Monday, June 14, 2021

For the Dance of Death

Read "For the Dance of Death" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) includes the wonderful description "faint castanets": a perfect verbal rendition of the sound made by the rattles of the deadly venomous snake.

Also particularly effective is the phrase "stirless brake", capturing the perfect stillness preceding a potential moment of high drama.  Taken together, these elements create an almost cinematic palette, reminiscent of the best moments of the stylish western genre films of years past.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Vultures Come to the Ambarvalia

Read "Vultures Come to the Ambarvalia" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) references a rite practiced in Roman times, wherein livestock were led in procession before being slaughtered as sacrifices to goddesses of fertility.

CAS' version features a wild creature in place of livestock, but he retains the processional feel of the ancient rite with his opening phrase "Funereal and austere". This lends a spiritual dimension to the proceedings, as the deer's passing is cast into the realm of a sacrifice, a seemingly random death acknowledged for its role in the grand cycles of death and rebirth that define the natural world.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

La Mort des Amants

Read "La Mort des Amants" at The Eldritch Dark:

This French title of this short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) can be translated as "The Death of Lovers".  A sonnet with an identical title is found in Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal.  CAS made a translation of Baudelaire's poem during the former's abortive attempt to produce a complete English translation of Les Fleurs du mal.  The Eldritch Dark has CAS' translation:

Baudelaire's original French text, as well as a number of other English translations, are available at the essential site

CAS' haiku "La Mort des Amants" can be read as an ironic counterpoint to Baudelaire's lush romantic verse, chronicling a quick and violent end to the loud lovemaking of felines.  It's tempting to read this haiku as something that CAS composed in the middle of the night, when the rowdy amours disturbed his sleep and made him wish for the utility of a handy firearm.  Or perhaps he did in fact fire that decisive bullet?

Friday, June 11, 2021

Plague from the Abatoir

Read "Plague from the Abatoir" at The Eldritch Dark:

There's an unmistakable note of frustration in these lines from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), as evidenced by the tone of the verbs: "Fall", "kill", "buzz", "blunder".  Not a lot of happy occurrences going on here!

Anyone who has ever encountered blow flies will share CAS' sentiments, as these loud and persistent creatures use their acute sense of smell to locate carrion.  Science tells us that they can detect a fresh kill up to a mile away, so it's no wonder they created a "Plague" for CAS given his residence not far from a slaughter-house in Auburn, California.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Field Behind the Abatoir

Read "Field Behind the Abatoir" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is built on a wonderful use of alliteration on the letter "L", which ends on the tricky word "Thicklier".  What's remarkable is how CAS is able to use such an unmusical word so effectively: by itself, "Thicklier" seems about as unpoetic as an English word can be.

His strategy is to use alliterative phrases in combination with end rhymes on the first and third lines:

  • First line: "mantled bones lie low"
  • Second line: "grasses lush"
  • Third line: "Thicklier grow"

There's magic in that last line, where "Thicklier" completes the alliteration, and "grow" completes the end rhyme.  The short length of the haiku form calls for economic and thoughtful diction, and CAS succeeds marvelously in "Field Behind the Abatoir", where every single word choice contributes to the success of the complete work.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Slaughter-House Pasture

Read "Slaughter-House Pasture" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) continues a series inspired by an abattoir located not far from CAS' long-time home in Auburn, California.  This one comes close to respecting the accepted structure of haiku in English, which is not always the case with CAS' "Experiments in Haiku" (a grouping short verse included in his Selected Poems (1971)).

Despite the grim subject matter, there's a real beauty to "Slaughter-House Pasture", as it contrasts the detritus of the slaughtered ("Horned skulls and boned hooves") with natural litter ("the fallen leaves"), creating a distinct sensation of the calm after the storm.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Cattle Salute the Psychopomp

Read "Cattle Salute the Psychopomp" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a clear relationship to "Slaughter-House in Spring", which I read yesterday.  "Cattle Salute the Psychopomp"   presents a prelude to the activities which will soon be occurring at the abattoir, as those awaiting slaughter appeal to the cloak of night which will lead them to their fate.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Slaughter-House in Spring

Read "Slaughter-House in Spring" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the first in a series of haiku that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote about the abattoir located not far from his home in Auburn, California.  Living close to such a grim enterprise clearly had an impact on the poet, as abattoirs are mentioned multiple times throughout his literary corpus, notably in these starkly beautiful lines from scene III of his verse play The Dead will Cuckold You (1951):

A toothless vampire tugs and mumbles
Some ancient trot's whitleather hide,
But he'll fly soon to the abattoir
And the pooling blood where the stuck pig died.

