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.