Saturday, October 31, 2020

Town Lights




Read "Town Lights" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was published during his lifetime in two of Stanton Coblentz's projects: firstly in the Winter 1943 issue of Wings: a Quarterly of Verse, and later in a hardcover anthology titled The Music Makers: an Anthology of Recent American Poetry (1945).

Although both of those publications occurred outside the narrow world of fantasy and science fiction markets, "Town Lights" nonetheless demonstrates CAS' love of  the weird, even if used in subtle fashion as the seed for an earthly feeling of melancholy:


Or strangers make oblivious cheer:
Till he that watches dimly from without
Peels as a leaf blown in the autumn's rout
From desolate trees foredoomed and sere.


Despite the sense of isolation invoked by the first few stanzas, the poem ends with an uplift:


But still he turns, and marks again
Some aureate lamp that friends have lit afar;
Some radiance, with love for inner star,
That burns behind a trellised pane;

Knowing if it were not for these,
His vagrant soul would haunt a vaster night
Lit only by the inalienable light
Of all the quenchless galaxies.


This is an interesting denouement from the same author who gave us "The Star-Treader", "The Hashish-Eater" and other verses of cosmic grandeur.  The simple humanity expressed in "Town Lights" is heartfelt, and all the more moving coming from a writer whose personality was sometimes characterized as isolated and aloof.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Humors of Love

Read "Humors of Love" at The Eldritch Dark:


This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) makes perfect use of the volta, or the turn between the proposition of the first stanza and the resolution of the second stanza.  The opening octet sets a darkly serious tone:


Our love has grown a thing too deep and grave
For touch and speech of trivial gallantries:
For we have wrought consummate sorceries
From which no lifted sign nor prayer may save:


But CAS' writings always have a certain impish quality, and he brings that to the forefront in the closing sestet:


We find, with some enchanted memory mixed,
The laughters heard in Swift and Rabelais;
And, blended with the rapture and the woe,
Are drolleries of blithe Boccaccio.


The references to the works of Jonathan Swift, François Rabelais and Giovanni Boccaccio introduce a tone of ribald satire that was common to those three writers.  

In contrast to much of CAS' early poetry from the Star-Treader era, this more mature poem (written in 1941 when he was in his late forties) paints a somber setting with a jest, pairing the author's taste for the cosmic and the weird with his wry view of the foibles of humanity.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Consummation

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


Musing upon our strange close trinity,
On all the golden gramaries of our days,
And the bleak sadness found in sundered ways,
I dream a strange sweet ending for us three
That shall illume the future's legendry,
Till poets, crowned with late, hesperian bays,
Shall chant for us their elegies and lays 
Upon the sapphic headlands of our sea;

Telling of old, idyllic things that were;
Of how two lovers laid their brows and lips
Down on their love's warm bosom, and with her
Drew rapture and oblivion in one breath,
And found with her, in that divine eclipse,
The indissoluble unity of death.


The editors of the Hippocampus Press edition of The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith speculate that this sonnet was intended to be part of The Hill of Dionysus cycle, given that it addresses CAS' relationship with the poet Eric Barker and the dancer Madelynne Greene.  However, it was not included in the 1962 selection from that cycle published by Roy Squires and Clyde Beck.

As a paean to his friendship with Barker and Greene, "Consummation" has an epic sweep, and given the title, I can't help but wonder if CAS created this poem as something of a coda to The Hill of Dionysus cycle, even if it was left out of the published edition issued shortly after his death.

I love that the speaker imagines a sort of immorality for the friendship that informs this poem:


I dream a strange sweet ending for us three
That shall illume the future's legendry,
Till poets, crowned with late, hesperian bays,
Shall chant for us their elegies and lays 


One could argue that in a small way, that has indeed occurred, although perhaps not in the way that CAS envisioned.  Recently there has been some discussion on The Eldritch Dark forums about the notion that CAS was a misanthrope, an idea advanced by Steve Behrends in an essay from some years ago.  I think Behrends is wrong, and the evidence can be found by reading "Consummation".  

But the very fact that such a discussion has occurred in 2020, albeit in an obscure online forum with a small number of participants, simply proves that the prophecy of "Consummation" has come true: a friendship that occurred decades ago between three California artists has not been entirely forgotten.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Yerba Buena




Read "Yerba Buena" at The Eldritch Dark:


The Spanish title of this poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) can be translated as "good herb", a term which has been applied to plants in many parts of the world, particularly those in the mint family.  

