Sunday, January 31, 2021

Nocturnal Pines


Read "Nocturnal Pines" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/378/nocturnal-pines

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:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/288/late-pear-pruner

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:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/121/declining-moon

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:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/226/harvest-evening

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:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/221/growth-of-lichen

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:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/187/fence-and-wall

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: 

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/212/the-ghost-of-theseus

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:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/400/odysseus-in-eternity

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

Lethe




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

Borderland




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

Philtre

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:


                                                 Then
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

Paphnutius




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:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/184/feast-of-st.-anthony

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:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/485/the-sciapod

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:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/242/a-hunter-meets-the-martichoras

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

Unicorn



Read "Unicorn" at The Eldritch Dark:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/621/unicorn

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

Someone

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

Quiddity



Read "Quiddity" at The Eldritch Dark: 

http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/poetry/457/quiddity

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.