"Slaughter-House in Spring" feels spiritually related to the lines quoted above, as the grisly phenomena of the opening line are characterized as a "Taint" whose corruption fouls the "flowers and mossy stones."  Probably few human beings truly love abattoirs, but CAS views them as a source of iniquity, despoilers of beauty and nature. 

Friday, June 4, 2021

Snake, Owl, Cat or Hawk

Read "Snake, Owl, Cat or Hawk" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a melancholy tone, given the focus on the dove chicks left without a mother.  

I like the way the title provides a something of a dual role in relation to the content of the poem: one of the animals listed in the title was likely the hunter that left the nestlings motherless, and one of those animals also will likely bring an end to the short lives of the young birds.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Girl of Six

Read "Girl of Six" at The Eldritch Dark:

Although this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) violates the accepted structure of the haiku in English (three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables), it substitutes a very effective structure of eight, six, and six syllables.  This adds a momentum to the reading, which is solidified by end rhymes in the last two lines.

The elegant structure of this poem is greatly enhanced by the careful use of punctuation (two commas, a colon, and a period) to add explicit caesuras, so that when the text is read aloud, those pauses create a four-beat rhythm which comes so naturally to English speakers.

Despite the brevity of this work, it's obvious that CAS put some effort into it, as the structural elements noted above are quite thoughtfully developed.  It would be fascinating to learn how much time CAS worked on this poem, and how much revision he did along the way.  Alas, I suppose we'll never know!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Grammar-School Vixen

Read "Grammar-School Vixen" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) presents a different aspect of the author's personality, assuming that there is a grain of autobiographical truth in these lines.  Much of his mature poetry is written from a boldly romantic stance, often accompanied by the suggestive swagger of an experienced seducer.  

But in "Grammar-School Vixen", the speaker is the quarry, and seeks to elude the attentions of a young would-be paramour.  As a poem of childhood, it perfectly captures the confusing reality of the pre-pubescent male.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Nest of the Screech-Owl

I had to abandon this blog for a while due to some disruptions in my professional life, but the paperwork is signed and the deal is done, so I am hoping to be able to spend more time reading poetry from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS)!

This haiku from CAS was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

When I groped eagerly
In the hollow tree,
The screech-owl nipped my hand.

This is a simple poem from CAS, presumably referring to the western screech owl (Megascops kennicottii) which is native to the Pacific coastal regions of North America.  Despite its brevity, the direct evocation and cause and effect has a pleasing immediacy.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Boys Rob A Yellow-Hammer's Nest

Read "Boys Rob A Yellow-Hammer's Nest" at The Eldritch Dark:

As with the poem "Flight of the Yellow-Hammer" (which I blogged about last month), it seems that in "Boys Rob A Yellow-Hammer's Nest", Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is referring to Colaptes auratus, the bird commonly known as the "northern flicker".

It's not a great poem from CAS, but as part of his "Childhood" series of haiku, it definitely captures a spirit of youthful adventure in the natural world that reminds me of my own boyhood.

Saturday, April 3, 2021


Read "Water-Fight" at The Eldritch Dark:

Although I've generally enjoyed Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) works in haiku, this particular poem strikes me as one of his weaker efforts in that form.  This is mostly because the closing phrase "glad cries" reads awkwardly, and is not well-anticipated either sonically or conceptually by the rest of the poem.  

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Fight on the Play-Ground

Although this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was included in his "Childhood" grouping of poems, it was not included in the selection from that grouping that was published in his omnibus Selected Poems (1971).  Likewise, it is not available on The Eldritch Clark, so here's the complete text:

Agonists with bloody noses,
How we slugged and mauled, 
Swore and squalled.

I like the transition that moves through the past tense verbs "slugged", "mauled", and "squalled".  When the poem is read aloud, the last of those verbs sounds like an amalgamation of "slugged" and "mauled", allowing for a very animated reading built around that wordplay.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Boys Telling Bawdy Tales

Read "Boys Telling Bawdy Tales" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) perfectly matches the impish humor of schoolboys with the earthy satire of Fran├žois Rabelais, particularly in his most famous work Gargantua and Pantagruel.  I've tried reading that long series of comic novels in English translation, but have to admit that I found it rough going and gave up.  Perhaps I'll re-visit it one of these days...