Given CAS' home in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, I suspect the poem refers to Clinopodium douglasii, which is commonly known as "yerba buena" and is found throughout the Golden State.

The poem is a pantoum, a form that CAS rarely used.  It makes for an interesting technical exercise, but the use of iambic tetrameter creates short lines, which don't really play to CAS' strengths as a poet.  Nonetheless, "Yerba Buena" does effectively establish a sense of place and experience:


Still wafts a perfume wild and sweet—
Crushed by the limbs and breasts of love
Within that place where laurels meet
Amid the ocean-fronting grove.


If the poem can be taken as something of a tribute to the state of California itself, it certainly works as a celebration of the simple beauties of the author's home.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Fragment




Read "Fragment" at The Eldritch Dark:


This is a minor romantic poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  While the title might seem to indicate that it is an unfinished poem, it was published "as is" in several sources, including the Spring 1942 issue of Wings: a Quarterly of Verse, a publication to which CAS contributed several poems over the years.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Old Water-Wheel



Read "The Old Water-Wheel" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/404/the-old-water-wheel

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first saw publication in the December 1942 issue of Poetry magazine, marking one of his few appearances in that long-running publication.  Their archive contains a scan of the work as it appeared in print:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=23404

The poem presents a melancholy image of isolation and despondency:


A dolent, drear, complaining note
Whose all-monotonous cadence haunts the air
Like the recurrent moan of a despair
Some heart has learned by rote.


It's a grim read, but powerfully animated by the presence of sound throughout, as the motion of the water-wheel becomes a metaphor for the emotional and spiritual rut that the speaker finds himself in.  

That correspondence is captured by parallel diction in the second and fifth stanzas, where the stream that powers the wheel "by noon, by night, by dawn" almost mocks the speaker's distress "today, tonight, tomorrow".  And yet the implied relationship is not morbid, but almost comforting as the speaker's own internal state is echoed by the tangible world of his physical surroundings.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Mime of Sleep

Read "The Mime of Sleep" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/575/the-mime-of-sleep

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) follows the convention of that particular form, specifically the Italian sonnet, which traditionally divides the poem into an eight-line "proposition" (the octet) followed by a six-line "resolution" (the sestet).  

CAS further adheres to the convention of creating the transition from proposition to resolution in the volta, the ninth line, which begins the fascinating conclusion to "The Mime of Sleep":


But though they pass, and slumber blot them all,
Your beauty's burning shade more slowly dims—
Where, dancing like Salome, you let fall,
In splendid sequence under a sad sky,
The seven veils of fantasy that I
Have wound about your young, delightful limbs. 


The references to Salome and The Dance of the Seven Veils invoke the powerful eroticism of that Biblical episode, but also the associated decapitation of John the Baptist. 

On the surface, the sestet quoted above paints a beautiful romantic image, but by incorporating allusions to the legend of the daughter of Herod II, CAS links the poem's outro to the nightmarish visions of the opening stanza, where the speaker's dreams are a "A masque, whose grey grotesques of mirth and pain / Move randomly through an occulted clime." 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Dialogue



Read "Dialogue" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/127/dialogue

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first appeared in the May 1943 issue of Weird Tales magazine under the byline of Timeus Gaylord (one of CAS' pseudonyms).

Although presented in the form of a sonnet, one could argue that this poem is also a poetic dialogue, since the opening octet and the closing sestet are each presented as being the words of a different speaker.

The first speaker seems a bold and adventurous sort, journeying as far as the "seven hells" and encountering legendary beings in further grim but fantastic exploits.

In contrast, the second speaker appears to be someone who is isolated and trapped in nightmares "When horror seeps from out four walls / And trickles from the unclouded sky."

Each speaker has, in his (or her) own way become enveloped in the cloak of the malignant and the weird, although their experiences of those phenomena have produced different results.  

This contrast of viewpoints makes "Dialogue" into what must have been an ideal poem for the pages of The Unique Magazine, capturing all of the promised dark wonder of those pages in a short and accessible sonnet.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

The Thralls of Circe Climb Parnassus

Read "The Thralls of Circe Climb Parnassus" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/579/the-thralls-of-circe-climb-parnassus

This sonnet from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was originally titled in manuscript "Swine and Azaleas".  

