Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Wizard's Love

Read "Wizard's Love" at The Eldritch Dark

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, but saw print the year after his passing in one of Roy Squires' beautiful letterpress editions, The Hill of Dionysus: A Selection (1962). 

It's not a standout among CAS' poems, although it is steeped with the fantastic and supernatural imagery that are so characteristic of his work:

Surely I called you with consummate spell
In desperate, forgotten wizardries,
With signs and sigils of dead goeties,
And evocations born of blood and pain
But deemed for ever vain.

It's a fun read, but ultimately somewhat forgettable given the many superior verses to be found throughout CAS' poetic corpus.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) shares a title with a completely different work that I discussed in an earlier blog post.  This particular poem was not published in CAS' lifetime, nor is it available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Whither, on soft and soundless feet,
With careful pace and air discreet,
O grey companion, art thou gone,
Quietly, like a shade withdrawn?

Too strange, in each beloved spot
To peer once more, and meet thee not;
To pass, amid the desolate rooms,
Among the garden's lonely blooms.

Still shall we seek and never find,
Save in the chambers of the mind,
And in the deepening heart's demesne,
Thy furry presence, bland, serene.

O wise and tender! calm and sweet!
Slumber, in peace for aye replete;
Gently as thou upon its breast,
Let the kind earth above thee rest.

This is certainly a minor poem from CAS, perfectly competent but lacking any particular spark of craft or imagination to make it notable.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Desert Dweller

Read "Desert Dweller" at The Eldritch Dark:

It's worth pointing out a couple of significant typos in the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark (corrected words in bold below): 

  • Line 16 (sixth stanza) should read: "Nor know what Hanging Gardens I behold"
  • Line 26 (ninth stanza) should read: "From fountains past the utmost world and sun..."

This poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was first published in the July 1943 issue of Weird Tales magazine.

And it represents an important milestone for me personally, since "Desert Dweller" has always ranked as one of my favorite poems, and certainly it is my favorite poem authored by CAS.  The name of this blog comes from line 10: "Men pity me for the scant gold I bring".

I've never read a better expression of the dilemma of a creative artist, deeply inspired by the natural world, who finds himself adrift in a culture dominated by the deification of Mammon, where the non-human resources of the landscape are viewed simply as a collection of economic assets to be exploited.  I often feel myself caught in that same predicament, but I have never written any lines as powerful as these:

For them, the planted fields, their veriest boon;
For me, the verdure of inviolate grass
In far mirages vanishing at noon.

For them, the mellowed strings, the strident brass,
The cry of love, the clangor of great horns,
The thunder-burdened ways where thousands pass.

For me, the silence welling from dark urns,
From fountains past the utmost world and sun...
To overflow some day the desert bourns...

And take the sounding cities one by one.

I think "Desert Dweller" is a true expression of CAS as both a man and an artist, and (in my opinion) it's one of the finest poems ever written in the English language.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Prophet Speaks

Read "The Prophet Speaks" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first appeared in the September 1938 issue of Weird Tales magazine.

In this work, I detect the voice of the poet himself expressing a personal viewpoint.  Although these lines are embellished with fantastic imagery derived from ancient history and myth, the core subject reflects the poet's disdain for the modern age in which he lived, particularly his dislike of crowded urban landscapes:

O city consecrate to crime and greed!
O scorner of the Muses' messenger!
Within your heart the hidden maggots breed.

The phrase "scorner of the Muses' messenger" really speaks to CAS' role as an impoverished artist, a creative spirit adrift in a culture of accumulation and aspiration.  But CAS' impish humor is still present, especially in the very final lines:

The sea, withdrawn from littorals desert-hearted,
Shall leave you to the silence of the sky—
A place fordone, forlorn, unnamed, uncharted,

Where naught molests the sluggish crotali.

By "crotali", I presume CAS is referring to Crotalus, the genus of pit vipers (aka rattlesnakes), rather than Porocephalus crotali, the parasitic tongue worms.

The idea of nature reclaiming Mammondom seems like something that would have held immense appeal for CAS, given his lifelong attachment to the wild Sierra Nevada foothills around Auburn, California.  His ability to cast those sentiments in wild and fantastic verse makes "The Prophet Speaks" a thrilling experience for any reader in sympathy with those same notions.

