Monday, November 2, 2020

To George Sterling

Read "To George Sterling" at The Eldritch Dark:

Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote a half-dozen tributes to his poetic mentor over the course of his writing life, all with the same title.  This last in the series, written in 1941, came fifteen years after Sterling's suicide.  It was apparently commissioned by the Stanford University Press, although I'm not aware it ever saw publication from the same institution.

The epigraph for this sonnet comes from the last line of Sterling's own "Venus Letalis", the Latin title of which could be translated as "The Lethal Venus".  

In CAS' poem, Sterling becomes a character in his own imagined setting on the edge of "the dark sea, where swimmers drown", and it speaks to a distressed state that brought the elder poet to that grim place:

Strange shells are found along that silent strand:
Thou too hast often held them to thine ear
And heard the baffled murmur of thy blood.

While some of the earlier tributes that CAS wrote with the title "To George Sterling" struck me as a bit cold and overwrought, this version has a powerful emotional grip.  By placing his recollection of Sterling directly within the setting of "Venus Letalis", CAS extends the meaning of Sterling's own work into the realm of tribute.  It's a quite an impressive feat, somewhat reminiscent of the work of the German writer W. G. Sebald and his explorations of memory as a dominant force in the human psyche.

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