It is of course derived from Book X of Homer's Odyssey, where Circe uses her magic and her cunning to transform some of Odysseus' shipmates into swine.  Part of the tragedy of this episode is that those suffering from Circe's enchantments retain their memories and their intellects:


Which eat, she touch’d them with a rod that wrought
Their transformation far past human wonts;
Swine’s snouts, swine’s bodies, took they, bristles, grunts,
But still retain’d the souls they had before,
Which made them mourn their bodies’ change the more.


The lines quoted above are from George Chapman's translation (1614) of the Odyssey.

In CAS' poem, he imagines that some of those former men have escaped their enclosure, and found their way to the slopes of the mountain that was sacred to Dionysus, the god associated with all the best things in life.  

Interestingly, CAS seems to have a different view of the misfortune of the transfigured seamen; for example, their new forms do not prevent them from experiencing floral aromas:    


High-rearing on their miry haunches, where
Some grassy-bottomed tarn had sunk and died,
A black hog and his mate stood side by side,
Sniffing those elfin blossoms cool and fair.


These renegade swine-men are "As those who haply seek for husks and swill / Amid the flowers upon Parnassus blown."  Given that the legend makes it clear that these creatures are fully aware of their former existence as humans, CAS seems to be suggesting that they are in fact content in their new form, now that they have escaped captivity and are free to roam in the realm of Dionysus.  

It's a ponderous conclusion for a work from the Bard of Auburn, but perhaps in keeping with his enthusiasm for hedonistic pleasures and the rejection of many of the social norms of his era.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

"That Last Infirmity"

Read "That Last Infirmity" at The Eldritch Dark:


The quoted title of this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) references the sixth stanza of John Milton's "Lycidas":


Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise 
(That last infirmity of noble mind) 
To scorn delights and live laborious days; 


Milton's poem eulogized Edward King, a friend who died by drowning.  "Lycidas" suggests that King will achieve fame, but necessarily after his death.

CAS' short poem has a different take:


Fame is the passing of a fitful wind—
A shouting of the tempest, and the sigh
That lingers in the sunset-ending sky,
To stillness and the alien stars resigned.


These lines suggest that fame is temporary, ultimately resigned "To stillness and the alien stars".  

One wonders if CAS' poem was a reflection on his own situation in 1941 (when he wrote "That Last Infirmity"), given that his generally formal, metrical style of poetry was out of fashion, and his period of writing fiction for commercial publication had come to an end.  

It's always dangerous to read too much of the artist into the creative work itself, but fame was indeed headed in CAS' direction, since in 1942 Arkham House published a first collection of his stories, an event that would do a great deal to guarantee that CAS' writings would live on.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Madrigal of Memory

Read "Madrigal of Memory" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/318/madrigal-of-memory

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) celebrates the remembrance of the physical aspects of a past relationship.  The speaker lauds various aspects of his departed lover, a technique which works very effectively in the fourth stanza:


In dryad ways not understood
You stir and whisper through the wood.
Far off the throbbing waters flow
Against a sanguine afterglow
Like the sweet pulses of your blood.


There's a tangible sense of motion in those five lines, beginning with a "whisper through the wood" and culminating in "the sweet pulses of you blood."  By referencing the wood nymph of classical mythology right at the start of the stanza, CAS seeds the flavor of ancient mystery, and in the last line he injects that sensibility directly into the memory of a paramour.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Bond

Read "Bond" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a refreshing dose of the legendary and the weird, themes that CAS could handle like no other:


In Druid towers of ocean-founded Ys;
By every cup of wine in Naishapur
We drank by turns even to the purple lees;


The work is further emboldened by the presence of erotic and supernatural elements, including a stanza that must mark one of CAS' boldest invocations of the former:


By nights of searing ecstasy and moan;
The night-wet bosoms in Pompeii bared,
And the pale breasts and limbs in Lesbos known;


On a technical level, the third stanza is particularly intriguing:


By dreams and deities and dolors shared
Before the Olympian glory passed from Greece;
By sharp and secret raptures that we dared
 

Here CAS uses alliteration in the first and last lines, but pulls off an interesting trick by swapping the alliterative value of the last word, so that "shared" ends the first line which otherwise alliterates on the letter "d", and the reverse occurs in the third line.