Friday, September 25, 2020

To Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Read "To Howard Phillips Lovecraft" at The Eldritch Dark:

This tribute poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first appeared in the July 1937 issue of Weird Tales magazine.    

Considering that the subject of the poem is someone that CAS never met in person, it's really quite a moving memorial, written shortly after Lovecraft's death in March 1937:

And yet thou art not gone
Nor given wholly unto dream and dust:
For, even upon
This lonely western hill of Averoigne
Thy flesh had never visited,
I meet some wise and sentient wraith of thee,
Some undeparting presence, gracious and august.

Earlier in his career, CAS wrote a number of tribute poems to his mentor George Sterling, most of which struck me as being rather dry and cold.  "To Howard Phillips Lovecraft" is something quite different, filled with genuine emotion in remembrance of a friend who clearly had a meaningful impact on CAS' own life.

Thursday, September 24, 2020


Read "Touch" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a minor love poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  There are some interesting internal rhymes (such as "Has sighed a secret essence") but not much else of particular interest.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020


Read "Mystery" at The Eldritch Dark:

Among the poems of love from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), this one has an intensity of feeling that is uncommon, and the poet's recognition of the ineffability of deep human connections is striking:

But in delectable
Dark ways, and wordless speech,
Our hearts throb each to each
The tale we cannot tell.

The final stanza turns that ineffability into something infused with a transcendent power (the word "divine" in the last line was certainly chosen with care):

Communion clear with thine,
Has found the oblivion deep
Which is not death nor sleep
But ampler life divine.

There is always a danger in trying to understand the creator himself by deriving evidence from his creations, and yet I think "Mystery" provides an insight into CAS' core values.  We know from various biographical sources that he was not a religious man, and in this poem he sanctifies human connection over heavenly submission.  Thus the man himself does indeed seem to speak through his verse in "Mystery". 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Indian Summer

Read "Indian Summer" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a minor love poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), wherein the narrator muses on "the love I felt for you in autumns past."  For all its brevity, this is a verse that couldn't really have been written by anyone except CAS, for who else would have used a phase like "necromantic sun" in a poem devoted to romantic recollections!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Farewell to Eros

Read "Farewell to Eros" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was first published in the June 1938 issue of Weird Tales magazine.  It speaks to a passionate relationship, one that seems to have an all-consuming impact on the narrator, the pending dissolution of which has left him bereft:

Not now the weary god deserts the worshipper,
The worshipper the god ... but in some cryptic room
A tocsin tells with arras-deadened tones of doom
That hour which veils the shrine and stills the chorister.

But the narrator has not reached the end of his rope: "I shall go forth to madder gods and mysteries."  The following stanzas make references to fantastic worlds associated both with CAS (Zothique) and other contributors to Weird Tales (Aquilonia, Cimmeria, etc).  Ultimately, the poem returns to the departed Eros:

Yea, in those ultimate lands that will outlast the Earth,
Being but dream and fable, myth and fantasy,
I shall forget ... or find some image reared of thee,
Dreadful and radiant, far from death, remote from birth.

This is that rare poem from CAS that I want to like more than I actually do.  It's rich with emotion and imagery, and yet somehow as a complete work it doesn't really come together, substituting a collection of interesting parts for the lack of a cohesive whole.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


Read "Sea-Memory" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a beautiful visionary poem, resplendent with the power of the sea, as it haunts the narrator with richly colored imagery derived from gemstones and precious metals.

Interestingly, the first stanza describes the narrator's dreams, while the second stanza references his memories.  Taken together, it becomes clear that the wild ocean has had a truly deep impact on the speaker.  

One can't help but assume that there is a certain amount of autobiography in "Sea-Memory".  CAS spent most of his life in inland California, but we know that he visited coastal parts of the state, such as Carmel and San Francisco.  Perhaps those experiences on the edge of the mighty Pacific Ocean stayed vibrantly alive for him all the rest of his days.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Rêves printaniers

This sonnet by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime.  He created versions in English and French, both using the French title, which can be translated into English as "Spring Dreams".

Since neither version of this poem is available on The Eldritch Dark, here is the complete English text:

Far, far from the unfolded leaves and flowers, 
My dreams go wandering in thy secret gardens,
My dreams go wandering, clandestine and discreet,
To seek the living roses of the spring.