In any case, CAS' connection to the works of Rabelais seems to be a strong one, as Rabelais is often mentioned in his letters.  In February 1949 he wrote to August Derleth and mentioned Rabelais as being "among the forefathers of the genre" of science fiction, along with Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis and Lucian of Samosata.  A portion of that letter (with some typos!) is available on The Eldritch Dark:

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

School-Room Pastime

Read "School-Room Pastime" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is included in a grouping of eight poems called "Childhood".  It's a simple reminiscence of younger days, and certainly a preview of CAS' later evolution into a prolific visual artist in multiple media.

Monday, March 22, 2021


Read "River-Canyon" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is an interesting ten-part poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), where each of the ten sections roughly follows the haiku form.  

There is an evident structure to the complete work, as the first four sections each mention several plant species, while the fifth switches to focus on birds.  The next four sections (numbered VI-IX) follow the course of the river channel itself, and in the closing stanza CAS once again shifts his focus to resident avians.

Since "River-Canyon" contains so many specific details, I'd be fascinated to know the location of the journey that CAS describes in this poem.  I recently read Edward Abbey's classic work Desert Solitaire, which includes a chapter detailing a boat trip the author took down Glen Canyon before the creation of the Glen Canyon Dam, which inundated so many of the natural wonders that Abbey writes about.  Although CAS' "River-Canyon" details a land-based episode, I'd love to visit the location that the poet describes to see how many of the plants, birds, and other natural features that he describes are still present in that place.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Aftermath of Mining Days

Read "Aftermath of Mining Days" at The Eldritch Dark:

In this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), I believe "broom" refers to Cytisus scoparius, better known as Scotch broom, an invasive plant that has become endemic throughout CAS' home state of California.  I live in Washington state, and Scotch broom is also an invasive species in these parts, as it is apparently up-and-down the west coast of North America.

The opening line "Monotonously rolled" seems to capture exactly that characteristic of this plant: its robust and ready fertility, and its ability to quickly colonize disturbed areas (such as after logging or construction).

All the same, CAS spares a thought for "its many-acred gold", acknowledging the plentiful bright flowers that make this plant so easily recognizable.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Builder of Deserted Hearth

Read "Builder of Deserted Hearth" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is obviously related to the poem I read yesterday, "Hearth on Old Cabin-Site".  The two poems make a logical pair, with this one speculating on who created the "ruined fire-place" that remains at the old cabin-site.

With "Builder of Deserted Hearth", CAS makes the title an essential part of the work, since it is the only part of the poem that clearly identifies the subject.  Interestingly, the two adjectives that CAS uses to describe the builder are "shrewd" and "morose", both of which generally have negative connotations.  This short poem seems like it could easily have served as a springboard for one of CAS' tales of dark fantasy!

Monday, March 15, 2021

Hearth on Old Cabin-Site

Read "Hearth on Old Cabin-Site" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) reminds me of my days living in southwest Virginia, spending many weekends hiking throughout the abundant mountains in that part of the state, including sections of the Appalachian Trail.  

Before the federal government created the Blue Ridge Parkway in the 1930's, many families lived on that land, and these days you don't have to venture very far off the roadway to encounter old cabin sites, where stone fireplaces are often all that remains, given that most of those structures lacked modern foundations.

Of course, CAS spent almost his entire life in California, quite the other side of the country from where my memories are rooted.  Nonetheless, "Hearth on Old Cabin-Site" still speaks to my own experiences, even down to the ferns and poppies, plants that are found throughout the Appalachians.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Old Hydraulic Diggings

Read "Old Hydraulic Diggings" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is an unusual four-part haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  Although he is describing an abandoned quarry, each of the four stanzas has one or more significant verbs which indicate faint signs of life in the dormant location:

  • First stanza: "roots that reach"
  • Second stanza: "Tortuously coil, / Clutching"
  • Third stanza: "A log... / Lies"
  • Fourth stanza: "Unfathomably falls."

The first two stanzas depict pines and manzanitas surviving in precarious situations, while the last two stanzas describe more passive scenes from the landscape around the tenacious trees.  It all comes together to paint a picture of plant life hanging on in non-ideal surroundings, and speaks to CAS' abilities as an observer of the small phenomena of life on this planet.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Windows At Lamplighting Time

Read "Windows At Lamplighting Time" at The Eldritch Dark:

I was recently introduced to the artwork of the late Fritz Schwimbeck via the excellent Monster Brains blog.  Among his highly atmospheric and evocative works, there is a series called "Phantasien uber ein Altes Haus", which can be translated into English as "Fantasies of an Old House".  The image above is drawn from that series.

