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). 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Willow-Cutting in Autumn

Read "Willow-Cutting in Autumn" at The Eldritch Dark:

This beautiful haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) speaks to my own memories from many years of living on the East Coast of the United States, where willow trees are so common and so noticeable throughout the year for their distinct "weeping" growth habit.  Once their small leaves begin to drop late in the fall season, they do indeed become "Slender wings of yellow."

Monday, January 25, 2021

Harvest Evening

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

Abandoned Plum-Orchard

Read "Abandoned Plum-Orchard" at The Eldritch Dark:

This simple nature study from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) paints a vivid image of neglected fruit trees in decline, enhanced by the reference to mistletoe, which is parasitic to host trees.  The "dying croft" that the poet describes is beautiful despite the evidence of decline, a reminder of the temporary span of all organic life.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Cats in Winter Sunlight

Read "Cats in Winter Sunlight" at The Eldritch Dark:

Anyone who has ever lived with cats will recognize the scenario Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) describes in "Cats in Winter Sunlight".  Cats are true sun worshippers, and my own cat migrates through my home during the short winter days as he follows the scant rays of sunlight as they move from east to west.

I believe that CAS had cats when he lived in his cabin near Auburn, California.  His "Experiments in Haiku" are dated to 1947, several years before he met and married Carol Jones Dorman, so we can assume he was still living in the cabin when he wrote this poem.  

In that setting, one can assume the felines performed a practical function in helping with rodent control.  But there is an undeniable touch of affection in "Cats in Winter Sunlight", indicating that CAS saw his cats as true companions.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Growth of Lichen

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

Fence And Wall

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

The Ghost of Theseus

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

Odysseus in Eternity

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

Perseus And Medusa

Read "Perseus And Medusa" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) refers to one of best-known fables from Greek mythology, a tale which has been retold in many forms over the centuries. 

What captures my attention is a skillful but subtle use of word soundings.  The most interesting case is that of the end rhymes, starting with the word "stare", transitioning through "glories" and ending with "glare."  That last word is of course built from elements of each of the preceding rhyming words, which gives the rhyme a nuance which is quite effective.

Short as "Perseus And Medusa" is, CAS wasn't done there: he also uses alliteration between "met" and "mirrored" in the first line, and "stare" and "stone" across the first and second lines, and a similar pattern between "glories" and "Gorgon's glare."

That's a lot of technique to pack into a fifteen-word poem, but none of it is mere stylistic bravado: CAS carefully builds the musicality of "Perseus And Medusa" in such a way that when read aloud, the speaker has all the correct queues to capture the poem's offset rhythm.  It's a real standout among CAS' poems in the haiku format.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Empusa Waylays a Traveller

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

In my mule's long shadow
On the moon-wan waste,
Hung Empusa, horror-faced.

One of the original sources for the bizarre creature known as the Empusa is Aristophanes' comic play Frogs, the story of the god Dionysus' journey to the underworld to retrieve the dead playwright Euripides.  Dionysus makes the journey with his slave Xanthias, and upon alighting on the shores of Pluto's kingdom, the duo encounter this most curious of monsters:

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.

In CAS' short poem, the traveller encounters this shape-shifting, "horror-faced" creature.  As readers, we are left to imagine how the confrontation will resolve itself, but it seems unlikely that it will end well for the traveller.

Friday, January 15, 2021


Read "Lethe" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) shares a title with several other poems from the same writer, and the mythical river of forgetfulness is frequently invoked throughout his poetic corpus.

CAS included this poem in a section of his Selected Poems (1971) called "Strange Miniatures", which is a sub-section of "Experiments in Haiku".  As with other verses that he included in that broad grouping, "Lethe" does not adhere to the traditional definition of the haiku form in English*: three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables.  However, at sixteen syllables, "Lethe" is close to the traditional length of an English haiku, and it certainly adheres to Kenneth Yasuda's concept of a "haiku moment" (which I described in my blog post on CAS' poem "The Limniad").

*The Poetry Foundation provides a succinct description of the haiku form in their excellent Glossary of Poetic Terms:

Thursday, January 14, 2021


Read "Borderland" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) describes a scene reminiscent of the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, a place I was fortunate to visit as a child, and which is still vivid in my imagination.  

I'm not aware that CAS ever visited that eerie landscape himself, but it seems possible that he might have visited the Petrified Forest in Sonoma County, northern California.  That property is privately owned, but has been open for public admission since the early twentieth century.  

