Laurières, a pseudonym that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) used for a small number of his verses.  As with other poems attributed to des Laurières, "The Nymph" incorporates somewhat erotic content, although with a light touch that avoids the prurient.  The opening stanza is especially enchanting:

Last night I was a vagrant faun:
I followed through the woods of dream
Where singing dryads led me on
By glimpses of a singing stream.

It's not a major poem from CAS, but as with the other des Laurières poems, the playful erotic content is a nice change of pace from his more typical fare.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Don Juan Sings

Read "Don Juan Sings" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) take on the legendary womanizer is true to the maddeningly charming nature of the character, with his ready indulgences and quick escapes:

Somber locks and tresses fair,
In them all your fingers tangle;
Leave them lest your heart should strangle
In a noose of woman's hair.

It's not a standout poem from CAS, but at the same time it is interesting as a possible reflection of the poet himself, given that his letters to mentor George Sterling from around the time this poem was written often contain references to CAS' affairs with married women.

Friday, January 24, 2020


Read "Change" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) muses on relationship dynamics changing over time.  It's a minor work, but entertaining nonetheless.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


Read "Semblance" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) solicited an interesting comment from his mentor George Sterling*:

"Semblance" is another "grown-up" poem, and in your best mood.  When I note how much wiser you are than I was at your age, it makes me "smile a little sadly."  I was of slow growth, and have hardly matured yet - at least I hope I haven't!

CAS sent the poem to Sterling in 1923, when CAS was thirty years old.  Sterling was in his early fifties at the time.

Certainly Sterling's description of "Semblance" as a "grown-up" poem is not without justification, as each of these stanzas are deeply informed by the lessons of life experience:

Grief is the mirror-builded hall
Wherein you roam eternally,
Seeking the ghost you shall not see —
In sorrow half-sardonical —
And meet yourself at every wall.

Each of the five stanzas has an equal sense of gravitas, rendered with CAS' usual dazzling poetic technique.  

It is remarkable that a young man born and raised in small towns in rural California, who had limited experience of travel, should indeed demonstrate such wisdom in his verse.  For me, it reinforces the idea that CAS was a true poetic soul, an artist who devoted his life to the creative possibilities of the English language, which pursuit somehow granted him insights beyond those typical of someone his age.

*See letter #290 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020


Read "Selenique" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was included in his collection Sandalwood (1925), although oddly enough it doesn't appear in the table of contents for that volume (presumably a printer's error).

Although "Selenique" has romantic overtones, the relationship between the narrator and his subject is remote at best:

Your hard immaculate beauty dulls the sharpness of desire,
And chills it to a changeless passion—
A frozen passion bright and pallid,
And clear as is the ghostly fervor of the moon's white fire.

Much of the visual imagery in this poem is derived from the notion of a pale moon and the clear white light associated with it.  It's not one of CAS' best poems, but it has a certain cold beauty nonetheless.

Monday, January 20, 2020

A Fragment

Read "A Fragment" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) presents a celebration of the narrator's own tomb, a morbidly fascinating idea expressed with delicate beauty:

On friezes of mine ancient fame
The cypress wrought its writhen shade,
And through the boughs the ocean made
Moresques of blue and fretted flame.

There's more than a little of the sensibility of Edgar Allan Poe in these lines, and yet CAS is clearly bringing his own voice to the subject matter.  Where Poe would have written about the tomb of a lost love (as in "Annabel Lee") CAS' unique angle makes for wonderful verses with a hint of sardonic humor born of the contemplation of one's own final resting place.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Chant of Autumn

Read "Chant of Autumn" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) uses an interesting AABCDDBC rhyme scheme.  I like the impact that unusual rhyme pattern has on the word flow, since the delayed conclusions to the B and C rhymes in each stanza create a momentum in recitation which also avoids the "sing-songy" character that can infect poems with strict repeating patterns of rhymed couplets.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Song of Cartha

Read "The Song of Cartha" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the fourth and final surviving poem penned by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was proposed for inclusion in a longer dramatic work called "The Fugitives".  In earlier blog posts, I've lamented the fact that the complete play does not survive, and reading "The Song of Cartha" only strengthens that regret.

This poem has obvious connections to "The Love-Potion", which I read yesterday.  In that poem, the phrase "the languishing / Of a queen" caught my attention, and here in the final stanza of "The Song of Cartha" we encounter an echo of that phrase:

Queen, whose breasts were mine to keep
Through the moon-abandoned night,
Languid love and dead delight
In thine arms are fain to sleep.

What CAS envisioned for "The Fugitives" as a whole will likely never be known, but the four fragments that remain have a luxuriant decadence paired with amorphous yearnings suggested by the title.  These four short poems hint at what might have evolved into one of CAS' major works.

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Love-Potion

Read "The Love-Potion" at The Eldritch Dark:

Reading this short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) makes me sad that CAS apparently never completed "The Fugitives", the proposed drama of which "The Love-Potion" was to be only one piece.