The haiku "Windows At Lamplighting Time" has a much different tone than Schwimbeck's work, and yet I think there is a connection between the paranoid image and the warmer, homelier words of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  

In particular, it's notable that CAS begins his poem with the phrase "Black houses" and ends with "sunset darkens".  Those are innocuous phrases on the surface, but taken together they wrap the poem in a pair of dark images.  Of course, the centerpiece of the poem is the welcoming phrase "squares of golden dawn", and yet "Windows At Lamplighting Time" does imply a certain fear of the encroaching dark, and a need to seek refuge from the chaotic spirits that awaken at day's close.

Friday, March 12, 2021


Read "Flora" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a perfect tribute to spring, and makes for appropriate reading alongside beautiful weather here in the Pacific Northwest.  The title invokes the Roman goddess of the season, and the "Gentian-eyed" snowmelt adds new color and life to a landscape recovering from winter's hibernating spirit.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Sunset Over Farm-Land

Read "Sunset Over Farm-Land" at The Eldritch Dark:

I believe this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) refers in the last line to Malva sylvestris, or "common mallow", which is an invasive weed species in the United States.  

CAS seems to be describing airborne remnants lingering over a recently plowed field, before all the floral debris has settled back to the ground.  As a reader, I find it somewhat difficult to envision the image the poet is trying to convey, perhaps because (despite a brief sojourn in farming when I was much younger) I haven't really experienced the sort of event that CAS is writing about.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Flight of the Yellow-Hammer

Read "Flight of the Yellow-Hammer" at The Eldritch Dark:

I believe this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) refers to Colaptes auratus, commonly known as the "northern flicker", although one of its alternate common names is "yellowhammer".  There is a completely distinct Eurasian bird species Emberiza citrinella to which the name "yellowhammer" is more frequently applied.

As shown in the photo above, Colaptes auratus does indeed have wings that can be described as a "flame of orange ashen-flecked", and this poem describes what sounds like a wonderfully meditative experience, watching as the bird "Takes wing from pine to pine."

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Snowfall on Acacia

Read "Snowfall on Acacia" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is an unusual two-part haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  The first stanza depicts snow-capped acacia branches weighed down with floral growth, and the second stanza depicts those same branches abruptly freed from their covering of snow.  

It seems as though the speaker himself might have shaken the snow loose from the branches, precipitating the "lifting free" action that gives these two linked poems their central animus.

Monday, March 8, 2021

January Willow

Read "January Willow" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a revised version of "California Winter", which I looked at in my last blog post.

"January Willow" is an interesting evolution of the earlier poem, which featured a concrete, unambiguous image of a willow tree in winter, rendered with a very straightforward vocabulary.  In this revised version, CAS introduces a more poetic language and intent, veering away from the directness implied in a "haiku moment".  Quite noticeable is the greater use of consonance in "January Willow", as well as the very rhythmic closing line "Space the boughs against the blue."  

One could argue that "California Winter" is essentially photographic, in that it captures a specific image in plain language.  In contrast, "January Willow" is more impressionistic, creating an image that is less precise but richer with the music of the language itself, as in the exquisite middle line "Leaves illumed with perished autumn".

Of the two versions of this poem, it's the impressionistic "January Willow" that CAS arranged for publication in his omnibus Selected Poems (1971).  Both versions of the poem have their own unique strengths, but I can't disagree with CAS' apparent preference for "January Willow", as it succeeds in moving beyond the specificity that is common to the haiku form and taking its subject matter into a more creatively rewarding space.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

California Winter

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is an early draft of the poem "January Willow", which I'll look at in my next blog post.  Since "California Winter" is not available on The Eldritch Dark, here's the complete text:

Still, in January,
Hang a few yellowed leaves
On the naked willow.

The simple image presented in this poem is certainly familiar to anyone who has seen a willow in winter, as trees in the genus Salix are typically among the very last to drop their leaves at the end of the growing season.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Chainless Captive

Read "Chainless Captive" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) speaks deeply to a major source of his artistic impulses, that is, the pursuit and the articulation of beauty through creative works.

The poem beautifully expresses the idea that while beauty can be captured in a work of art, it can never be contained or restrained.  Such a "chainless captive" provides inspiration without the restrictions of possession, reaffirming the immutability of humanity's innate need for creative expression.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Bed of Mint

Read "Bed of Mint" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) opens with the word "fragrant", which seems out-of-place in the opening line "Fragrant were the embraces": how can an embrace have an aroma?

