Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Monday, March 1, 2021
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
Was not the people's blessing as we pastHeart-comfort and a balsam to thy blood?
Saturday, February 27, 2021
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
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
Monday, February 22, 2021
Sunday, February 21, 2021
Saturday, February 20, 2021
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:
Friday, February 19, 2021
Thursday, February 18, 2021
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
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:
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:
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
Monday, February 15, 2021
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
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Monday, February 8, 2021
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
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
Thursday, February 4, 2021
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
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
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
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
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
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
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).
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Monday, January 25, 2021
Read "Harvest Evening" at The Eldritch Dark:
In this haiku, Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) paints a landscape in the red and yellow coloration of day's end.
Until reading this short poem, I had never previously encountered the verb "raddle", one definition of which is to "color coarsely with red or rouge." CAS' use of that word demonstrates the careful way he approached diction, since the short length of the haiku form demands that each word is significant.
Combined with alliteration on the letter "b", the musicality of "raddled" in the closing line of "Harvest Evening" gives the reading a momentum that echoes the movement of the cows through the sunset.
Sunday, January 24, 2021
Saturday, January 23, 2021
Friday, January 22, 2021
Read "Growth of Lichen" at The Eldritch Dark:
Lichens are mentioned in several poems from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), and this haiku makes for an interesting companion piece to the longer poem "Lichens" (see my blog post on that poem).
In that post I mentioned "CAS' ability to see the inherent magic in the lowly (and easily-ignored) lichens", which applies as well to the haiku "Growth of Lichen". In this short verse, CAS tracks the many days that have passed over a slow-growing patch of lichen.
These unusual life forms (the composite of a fungus with either algae or cyanobacteria) have annual growth rates of just one or two millimeters, so CAS is not exaggerating in his closing line "Ten thousand suns have gone."
Lichens hold a special interest for me, since in years previous I was on the verge of becoming a graduate student in lichenology, but was lured away by better opportunities in the software industry. Despite not pursuing that particular path, I've never lost my interest in one of this planet's most unusual organisms, so CAS' careful observations of the lowly lichen have a real resonance for me.
Thursday, January 21, 2021
Read "Fence And Wall" at The Eldritch Dark:
This is the first of a series of haiku that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) grouped together under the heading "Distillations". That grouping was included both in Spells and Philtres (1958) and in the omnibus Selected Poems (1971).
Compared to the short poems that CAS included in the grouping titled "Strange Miniatures" (see preceding entries on this blog), "Fence And Wall" more closely adheres to the conventions of the haiku form in English, particularly in following the pattern of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. However, he does use an end rhyme between the first and last lines, whereas haiku in English are typically unrhymed.
I really enjoy poems from CAS that have the quality of a nature study, and the haiku form gave him an ideal way to capture a fleeting element of the physical world in the literary equivalent of a single brush stroke.
Tuesday, January 19, 2021
Read "The Ghost of Theseus" at The Eldritch Dark:
This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) is the last in a grouping of poems labeled "Strange Miniatures" from his omnibus Selected Poems (1971). It is of course inspired by the well-known story of the legendary Athenian hero exploring the labyrinth in order to confront the fearsome Minotaur.
CAS describes the aftermath of that famous event, suggesting that upon Theseus' own death, he was doomed to haunt the maze-like interior of the labyrinth, essentially taking the place of the Minotaur, although in a spectral form. It does speak to a sort of poetic justice, given that the Minotaur was an innocent, the unnatural offspring of a bull and King Minos' wife Pasiphaë, a coupling triggered by the god Poseidon as an act of revenge on Pasiphaë's husband.
Monday, January 18, 2021
Read "Odysseus in Eternity" at The Eldritch Dark:
While Homer's Odyssey provides great detail on a particular part of the life of Odysseus, that long narrative ends before the hero's death. So the ultimate fate of one of mythology's most famous names remains obscure.
In this haiku, Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) elegantly fills the gap by suggesting that even in aged decline, the hero will seek new adventures in the realm beyond this life, questing evermore for glorious exploits.
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Saturday, January 16, 2021
XANTHIAS: Hallo! I hear a noise.DIONYSUS: Where? what?XANTHIAS: Behind us, there.DIONYSUS: Get you behind.XANTHIAS: No, it's in front.DIONYSUS: Get you in front directly.XANTHIAS: And now I see the most ferocious monster.DIONYSUS: O, what's it like?XANTHIAS: Like everything by turns. Now it's a bull: now it's a mule: and now the loveliest girl.DIONYSUS: O, where? I'll go and meet her.XANTHIAS: It's ceased to be a girl: it's a dog now.DIONYSUS: It is Empusa!XANTHIAS: Well, its face is all ablaze with fire.DIONYSUS: Has it a copper leg?XANTHIAS: A copper leg? yes, one; and one of cow dung.