It's no surprise to me that CAS might find creative inspiration from the bizarre phenomenon of petrified wood.  Although the biochemical process of petrification is well understood, to actually see the remains of a tree that has been transformed into stone feels like being in the presence of alchemical magic, one of those strange moments when the veil of reality seems just a little bit frail.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021


Read "Philtre" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) paints an eccentric picture of large and small legendary creatures battling over a precious water source.  The incorporation of pygmies into this poem reminds me of CAS' much longer work The Hashish Eater, as the diminutive race plays a role in that extended fever dream:

I watch a war of pygmies, met by night,
With pitter of their drums of parrot's hide,
On plains with no horizon, where a god
Might lose his way for centuries...

The Hashish Eater also features a "captive giant" who has helped to build a contraption used by "lunar wizards" to capture a roc, beautifully described as a "monstrous, moonquake-throbbing bird".  

Despite its short length, "Philtre" is informed by the same sort of verbal magic that powered The Hashish Eateralbeit in a more modest form.  It's truly impressive how CAS could capture such an evocative scene in a mere fourteen words (I'm including the title in that count since it's a significant part of the complete work).

Tuesday, January 12, 2021


Read "Paphnutius" at The Eldritch Dark:

My blogging journey through the poetic works of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) largely follows the Hippocampus Press edition of The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith, edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.  In their notes for this particular haiku, they state the the title references Paphnutius of Thebes, an Egyptian bishop of the fourth century.

However, I think the editors might be wrong in this case, since in context it makes more sense that CAS titles this haiku in honor of Paphnutius the Ascetic, an Egyptian anchorite also of the fourth century.  I say this because the poem references the Stylites, that curious group of Christian ascetics who preached and prayed from the top of pillars, in pursuit of the same sort of religious goals that inspired Paphnutius' own reclusive lifestyle.

The verse itself is a simple observation of diurnal cycles, rendered with the immediacy that captures the "haiku moment".  What's curious to me is that this is one of several haiku that CAS wrote that deal with explicitly Christian themes, an unusual topic for a writer who had little patience with organized religion.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Feast of St. Anthony

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

The Monacle

Read "The Monacle" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) would appear to be closely related to "The Sciapod", another haiku from CAS that I blogged about yesterday.  Although the word "monacle" is obscure, the poem itself appears to describe a monopod, the mythological creature with a single leg ending in a single oversize foot.

The closing line "In lands of wonder" is simple but hugely evocative, encompassing the immense territory of legend and fable, ending this short poem with a suggestion of the unlimited scope of the human imagination.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Sciapod

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

The Limniad

Read "The Limniad" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) concerns a lake nymph, and is a good example of what Kenneth Yasuda described as "a haiku moment", which he defined thusly:

...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.

In "The Limniad", CAS satisfies these criteria by presenting a concrete image of the nymph rising to the water's surface, causing a rupture and color transition in the green surface of the pool.  It successfully captures the visual quality of a specific moment without excess verbiage or description.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

A Hunter Meets the Martichoras

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 diversion: Kenneth Yasuda on CAS

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

Untold Arabian Fable

Read "Untold Arabian Fable" at The Eldritch Dark:

This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) references Balkis, an alternate name for the biblical Queen of Sheba.  The poem would appear to be inspired by I Kings 10:2, as highlighted at the following link:

In this poem, CAS succeeds wonderfully in giving the reader just enough detail to fire the imagine around this "Untold Arabian Fable".  The combination of a biblical queen with the enormous legendary avian predator is rife with all sorts of narrative possibilities, and CAS inspires that with a mere dozen words!

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

Dying Prospector

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

With my shovel, pick and bar,
I shall dig
The shining placers of the moon
And the star-
Loded mines.

Mines played a role in CAS' own life in and around Auburn, California.  At various times CAS did mining work himself, and found source material for his sculptural work therein.  And so in "Dying Prospector" CAS gives us a portrait of an eternal digger, whose quest for riches will not be impeded even by death itself.

Saturday, January 2, 2021


Read "Someone" at The Eldritch Dark:

This is a rather sad poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), capturing the eternal questing and yearning which is an essential part of the human experience.  It's somewhat notable as a rare poem from CAS that mentions an infant; the vast majority of his poems relate to adult experiences.

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.