The answer comes at the end of the poem, where we learn that this lover's tryst occurred where the "wild mint grew", all of which suggests quite passionate embraces amongst the foliage!

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Goats And Manzanita-Boughs

Read "Goats And Manzanita-Boughs" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) refers to the beautiful wood of shrubs and trees from the genus Arctostaphylos which is often used as part of floral decorations.  

As with many woody plant species, young manzanita growth is also popular forage for goats, and in this poem CAS paints a picture of hungry goats that have exhausted "the close-eaten wold" and are seeking new sustenance, perhaps leading to a conflict with the humans who have gathered the manzanita boughs!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Classic Reminiscence

Read "Classic Reminiscence" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) refers to the Sicilian poet who is credited as the originator of Ancient Greek pastoral poetry.  The scene that CAS describes could easily have been drawn from Theocritus' own work, as in this translated excerpt from "The Death of Daphnis":

Pray, by the Nymphs, pray, Goatherd, seat thee here
Against this hill-slope in the tamarisk shade,
And pipe me somewhat, while I guard thy goats.

I know very little about CAS' reading of the ancient classics, but many of his poems refer to works that seem to reflect a deep knowledge that goes well beyond the familiar works of Homer and Ovid.  I suppose we'll never know, but it would certainly be interesting to learn just how extensive CAS' knowledge of classical literature really was.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Future Meeting

Read "Future Meeting" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) seems to have much in common with "Tryst At Lobos" (which I read a few days ago) as both poems speak to anticipated rendezvous, presumably with a loved one.  

In "Future Meeting", I particularly like the speaker's intention to "question" his partner's "shoal-green eyes", as it suggests a non-verbal communication that seems quite appropriate to an encounter bathed in moonlight.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Mountain Trail

Read "Mountain Trail" at The Eldritch Dark:

Although this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is quite simple, it's also quite touching in that the speaker and his companion hold hands "In the steepest mile" of their path.  This is an obvious metaphor for weathering challenges together, and while it's not a thought original to CAS, he does express it with admirable directness.

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tryst At Lobos

Read "Tryst At Lobos" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) re-visits the setting of "Pool At Lobos", which I looked at in an earlier blog post.  

What captures my attention is the unusual noun "balsams" in the last line.  The word most often refers to sap that is exuded by some plant species, such as the cypress trees that are mentioned in the poem.  However, it can also describe something that has healing or soothing properties, as in the Oxford English Dictionary's illustrative quote from Tennyson's "Becket":

     Was not the people's blessing as we past
     Heart-comfort and a balsam to thy blood?

That usage gives "Tryst At Lobos" a wonderful sense of fond remembrance, even while prompting the unnamed partner to contemplate a future meeting somewhere in the spectacular landscape of Point Lobos.  Who could resist such an invitation?

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Night of Miletus

Read "Night of Miletus" at The Eldritch Dark:

The title of this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) refers to one of the great cities of the Classical Greek period, which is now part of Turkey.  By extension, it likely also refers to Aristides of Miletus, who set his tales in that same city "which had a reputation for a luxurious, easy-going lifestyle" (according to Wikipedia).

Compared to many of his other works in the haiku form, "Night of Miletus" feels rather slight, with no significant poetic techniques at work and with a rather straightforward visual component that doesn't really inspire a "haiku moment".

Friday, February 26, 2021

Love in Dreams

Read "Love in Dreams" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is one of five poems that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) arranged together under the group title "Pulse-Beats of Eros", although that heading was not maintained when these verses were included in the omnibus Selected Poems (1971).

"Love in Dreams" makes wonderful use of consonance (built around the letter "n") in combination with end rhyme, concluding with the supremely beautiful phrase "The night-found rose."  Even while working in the short form of haiku, CAS was capable of the verbal magic that distinguishes his very best poetry.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Old Limestone Kiln

Read "Old Limestone Kiln" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is another example of the poet taking liberties with his chosen form, given that haiku in English are usually rendered as three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables.

In "Old Limestone Kiln", CAS has instead used three lines of seven, five, and four syllables, with the last two lines sharing an end rhyme.  This structure works very well for what the author is describing, since the poem ends with a phrase built on a strong verb ("Oaks drop their fruit") which is not typical of English haiku.  

