Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Pool

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

The decrescent moon
Sets in the black maze
Of an autumnal alder-wood
In the night with no bright star.

I lose myself, I stray
On the verge of the deep waters,
Dark and unclean,
Of a melancholy pool.

The tatters of the autumn,
As they take flight,
Touch me in their fall:
I tremble and shiver,

And my reverie
Sheds itself on the near water
With the ash-tree's foliage--
Similarly withered.

This is certainly a somber work, anchored by word choices that set the dark tone: "decrescent", "unclean", "melancholy", "withered".  The parallels between a waning moon, a dark pool, and the dropped leaves of an ash tree echo the speaker's loss of joy.  It's a simple but effective literary technique, making me wonder why CAS never published this particular poem, given its many qualities.


  1. CAS has written many poems with dark tones and bleak situations, yet I don't recall so many that feel as intensely immediate as this. The narrator is so lost that from their perspective even the moon, normally floating so freely in the infinite night, is itself lost in the foliage of the wood. This poem does too good a job at plunging me into its emotions, as I trudge through the muck under a dark and leafy ceiling. It feels so natural though, how they "shed" their reverie, in the water with the ash-tree's foliage. It's an intensely depressing moment, but the choice of words makes me feel as though I am merging with the wilderness in my melancholy.

    Perhaps not CAS's intention, but as both a poet and a dweller in the woods I wonder if he was working his way through a difficult thought or situation by writing it while thinking about the forest.

    1. I'm an urban dweller myself, and I do find a lot of solace in CAS' poems of the natural world, even (as in the case of "The Pool") where they have a dark tone. Artists who can derive and articulate that sort of reverie from the landscape are few and far between (William Wordsworth being another such artist that springs to mind).

    2. I just realized that my choice of grammar was slightly off. A bit embarrassing, I'll admit. I was actually referring to CAS as the poet and forest dweller, not myself. Though I am definitely a forest dweller as well, and have spent too much of my life cooped up in a concrete cage! I find forests a much more healthy place for emotions to wander, but that's only a personal preference of course. I share some of CAS' sentiments on nature vs urbanized civilization, though not to the extent that I would live free of new technology or other fortunate advances.