Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Tin Can on the Mountain-Top

Read "Tin Can on the Mountain-Top" at The Eldritch Dark:


This unusual poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has elements of both cynicism and celebration.  The opening lines have a mocking sensibility, where the titular tin can is lauded as a "bright beacon of liberty and civilization" at odds with its natural surroundings:

The wind, that ancient lecher, plays with the label
and it falls away like a slip
from around your dazzling flanks.

Beginning at line nineteen, the sardonic tone gives way to a voice in a somewhat different register:

In you we behold the ultimate avatar
of stellar slag and neutrons long dissolved
into nebulous vapor;
in you the transgalactic goal
of atoms endlessly broken and re-alchemized
in the dark laboratory of time and space
by the demiurge who wears the night for mask.

One could argue that the lines quoted above are just a more elegant expression of the cynical voice, and yet it seems to me that the speaker begins to recognize the incredible eon-spanning forces that lie behind the physical phenomenon of the tomato-can.  

Another shift occurs at line thirty-four: "But soon, too soon, your glory tarnishes".  Now this artifact of modern civilization meets its ultimate fate, but there is no hint of derision in the closing lines.  Rather, we get an unexpectedly beautiful description of the process of natural metallic decay.

"Tin Can on the Mountain-Top" is a fascinating work from the pen of CAS, and speaks to the theme of "uncivilization" that is present in some of his mature works, something that I hope to explore in more depth at a later time.

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