This is no empty technical gesture, since when read out loud, this stanza does have an "incomplete" feel until the reader arrives at the final word "dared".  At that point, the reading prompts a significant pause before moving on to the following stanza.

While it's interesting that CAS did not use this pattern of alliteration throughout the entire poem, I think it was a wise decision, since verses that have very strong repeating sounds (alliteration, assonance, rhyme, etc) often acquire a "sing-songy" character when read aloud, so much so that the sound can distract from the meaning.  By employing a restricted form of alliteration, "Bond" acquires an enhanced reading while avoiding the potential negative impact of the chosen technique.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

But Grant, O Venus

Read "But Grant, O Venus" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/69/but-grant%2C-o-venus

This is a minor love poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  It's more conventional that most of his work in a similar vein, in that the darker elements are treated with remove ("The doom that tolling bells of thought repeat"), rather than being used as essential building blocks.  

Friday, October 16, 2020

Grecian Yesterday

Read "Grecian Yesterday" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/220/grecian-yesterday

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is built upon his love of classical Greek mythology, beginning with a clever invocation of the story of Leda and the Swan.  

As with other poems from CAS inspired by the great myths, the speaker is all too aware of the shortcomings of contemporary reality when measured against those Elysian legends:


No Syrinx flees, no satyr sallies
From the still oaks and brooding bays:
In us their ancient rapture rallies

That sweeps away the world, and brings
Once more the many-flowered prime
After an age of flowerless things.


The phrase "After an age of flowerless things" is a remarkably powerful metaphor for an industrial age as experienced by a creative soul.



Thursday, October 15, 2020

Silent Hour

Read "Silent Hour" at The Eldritch Dark:


The version of this poem by Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) at The Eldritch Dark has a significant typo in line five, which should read: "Thy patient fingers press".

The poem makes use of evocative metaphors for memories of a beloved, and a hoped-for reunion with the same.  Some of these have definite erotic overtones:


Full-tided love draws back in every vein
Like a dark sea through caverns refluent;
But deepens still the fountains of its power.


If the lines quoted above have a distinctly male character, the poem ends with a similar suggestion of the female:


Till all the silence opens into flower—
Till some great rose of wonder and surprise
In secret, sudden bloom
With magic fragrance overbrims the room.


I don't consider "Silent Hour" to be among CAS' best poems, and yet it delivers a lingering touch of sensuality that is skillfully handled.   

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

To One Absent

Read "To One Absent" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) draws strong inspiration from classical Greek mythology, a theme that is found throughout his poetic corpus:


Return, to take this empty hand
And lead me in that longed-for land
Where still the years of Saturn roam;
Where satyrs rob the purpling vine
And the green-fruited laurels shine
Against the siren-cloven foam.


"To One Absent" expresses the yearning for a return to the glorious splendor of myth and imagination, all in the company of "The sorceress of a secret garth".  It has a wistful sense of that which has been lost (or perhaps was never found at all) but the very strength of creative inventiveness that runs through these lines can be taken on their own merit as steps in that journey of return.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Sonnet

Read "Sonnet" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/533/sonnet-%28how%29

This love poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) returns to the theme of romance as a refuge from the tedium of everyday reality, and does so with some truly beautiful language:


How shall the Golden Age thy bosom brings—
That home of dreams unharbored otherwhere—
Not fall before this brazen press of things,
Till we too fade like morning phantoms there?


Ultimately, the narrator arrives at the inevitable conclusion, recognizing the temporal nature of any human connection: 


When all is over, let the cindered sun
Go down in night no memory shall haunt—
Yes, let full-fountained Lethe rise and flow
As on the loves of lovers long ago.


This "Sonnet" has a fatalistic beauty that is quite haunting.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Interim

Read "Interim" at The Eldritch Dark:


This love poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is charged with weird and erotic energies that elevate it beyond some of his mundane romantic verses, all the more remarkable considering that a version of this poem was published in his hometown newspaper (the Auburn Journal) in 1941.

It's hard to speculate how the newspaper's small town readership would have reacted to some of saucier elements of "Interim", such as:    


Closely, more closely ever,
Like flames that meet and mingle in blown air,
Mouth drew to mouth, bosom to bosom there
In the long kiss that could not sever.