Friday, January 15, 2021
Thursday, January 14, 2021
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Monday, January 11, 2021
Read "Feast of St. Anthony" at The Eldritch Dark:
As Omoultakos pointed out in my blog post on "The Sciapod", Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was an admirer of the French writer Gustave Flaubert, and one can assume that the haiku "Feast of St. Anthony" was inspired by Flaubert's novel La Tentation de Saint Antoine (1874), known in English as The Temptation of Saint Anthony.
The poem transforms the meaning of the word "feast" as it is usually understood in the context of the calendar of saints into the more familiar notion of a banquet, but with the addition of birds from myth and legend as guests at the feast. This seems to incorporate one of the famous temptations of St. Anthony, when he was assailed by demons in the guise of wild beasts.
It's an unusual topic for CAS, given the explicitly Christian subject matter, but as Omoultakos noted, likely more a consequence of CAS' interest in the writings of Flaubert rather than an expression of religious faith.
Sunday, January 10, 2021
Saturday, January 9, 2021
Read "The Sciapod" at The Eldritch Dark:
With this haiku, Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) expanded his series of short poems about legendary creatures, in this case focusing on the wonderful sciapod, more commonly known as the monopod.
I first encountered these magical creatures in C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), and they have entranced me ever since. There's something oddly elegant abut a one-legged creature who can rest in the shade of his own appendage, an elegance that CAS enhances with his closing phrase noting that the Sciapod can also root "his tresses in the sod."
Friday, January 8, 2021
...that moment of absolute intensity when the poet's grasp of his intuition is complete, so that the image lives its own life...It is a poetry without ideas, though there may be ideas in it...A successful haiku renders then a speaking, vibrant image.
Thursday, January 7, 2021
Read "A Hunter Meets the Martichoras" at The Eldritch Dark:
This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith features the legendary martichoras, better known in English as the manticore, a hideous beast combining aspects of a lion, a scorpion, and a human. According to the relevant Wikipedia article:
It devours its prey whole, using its triple rows of teeth, leaving no traces of its victims (including bones) behind.
Ouch! In CAS' poem, the human protagonist has to face this monster with a "broken sword", so this encounter is probably not going to end well. Such is the price of ambition and adventure.
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
A couple of days ago, Omoultakos made a very relevant comment in my blog post about Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) haiku "Unicorn", wherein he noted CAS' relationship with Kenneth Yasuda.
Although not many details of their relationship are known, they were both natives of Auburn, California and were both practicing poets. Yasuda notably authored the book The Japanese Haiku: Its Essential Nature, History, and Possibilities in English, with Selected Examples (1957). This book remains in print today as an e-book (the last printed edition was issued in 2002).
In the "Acknowledgements" section of his book, Yasuda mentions CAS:
This book was originally submitted to Tokyo University as a doctoral thesis in 1955 under the title On the Essential Nature and Poetic Intent of Haiku. It represents a formal presentation of material - a part of which first appeared in the introduction to my collection of haiku, A Pepper Pod - that is the culmination of an interest in haiku dating from many years ago.
I am very deeply indebted to many people for encouraging me to pursue that interest and for their help in clarifying my thinking and poetic practice. Among them are Masao Kume and Kyoshi Takahama in Japan; John Gould Fletcher, Clark Ashton Smith, Babette Deutsch, Mark Van Doren, and George Savage in America.
While something of a footnote in the life of CAS, this acknowledgement does indicate that CAS' poetic talents were recognized outside the small field of weird fiction writers, and seems to indicate that CAS had a substantial knowledge of the haiku poetic form.
Tuesday, January 5, 2021
Monday, January 4, 2021
Read "Unicorn" at The Eldritch Dark:
This is the first in a large series of poems that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) wrote in the haiku form. It's interesting that CAS adopted this form, both because it emphasizes very short, unrhymed verse, but also because the form was so popular with poetic modernists (such as Ezra Pound). As a general rule of thumb, CAS was not a huge fan of the modernist poetry movement, so I'm quite curious as to how The Bard of Auburn worked in this form.
"Unicorn" was included in Spells and Philtres (1958) CAS' second poetry collection published by Arkham House. Several poems in the haiku form were included in that volume under the heading "Strange Miniatures", and "Unicorn" is the lead entry in that section. Additional haiku are included in the same volume in a section titled "Distillations".
CAS includes end rhymes in "Unicorn", so from the get-go it's clear he was forging his own path even while adopting an established poetic form. He has used a legendary subject for his verse, clearly in line with his well-established interests in mythology and the weird.
It's not a standout poem by any means, but as an entrée into a new poetic technique late in CAS' career, it's a fascinating start to a new phase of his creative process.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
Saturday, January 2, 2021
Friday, January 1, 2021
Read "Quiddity" at The Eldritch Dark:
This curious poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) would seem to refer to his work as a sculptor in stone, with the suggestion that the creation of a sculpture separates the worked substance from its original mineral nature into something quite different and entirely new: a nice metaphor for the process of artistic creation.