Considering that "The Love-Potion" is a mere twelve lines of seven syllables each, the scenario presented is rich with both image and narrative, and CAS' masterful poetic technique is in evidence right from the opening lines:

Sluggish drops of sullen balm;
Blood-red wine from fruits of bane,
Subtly mixed with polar snows

The alternating internal rhymes on the letters "s" and "b" in those introductory lines roll off of the tongue with an inherent sonority that propels the reader to the poem's finale built around "the languishing / Of a queen" (which itself is a gorgeous phrase).

For me as a reader, "The Love-Potion" is basically a perfect poem, built with a beautifully musical technique and rich with images and ideas that stimulate multiple senses.  This is my reward for carefully reading through the complete poetic works of CAS: encountering works of art like "The Love-Potion" that exemplify what is possible in the medium of poetry.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


Read "Song" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the second piece by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) from an uncompleted drama called "The Fugitives".  It is not clear whether this song is intended to be sung by either of the characters (Aviol and Cartha) mentioned in the surviving stage directions.

With this second part of "The Fugitives" we get more of the flavor of the Poseidonis realm, a fictional location that CAS used for several of his short stories:

Though your eldest necromant
Raise again with solemn chant
All the ghostly girls of yore,
Crowned with blossoms thin and frore,
Vagrant love returns no more.

A later stanza even has some of the flavor of Edgar Allan Poe's short fiction:

Though you seek from door to door
Through the city's wrath and roar;
Scan the phantom faces wan
Of the masquers mute with dawn—
Always love has come-and gone.

This poem "Song" has strong thematic ties to the title of the uncompleted longer work ("The Fugitives"), and as a reader I begin to dimly grasp the shape of that proposed drama for the stage.  

One complete dramatic work from CAS survives ("The Dead will Cuckold You"), and I am quite a fan of that piece, especially as it is set in CAS' wonderful fictional milieu of Zothique.  I am thus very intrigued by "The Fugitives", since the small pieces of it that we have are impressive, and I can't help but think that the complete drama might in fact be CAS' great lost (really never finished) masterpiece.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Song of Aviol

Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) "The Song of Aviol" is one surviving piece of a projected (but uncompleted) drama called "The Fugitives".  In The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith from Hippocampus Press, the four surviving pieces of "The Fugitives" are printed together, beginning with these stage directions:

Act I. Scene I.

A grassy meadow, by a lily-laden stream, within sight of Alnephrom, the capital of Poseidonis.  Aviol, a girl of twelve, and the boy Cartha, a year or two older, approach from opposite sides of the meadow and meet at the water's edge.  Aviol sings:

("The Song of Aviol" follows)

Since each of the four pieces of "The Fugitives" is a distinct poem without obvious linkages to the other pieces, I'll be considering them one at a time, starting with "The Song of Aviol".

Aviol's description of an ideal refuge is certainly seductive:

Land that kings may not discover,
Deep within the mystic west!
Only lover comes with lover
Through the fens where dragons nest.

They that seek it, summer-hearted,
Must outwing the winter swallow—
Far too far in realms uncharted
For the jealous gods to follow.

Given that the stage directions inform us that Aviol is a child, her song of the refuge created between lovers has a yearning quality, an expectation of things to come as she enters young adulthood and (one hopes) comes to experience the ecstatic love she sings of.  

If this song was indeed intended as the opening to a longer dramatic work, it's certainly a strong beginning.  The reader can only wonder at the sort of work we might be able to read today if CAS had been able to finish "The Fugitives".

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


Read "Poplars" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a simple but beautiful poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  The opening stanza provides the central image:

Against the pale autumnal air,
The golden poplars burn and flare.

In the following stanzas, key nouns are repeated, as with "lamps" in the second and fifth stanzas:

And golden lamps are lit for me,
Deep in the vaults of memory.

And in my heart the lamps illume
A queenly couch of love and doom,

The phrase "golden lamps" from the second stanza is a direct derivation from "golden poplars" in the first stanza, and this repetition of key images really gives "Poplars" a musical flow that is impressive for such a short work.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Love Is Not Yours, Love Is Not Mine

Read "Love Is Not Yours, Love Is Not Mine" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is rather minor both in length and intent.  It falls into a category of love poems from CAS that seem rather pedestrian, at least when compared to his larger body of work which is so often characterized by impressive technique paired with ambitious subject matter.

Saturday, January 11, 2020


Read "Song" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has some interesting parallel phrases between the first and second stanzas.  In the first stanza, we have:

  • my weariness
  • My bitter dreams

In the second stanza, the parallel phrases are:

  • my weary pain
  • my dreams are fain

The transition from "My bitter dreams" to "my dreams are fain" matches the positive transition in mood from the first to the second stanza, and I like the way CAS subtly captures that transition with small but significant shifts in diction.

Thursday, January 9, 2020


Read "Union" at The Eldritch Dark:

Although this short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is nothing remarkable, he does end it with lines that incorporate auditory, visual, olfactory, and tactile elements carefully woven together:

Even so, our souls are one,
Like two winds that meet in a valley of rose and lotus,
And fall to rest, uniting
As the still and fragrant air that lingers
On a bed of falling petals.

