Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Fortress

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a revised version of "Le Refuge", which I looked at in my last blog post.  As with that poem, CAS created both French and English versions of "The Fortress", both of which were unpublished in his lifetime.  He dedicated both versions to Benjamin De Casseres.

While The Eldritch Dark does have the French text of this poem, it does not have the English version, so here is that complete text:

Far from the tumult, far from the braying of the throng,
I have built for myself a keep in oblivion:
Enkindling every paled or darkened pennon,
A sunset of old time flows past on my proud walls.

Forgotten treasure, ravished from ancient kings,
Sleeps its flaming slumber in my deep vaults;
The ring of Solomon arises from the billows
To sow upon my gold its orient reflections.

From the seat of jade, of jewels and alabasters,
I see through violet and greenish windows
The flight of every dream, or with flaming wings

Or raven wings; and sometimes my enchantments 
Make rise again the unheard-of dawns
Of blackened universes that foundered in nothingness.

What's fascinating is how much this poem improves on "Le Refuge", keeping the narrative flow intact but really building up the language to incorporate the incantatory voice that was one of CAS' particular gifts.  This is especially noticeable in the second stanza.  Here is the version from "Le Refuge":

Forgotten treasure that none has regathered,
Sleeps a flaming slumber in my deep vaults.
The ring of Solomon is re-risen from the waters
To cast upon my gold its reflected gleams.

Compared to the version of that stanza from "The Fortress", the lines quoted immediately above have a somewhat awkward feel, exemplified by the use of the cumbersome word "regathered" in the first line.  The variations of the first line are small but significant:

  • From "Le Refuge": Forgotten treasure that none has regathered,
  • From "The Fortress": Forgotten treasure, ravished from ancient kings,
The vague phrase "that none has regathered" has been replaced with a strong verb ("ravished") and a more concrete target upon which that verb is operating ("ancient kings").

The opportunity to reflect upon CAS' practices of revision is quite instructive: it clearly indicates his command of English vocabulary, and his ability to make small changes in diction that have significant impacts on the overall quality of the poem.

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