The direct, single-syllable words in that last line end the poem with a hard stop, providing a sense of animation, indicating that the abandoned kiln may be idle, but has acquired new life from the plants that have colonized it. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

Indian Acorn-Mortar

Read "Indian Acorn-Mortar" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) includes the non-standard word "asterick", which some dictionaries identify as a case of metathesis, where the recognized word "asterisk" can be rendered in spoken English to sound like "asterick" or "asterix".  

Given that CAS had an extensive vocabulary, and was very careful with his diction, the choice of the transposed form of the verb was almost certainly intentional.  So why did CAS make this particular choice?

I suspect it is simply a case of the poet seeking to maintain the flow of language in "Indian Acorn-Mortar".  Even for a native English speaker, "asterisk" is a bit of a tongue-twister, and enunciating that word tends to result in an awkward hard stop at the end of the last syllable.  

CAS needed a verb to activate the phrase "Lichens <something> the pestle", and his choice of a transposed form of "asterisk" retains the lucid specificity of that word while helping to maintain a more natural reading that avoids an unwanted pause in the middle of the last line of "Indian Acorn-Mortar".

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Basin in Boulder

Read "Basin in Boulder" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a slow rhythm that matches the natural phenomenon he is describing, as a "time-hollowed basin" is slowly extended by the forces of erosion.  It's a minor poem from CAS' pen, but quite effective at the same time.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Gopher-Hole in Orchard

Read "Gopher-Hole in Orchard" at The Eldritch Dark:

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) has a subtle circularity which lends it a humorous aspect.  Each of the three lines has a key word incorporating consonance built on the letter "g"; those words in order are:

  • Again
  • plugged
  • Bubbling
The speaker has attempted to plug a gopher hole "with straw and stones", from which "the water runs."  Those final words at the end of the poem link back to the first word "Again", and link so strongly that any of three lines could introduce the poem.  

That is to say, you can begin reading on any line of this poem, and as long as you follow the sequence of lines that CAS has established, the meaning of the work is clear and intact.

Once again, I am impressed with how intentional so much of CAS' writing in verse is: nothing is accidental, every line is crafted with care, and his word choices are never a matter of mere convenience.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Fallen Grape-Leaf

Read "Fallen Grape-Leaf" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a rather sad little poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), associating the fading colors of autumn with the speaker's "deciduous heart".  The suggestion is that the speaker himself is inconstant in his romantic affections, but that thought is alleviated by the eternal renewal of the seasonal cycle: love may yet bloom again, even as the spring does.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Poet in A Barroom

Read "Poet in A Barroom" at The Eldritch Dark:

I can't help suspecting that this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was inspired by a personal experience, given that CAS was known to sometimes frequent bars in his hometown of Auburn, California.  

There's a sense of isolation in the final line "One peers from a time-lost star."  The life of a poet working in a small rural town must have had many challenges, and CAS' letters often speak of his frustration with his circumstances, as an artist living in a community that did not seem to place great value on creative endeavors. 

Despite that, the sense of isolation in "Poet in A Barroom" is not complete; the speaker appears to be including himself amongst those who "Throng the bar".  If indeed this poem is autobiographical, I think that sentiment reflects the fact that CAS was not aloof, although perhaps something of a reserved personality.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Pool At Lobos

Read "Pool At Lobos" at The Eldritch Dark:

Point Lobos was a part of the California landscape beloved to George Sterling, who would pass on that love to both Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) and Robinson Jeffers, younger poets to whom Sterling served as something of a mentor. 

Sterling spent part of his life in nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Point Lobos found its way into his verse, as in the somewhat overwrought "An Alter of the West", which has moments of beauty scattered amongst the verbosity:

Past Carmel lies a headland that the deep—
A Titan at his toil—
Has graven with the measured surge and sweep
Of waves that broke ten thousand years ago.

CAS wrote a beautiful essay called "George Sterling: Poet and Friend" which contains this evocative passage:

Robinson Jeffers has written of Sterling's Indian-like familiarity with the coast about Carmel. Truly, he was the genius of that scene and nothing escaped his observation and knowledge. I remember the hidden sea-cavern that he showed me below Point Lobos; the places where wild strawberries grew the thickest; the abalone-reefs; and the furtive incursions of a strange lurid red fungus that he pointed out to me on the Lobos cypresses.

The inspirational quality of the spectacular setting of Point Lobos is evident in that passage, and even more so in Jeffers' long poem "Point Pinos and Point Lobos", as in this short excerpt:

Gray granite ridges over swinging pits of sea, pink stone-crop spangles 
Stick in the stone, the stiff plates of the cypress boughs divide the sea's breath, 
Hard green cutting soft gray...

