Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Saturnienne

Read "The Saturnienne" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was published in Weird Tales magazine in 1927.  Prior to that, in 1925, CAS sent a draft of the poem to his mentor George Sterling, who commented*:

This "Saturnienne" is in your best vein.  As often, I had to consult the dictionary, and am by so much the wiser.  I recall Bierce writing somewhere in praise of archaic words, commenting on their poetic value.

There is no doubt that "The Saturnienne" is a showpiece for CAS' extensive English vocabulary, but in the service of the exotic scenario, the vocabulary is highly effective:

Amid her agate courts,
Like to a demon ichor, towering proud and tall,
A scarlet fountain spurts,
To fall upon parterres of dwale and deathly hebenon.

If a reader makes the effort to look up words such as "dwale" and "hebenon", those lines have a startlingly potent impact that would not have been possible with a mundane diction.

*See letter #346 in The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.


  1. I often wonder if this might be his finest poem. It's so full of colors it reads like an acid trip.

    Someone on the forum theorized he might've used drugs. I, on the other hand, wonder if he might've been a synesthete. Some of his writings, particularly his letters, seem to point towards some form of synesthesia and, as far as I know, synesthesia and exquisite memory, the kind he was often praised for, go hand in hand, whether it's Solomon Shereshevsky or that girl from Rijeka I met long time ago and who was easily the most eloquent person I've ever met, which was quite impressive considering she was hardly older than 16.

  2. I had not previously considered the possibility that CAS might have been a synesthete, and yet "The Saturnienne" would seem to lend some evidence in that direction.

    I've read some of CAS' extant correspondence, and while there is little in those letters that would point towards synaesthesia, it's also true that he came across as quite reserved in his letters, and did not seem inclined to include much personal information. So we can only speculate on what he chose not to reveal about the sources of his considerable creativity.

  3. My personal favorite is how the abyss is not dark or whatever but unplumbed, presumably because "plum" itself is a color.

    Then there's also celadon, jet, gold, ciclaton, agate, scarlet, amber, verdigris, copper, fallow, fulvous, while the Weird Tales version has sinoper in place of celadon.

    Keep in mind that there are various forms of synesthesia, such as time-space synesthesia and the like. I'm unfortunately unable to find it right now but I definitely recall Smith once or twice describing his reactions to some of his life's imagery in a way that sounded a bit too potent for an average human. The gentleman I mentioned, Solomon Shereshevsky, aside from possessing a perfect memory, also had an incredibly powerful imagination, to the point it enabled him to trick his own body in regards to things like heartbeat, temperature, pain suppression, etc. He was diagnosed with the so-called "fivefold synesthesia", where the stimulation of one of his senses produced a reaction in every other. If Smith indeed did have it, I assume it was some much milder form than this.