However, it's the combination of sensual and supernatural elements that really powers this poem:


Yea, the pale mists, and life, and memory
And all things passed before our ecstasy
Like alien phantoms, furtive and unknown,
To their dim tombs returning. . . .


As with many of his poems of love, in these lines CAS captures a fleeting moment where lovers have escaped the banal trivialities of the everyday world and experienced something that transcends ordinary reality.  It's not a highly original idea, but one that CAS handles with flair in "Interim".

Friday, October 9, 2020

Lamia

Read "Lamia" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is in terza rima, a poetic form most strongly associated with Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy.  The subject matter is directly linked to CAS' short story "Morthylla" and its evocative ending:

To his startlement a woman, or what appeared to be such, was sitting on a fallen shaft beside the mausoleum. He could not see her distinctly; the tomb's shadow still enveloped her from the shoulders downward. The face alone, glimmering wanly, was lifted to the rising moon. Its profile was such as he had seen on antique coins.

"Who are you?" he asked, with a curiosity that overpowered his courtesy.

"I am the lamia Morthylla," she replied.


"Lamia" is dripping with the same sort of sepulchral ambience:


Her lethal beauty like a philtre stirred
Through all my blood and filled my heart with light:
I wedded her with ardor undeterred

By the strange mottlings of her body white,
By the things that crept across us in her den
And the dead who lay beside us through the night.


The closing line of the poem really seals the deal: "It is a thousand years since I have died."

The thematic links among CAS' work in poetry, prose, and poems in prose are often quite strong, with his fictional setting Zothique often providing the connecting thread.  This seems to be the case with "Lamia", as the poem provides something of a coda to "Morthylla".  This is just part of the reason that reading his poetry can be so rewarding, as it amplifies the best elements of his better-known work in fiction.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Anteros

Read "Anteros" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) invokes the Greek god known for his opposition to Eros, the god of love:


O lover, thy black prayer unsay,
Who called on baleful Anteros!
Crown thee with nettles, kneel, and lay
Thy brows upon love's altar close,
To the departing Eros pray
Against the wrath of Anteros.


The name Anteros is repeated twice in each of the three stanzas, usually preceded by an adjective, and that collection of adjectives provides an unequivocal characterization:

  • vengeful
  • mournful
  • mortal
  • sad
  • baleful

I'm not in love with the technique of building up a character portrait through excessive use of adjectives (in line with the "show don't tell" school of characterization), but given the compactness of the poetic form, it's an interesting technical choice.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Song of the Bacchic Bards

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 crown us with laurels, unbung the barrels,
Though the stars decline
We'll souse like devils in Plutonian revels
Till two moons shine.

Oh, let not the chorus of satyrs outroar us,
Vaunting the vine, 
While, shedding their panties, the shameless Bacchantes
Get tanked on our wine.

May the pale water-drinker, the Puritan stinker
With snoot cyanine,
Be filled through a funnel with a ceaseless runnel
Of green sea-brine.

May Bacchus his pards devour the bards
Of a tuneless line,
The foals of wild asses who fart on Parnassus 
At the Muses nine.

By Rabelais' bottle, we'll hang and we'll throttle
With the grape's tough twine,
The horse's katitty who sings a dumb ditty
Called sweet Adeline.

Then bring us fresh laurels, unbung new barrels,
Though the world decline,
We'll souse like demons with Plutonian lemans
Till two suns shine.


"Song of the Bacchic Bards" feels like the creation of an artist blowing off some steam, perhaps after having imbibed just a bit!  It certainly doesn't rank amongst CAS' greatest poems, but the unpolished nature of these lines is a lot of fun anyway.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Witch Dance




Read "Witch Dance" at The Eldritch Dark:


This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first appeared in the September 1941 issue of Weird Tales magazine, which featured what has to be one of the best cover illustrations that Margaret Brundage ever created for that publication.

Given that The Unique Magazine was only published every other month in 1941, this would have effectively been the Halloween issue for that year, and "Witch Dance" fits the bill perfectly:


As in the Sabbat's ancient round
With strange and subtle steps you went;
And toward the heavens and toward the ground
Your steeple-shapen hat was bent
As in the Sabbat's ancient round.


The use of repeated words at the end of the first and last lines in each stanza is an unusual technique for CAS, used to best advantage in the second and seventh stanzas, where the first and last lines are repeated (almost) verbatim.