It's impressive that CAS could accomplish such a complete description of so many aspects of a particular experience in less than forty words.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020


Read "Chance" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was described as "a trifle awkward" by his mentor George Sterling*, but I think it has a raw power that is invigorating:

This monstrous god, half-idiot and half-ape,
With fumbling hands omnipotent to shape
A harlot's breast or build great altars.

The notion of an all-powerful deity capriciously manipulating the universe he has created is certainly not original to CAS, and neither is this the only poem in which CAS addressed that idea.  But I think his cosmic vision and the dark incidents presented in this brief poem partially mirror The Hashish-Eater, and do so in a compact form which impacts me more than the somewhat rambling narrative of that much longer and more famous work.

*See letter #254 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


Read "Plum-Flowers" at The Eldritch Dark:

Here we have another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that mentions an (almost) specific plant, likely Prunus domestica, or the European Plum.  The taxonomy of the various plum species is dense and complex, but that's a subject for a different blog!

I admire the way CAS intertwines images of plum flowers in their springtime glory with reminiscences of the best moments of a romance, times that were "Like poising petals all unflown" to those who experienced them.

"Plum-Flowers" is all the more enjoyable as a contrast to the bigger ambitions of much of CAS' verse; so different from the strident notes of "Nero" or "Satan Unrepentant".  This poem was first published in Sandalwood (1925), a collection that marked something of a way point in CAS' writing career, in terms of dedicated volumes of his verse.  Since I'm reading his poetry in more-or-less chronological order, I'm almost done with those poems included in Ebony and Crystal (1922), and looking forward to getting to the Sandalwood phase, since early indications are that volume may contain some of his very best work.

Monday, January 6, 2020


Read "Artemis" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is titled for one of the primary deities of classical Greek mythology, and seems to draw on her role as a goddess of chastity.  This idea is reinforced by several references to the sterility of the "flowerless garden" in which the narrator finds himself.  

Flowers are, of course, the reproductive structures of angiosperms (aka the flowering plants), and their absence in the garden in which the poem is set echoes Artemis' careful guarding of her virginity:

Thou dost await, O mournful, enigmatic
Image of love-bewildered Artemis,
Whose tender lips too late,
Or all too soon, have sought the wounding kiss.

One can't help wondering if these verses might have been inspired by one of CAS' own romances, one that perhaps involved a physically reluctant paramour, an earthly "love-bewildered Artemis".

Sunday, January 5, 2020


Read "Fawn-Lilies" at The Eldritch Dark:

It's been a while since I've read a poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that is named for a specific plant.  In this case, I'm assuming CAS is writing about Erythronium californicum, aka the California fawn lily.

I like the way this poem references the transient nature of the floral part of this plant ("Briefer than all brief things your hidden bloom") and uses that image to capture the fleeting nature of a romantic tryst:

Ye die, and cannot say
Who passed beneath the April pines today;
And you alone have heard our hidden love,
And known her flow'r-soft name.

Poetry is the perfect medium in which to capture impressions of the ephemeral, and here CAS uses his medium to great advantage.

Saturday, January 4, 2020


Read "Satiety" at The Eldritch Dark:

Rarely, but sometimes, I read a poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that does little for me as a reader.  In general terms, CAS was a master and technique and mood, and he used those abilities to elevate his verse beyond the mundane.  

I put "Satiety" in that small group of CAS poems that feel rather uninspired.  The technique is present but used to little notable effect, and the mood is basically absent - the work feels as though it doesn't have a center around which to build.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Exotic Memory

Read "Exotic Memory" at The Eldritch Dark:

Once again we have a sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that he attributed to the pseudonym Christophe des Laurières.  As with many of the other des Laurières poems, this one is quite saucy, especially in the closing lines:

And all the night's black temple walled our tryst,
Where, with libations and with liturgies,
We served the burning altars of desire.

I like the approach that CAS took in attributing this batch of naughty poems to a pseudonym, allowing the mysterious des Laurières to take on the persona of a rake and a hedonist.  Perhaps a bit of role-playing on CAS' part?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Infinite Quest

Read "The Infinite Quest" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a jauntier tone than is typical of his work, but doesn't stray far from his familiar cosmic vision.  There is a suggestion of reincarnation in "The Infinite Quest" that takes the cosmic vision one step further into the realm of the spiritual, but as ever CAS offers no capitulation to the orthodoxy of religion.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Hidden Paradise

Read "The Hidden Paradise" at The Eldritch Dark:

In a similar vein to "Secret Love" (which I read yesterday), in "The Hidden Paradise" I find Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) presenting a dark love poem that really works, and is so much more rewarding than less impressive works from the same author that feature related subject matter (see for instance my comments on "Cleopatra" and "Nightfall").

Here we have a pair of lovers determined to defy all external forces that may intrude on their mutual passion, a passion so strong that it would even seek refuge in death:

                                      Though the breath
Of all the gods a bolted storm prepare,
Till blood-red gloom of thunders blind the sun,

Shall we not turn with clinging kisses there,
And, laughing, quaff some dreamless wine of death—
Triumphant still, in mere oblivion?

That final line "Triumphant still, in mere oblivion?" has an undeniable power, representing the ultimate act of defiance.  The lovers may be forced into that grim destiny, but in doing so their defiance is simply an extreme extension of their passion.