In "Pool At Lobos", CAS presents a humbler experience, but one that has considerable charm, achieved by capturing the almost imperceptible movement of water in the slow gyrations of sea anemones and shells.

Sterling, Jeffers, and Smith are certainly not the only artists that have ever found inspiration at Point Lobos, but their unique responses to those surroundings are wonderfully individual and reflective of the variety of expression that is possible via the medium of poetry.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Storm's End

Read "Storm's End" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) beautifully captures the return of calm after a powerful natural disturbance.  Quite striking is the closing phrase "bolt-cloven pine" which captures so much in so few words: the tree that is home to the vulture's nest has been struck by lightning, and it seems likely that the nest itself may be damaged or destroyed.  CAS' careful choice of words really delivers an impactful "haiku moment" in "Storm's End".

Monday, February 15, 2021

High Mountain Juniper

Read "High Mountain Juniper" at The Eldritch Dark:

The hardy conifers of the genus Juniperus are commonly found at the very edge of tree lines at high elevations, and this haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) celebrates these remarkable plants.  

It's worth noting that some of the oldest living junipers are found in the Sierra Nevadas, not too far from CAS' hometown of Auburn, California.  A couple of these (the Scofield Juniper and the Bennett Juniper) are both estimated to be well over two thousand years old.  So when CAS describes his "High Mountain Juniper" as being "Mortised in granite aeons", it's no exaggeration!

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Crows in Spring

Read "Crows in Spring" at The Eldritch Dark:

I'm reading this poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) in the middle of a February snowstorm in Seattle.  Normally there are a lot of crows around where I live, but the inclement weather is keeping many of them out-of-sight.  

So reading "Crows in Spring" gives me something to look forward to, when the sun breaking through the cloud layer animates the lives that are dormant for the moment.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Improbable Dream

Read "Improbable Dream" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the last in a series of three haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that take as their subject the residents of a Catholic covent near his home in Auburn, California. 

This one moves beyond the landscape of the physical world into the strange realms of dreamland, and (as with the earlier poems in the series) takes inspiration from the cloistered lives of the religious sisters, and imagines one of them breaking free of her vows and reveling in her sensual humanity.

I can't help but suspect that CAS saw this "Improbable Dream" as something positive, with its implication of a willing embrace of the full possibilities of the human experience.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Nuns Walking in the Orchard

Read "Nuns Walking in the Orchard" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the second in a series of three haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) dealing with the Auburn (California) Foundation of The Religious Sisters of Mercy.  

As with "Spring Nunnery" (see my previous blog post), "Nuns Walking in the Orchard" draws a strong contrast, in this case between the "Sable-robed" nuns and the "red cherries / Ripening with June."  It's a rich visual image, but it also emboldens my theory that CAS is suggesting a divergence between the cloistered lives of the Sisters and the fecund phenomenon of early summer, as nature pours forth the fleshy bounty of a very physical world.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Spring Nunnery

Read "Spring Nunnery" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is the first of three haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that refer to the Auburn Foundation of The Religious Sisters of Mercy, an international order of Catholic women.  According to their website:

In the early 1940’s the community moved to its present Motherhouse in Auburn. It was at that time that the community became known as the Sisters of Mercy of Auburn.

In a couple different reminiscences of CAS, writers have noted that he would jokingly refer to "The Nunnery of Averoigne" in describing his neighbors devoted to the consecrated life.  For an example of such a memoir, see Rah Hoffman's "Letter on Clark Ashton Smith":

It's interesting that in "Spring Nunnery", CAS describes "the nunnery's cold / Walls" in contrast to the warmer phrases that end the poem: "the poplar-leaves unfold, / Plums are flowering."  There's always a danger of over-reading, especially with a very short poem, but then again nothing is accidental in CAS' poetry, and one can detect some of his dislike of organized religion in speaking of the "cold Walls" that surround the contemplative Sisters.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021


Read "Mushroom-Gatherers" at The Eldritch Dark: 

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) presents something of an inversion of the usual "rules" of the haiku form in English, which typically uses a pattern of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables.

In "Mushroom-Gatherers", CAS instead uses five, five, and seven syllables.  This works very well rhythmically, since the pace of reading resembles that of a limerick, where pairs of short lines lead into a longer closing line that provides the humorous "payoff" (see for example the many limericks authored by Edward Lear).

This is one of the reasons that I find a close study of CAS' poetry to be so rewarding: he was an artist that respected established poetic forms, but freely adapted those structures to suit his own needs, often with quite remarkable results.