Although the subject of the poem is appropriately supernatural in anticipation of All Hallows' Eve, it's also quite an erotic work:


Your supple youth and loveliness
A glamor left upon the air:
Whether to curse, whether to bless,
You wrought a stronger magic there
With your lithe youth and loveliness.


Taken all together, "Witch Dance" is a very seductive work, an amorous vision of a sorceress in the act of summoning.  

Monday, October 5, 2020

Resurrection



Read "Resurrection" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/468/resurrection

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) first appeared in the July 1947 issue of Weird Tales magazine.  Although it was published in a summer issue of The Unique Magazine, it feels more appropriate for the Fall season around Halloween:


Share we now the witches' madness,
Wake the Hecatean gladness,
Call the demon named Delight
From his lair of burning night.


It's a slight poem, but a fun one, and probably made for great reading alongside short stories from Ray Bradbury and J. Sheridan Le Fanu in the same issue.



Sunday, October 4, 2020

Bacchante



Read "Bacchante" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/46/bacchante

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was first published in the December 1939 issue of Weird Tales magazine, featuring wonderful cover artwork from Hannes Bok.

As the title suggests, "Bacchante" is inspired by classical mythology, particularly the legend of the ecstatic female followers of Bacchus (aka Dionysus).  The poem is part of a cycle titled The Hill of Dionysus, which originated from CAS' friendship with the poet Eric Barker and his wife, the dancer Madelynne Greene.

Roy Squires published a selection from the The Hill of Dionysus shortly after CAS' passing, and that edition is dedicated "To Bacchante".  Eric Barker confirms that the "Bacchante" of that dedication is Madelynne Greene, as detailed is his essay "Clark Ashton Smith - In Memory Of A Great Friendship".  

The second stanza of the poem provides a beautiful description of the artist's muse:    


Under the thyrse upholden,
We have felt the thrilling presence of the god,
And you, Bacchante, shod
With moonfire, and with moonfire all enfolden,
Have danced upon the mystery-haunted sod.


CAS wrote many poems informed by mythology, but "Bacchante" is uniquely vital among that group, animated by a livelier vision of "The ancient madness and the ancient glory."  As a tribute and a remembrance of a friendship, it's really quite moving, and powerfully expresses a different sort of emotion than I have come to expect from CAS' verse.  



Saturday, October 3, 2020

Sestet

Read "Sestet" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/499/sestet

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) presents a rather curt dismissal of a romantic partner. The closing sentence is particularly cutting:


                              ...You are no more to me
Than some chance tavern with its doors aglow,
Proffering warmth and hospitality
On a strange road beset with night and wind.


One can't help wonder if this poem has autobiographical roots, since both the brevity and the directness of the language suggests it was written in a fit of passion!

Friday, October 2, 2020

Ode

Read "Ode" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/393/ode-%28o%29

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote two poems with the same title; I blogged about the first of these earlier this year.

This second poem with the title "Ode" draws heavily on Greek mythology in paying tribute to a "young and dear and tender sorceress":


Long-fallen fruits by necromancy burn
Upon your lips; and perished planets rise
Into the beryl evening of your eyes;
And the lost autumns in your hair return.


In this poem, CAS mixes tributes to the beauty of the sorceress with references to the horror of an endless cycle of life and death powered by the dark force of necromancy:


Harsher it were than death
To face again the lonesome rain and rime,
And draw reluctant breath
From the grey rigors of an alien clime.


Both the subject matter and the diction remind me of the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, although I have no evidence that CAS intended this work as any sort of pastiche or tribute to one of his favorite writers.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

From Arcady

Read "From Arcady" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/204/from-arcady

This poem finds Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) using the pantoum form, which I don't believe I've previously encountered among his works in verse.  In a pantoum, two lines repeat across each pair of successive quatrains, with a slight variation in the final stanza.

The use of that form, with an emphasis on repetition, gives "From Arcady" an incantatory pacing.  CAS adds internal rhymes to several of the lines, such as "The rolling of a roted surge".  Taken together, those technical constructions add something of a meditative quality to the reading, particularly in the fifth stanza: 


Weaving in pain, to one wild dirge,
The ancient, deep, foregone delight. . . .
The rolling of a roted surge
Returns around a pagan height.


It's quite interesting to see CAS using an uncommon poetic form, especially given his fondness for the sonnet form in his earliest published works.