Alas! for all alone and vainly do they go,
Within these gardens where my lips and hands
Aforetime went to mollify their fevers,
To cull, as in a tender unleafing,

The sweetness of thy breasts and all their balsams...
Flowers that have made me drunk, like bergamots,
Or the nocturnal flowers of apricots!

Beneath what falling crescent, or in the dawn
Of what moon that wanes anew,
Shall I possess again these ravishing poppies?

This is quite an erotic work from CAS, who often credited his saucy verses to the pseudonym Christophe des Laurières (but apparently did not do so in this case).

The metaphor of a garden bursting with new life in springtime presented in the opening octet pairs perfectly with the resolution in the closing sestet, where the narrator turns his thoughts to the "ravishing poppies" of his lover's buxomness.  One can only hope that the "Flowers that have made me drunk" will indeed be the narrator's seasonal reward!

Monday, September 7, 2020

Song of the Necromancer

Read "Song of the Necromancer" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was originally published in the February 1937 issue of Weird Tales magazine.

The use of an enclosed ABBBA rhyme scheme lends an interesting pacing to the reading of "Song of the Necromancer", encouraging a strong pause at the end of each of the seven stanzas.  The ideal delivery when read aloud might be described as stately, or perhaps better yet (this is CAS after all!) incantatory.

"Song of the Necromancer" is thematically aligned with much of CAS' earliest poetry, particularly those verses collected in The Star-Treader and Other Poems (1912).  But the technical approach is quite different, as this later poem uses a simpler vocabulary and emphatic rhymes in a more sophisticated way than CAS was wont to do in his youth.  These lines from the second stanza really capture that difference:

In dust upon unwinnowed skies:
But primal dreams have made me wise,
And soon the shattered years shall rise

By combining the use of internal and end rhymes, CAS has created beautiful music in those lines.  This is exemplified by the internal rhyme on the letter "s" in the final line quoted above, which centers on the strong verb "shattered".  

Combined with an incantatory aural delivery (as suggested above), the technical construction of the poem directly invokes the subject matter, as the act of recitation causes the reader to "repeat a subtle rune", and become part of the necromancer's endless cycle, where death will never grant any rest.

Sunday, September 6, 2020


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

O ghostly loves that come and go 
In this fantasmal autumn vale
Where stones and trees and hills remain 
Unreal, and ghostly leaves are blown:--

Bright wraiths of yestereve, and pale
Ghosts of the darkling farther past
That mingle in ambiguous dance,
Haunting again the hollow day.

Depart, depart, nor vex in vain
With shadowy lips the lips of drouth,
Nor fill my arms with shifting cloud.
But linger awhile, O fair and face,

My youngest and my latest love,
And press your cheek 
To blend the substance with the dream
In the dry cup of Tantalus.

Although no specific mention is included in these lines, the references to dry climatic conditions and the description of "my latest love" seem to suggest that this poem might have been directly inspired by real events from CAS' life in and around Auburn, California.  

The hot-summer Mediterranean climate of Placer County and the surrounding region could well inspire thoughts of Tantalus, sentenced to an eternal punishment with food and water forever close at hand, but always just out of reach. 

I love the way that CAS combines elements of the mythological and the supernatural into an earthly encounter with a lady love.  That weaving together of magical and mundane elements is a technique he used in other poems, and one that he always handled with a sly skill.

Saturday, September 5, 2020


Read "Ennui" at The Eldritch Dark:

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was first published in the May 1936 issue of Weird Tales magazine, hidden behind a truly ugly cover painting from Margaret Brundage!

It seems to me that this poem describes a state of purgatory.  The opening octet features imagery that is awash in suggestions of death:

Dull ashes emptied from the urns of all the dead
Have stilled the fountain and have sealed the fountain-head
And pall-wise draped the pine and flowering myrtle-tree.

However, in the closing sestet, CAS makes it clear that the setting is somewhere between life and death:

Thou art becalmed upon that slothful ancient main
Where Styx and Lethe fall; where skies of stagnant grey
With the grey stagnant waters meet and merge as one:

The River Styx is of course the legendary boundary between Earth and the underworld (Hades) originating with Greek mythology.  Lethe is one of the five rivers within Hades itself.  So I read "Ennui" as describing a journey that has crossed the Styx, but has not yet reached into the heart of Hades itself, thus a sort of purgatory.

That notion calls attention to the title, since ennui could well describe the mindset of one who has grown tired of mortal life, and is ready to chart a course to that which lies beyond that life.