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Last Apricot

Read "The Last Apricot" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) includes an interesting example of consonance, where each line concludes on a syllable ending on the letter "t" (it, rot, cot).  

Those hard consonant sounds embellish the central image of the apricot "splashed in rot", an interesting twist on the "haiku moment" where the insight is disappointing rather then elevating.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Sparrow's Nest

Read "The Sparrow's Nest" at The Eldritch Dark:

This simple poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) celebrates a seemingly accidental discovery, as the speaker braves unwelcoming "thorned blackberries" and "unpruned peach" boughs to experience the simple delight of viewing a bird's nest in amongst all the overgrown vegetation.  It's a wonderful celebration of the small rewards available to a careful and patient observer of the natural world.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Reigning Empress

Read "Reigning Empress" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) might describe Helen of Troy, the mythological queen of Sparta whose abduction led to the Trojan War.  The cultural legacy of those events is immense, and CAS is certainly correct that they provide a rich source from which "Time shall make his metaphors."

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Foggy Night

Read "Foggy Night" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) introduces a modern touch, moving beyond the experiences of idyllic nature that are so often associated with this particular poetic form.  The presence of a prostrate inebriate prompts the action of "Hastening" on the part of the speaker, giving the poem a tone of action and movement rather than reflection and contemplation.  

I'm quite impressed with the complexity that CAS is able to convey in these three short lines, as the reader can easily interpret the speaker's feelings about the drunkard without the poet actually articulating that information.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Geese in the Spring Night

Read "Geese in the Spring Night" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) calls to mind a beautiful woodblock print from Katsushika Hokusai (as shown above).  The English title of the print has been rendered variously in English as "Full Moon", "Descending Geese and Full Moon" or "Geese, Reeds and Full Moon".

I have no evidence that CAS was familiar with Japanese prints in the ukiyo-e style with which Hokusai is strongly associated, but it wouldn't surprise me if he was, given that these works had become well-known in Europe and North America by the late nineteenth century.  There is a definite aesthetic sympathy between the haiku poetry form and contemplative images rendered in the ukiyo-e style, a combination which would seem to have a strong appeal to someone of CAS' artistic temperament.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Stormy Afterglow

Read "Stormy Afterglow" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) goes beyond the placid experiences he typically describes in his verse in the haiku form.  The last two lines of "Stormy Afterglow" invoke a violent moment as "Lightning tore the clouds' tall / Rose and violet scarps."  It's interesting to see CAS write about such a dramatic event in the (often) subtle structure of the haiku, demonstrating the vast possibilities of even such a short poetic form.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Phallus Impudica

Read "Phallus Impudica" at the Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is named for the undeniably phallic Common Stinkhorn, ubiquitous throughout the United States and generally appearing late in the growing season.  It's a simple nature study, and the haiku form is ideal for delivering this sort of small but vivid impression.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Nocturnal Pines

Read "Nocturnal Pines" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) captures a moment of viewing the constellations at night.  The closing line "Spoke the turning Signs" suggests the deep resonances embodied in the anthropomorphic associations humans have assigned to each of the constellations, many associated with myths that inspired other poems from CAS' pen.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Late Pear-Pruner

Read "Late Pear-Pruner" at The Eldritch Dark:

This beautiful haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is a wonderful portent of the coming spring, at least for me as I write this during a gloomy late January in Seattle.  

CAS makes use of alliteration throughout this poem, beginning with the letter "p" in the first line, "b" in the second line, and "s" in the third line (with an echo of the "p" alliteration in the word "path").  

The closing line "Strewed the path of spring" captures a wonderful sentiment of the magic of the vernal season, rich with floral and vegetative abundance.  It'll be here soon...

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Declining Moon

Read "Declining Moon" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) really demonstrates the power of that short poetic form to render specific events with wonderful accuracy, such that readers can immediately recall experiences of their own that echo what the poet is describing.  Even the simple closing phrase "Clouds ring the moon" has such directness and clarity that it translates easily to a visual imagining.

As I read further into CAS' work in the haiku form, I'm continually impressed by how readily he transitioned from the "grand manner" of his longer poems in traditional English metrical forms into the magically succinct Japanese form of haiku.  It really speaks to his deeply ingrained poetic talent, which he could apply across a variety of verse structures without getting lost in the technical demands of a particular form (as evidenced by his ready willingness to "break the rules" of the haiku whenever it suited his creative inclinations).