Tuesday, November 30, 2021


This haiku from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished is his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the full text:

Pentheus, come not here
Where the thyrsi rear
And the maenads' frenzy mounts.

As with CAS' poem "Bacchic Orgy", which I blogged about yesterday, "Abstainer" refers to the fascinating cult of the maenads, and their strange relationship to their patron Bacchus (aka Dionysus).  To quote from Edith Hamilton's Mythology (chapter II):

The worship of Dionysus was centered in these two ideas so far apart - of freedom and ecstatic joy and of savage brutality.  The God of Wine could give either to his worshippers.  Throughout the story of his life he is sometimes man's blessing, sometimes his ruin.

In the case of Pentheus, it was surely the latter, as he was speared to death by his own mother: Agave of Thebes, the queen of the maenads.  The story ends on an even grizzlier note as the band of maenads tear Pentheus' body apart with their bare hands.  CAS' "Abstainer" thus serves as something of an unheeded warning delivered much too late.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Bacchic Orgy

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

Still, beneath the gibbous moon,
Bacchus-led, the maenad crew
Drank and danced and slew.

The maenads (or female followers of Bacchus/Dionysus) are a subject that CAS treated in the earlier poem "Bacchante", which I blogged about last year.  Because "Bacchante" is a portrait of CAS' friend Madelynne Greene, it has a considerably different tone from that of "Bacchic Orgy", and yet the powerful presence of the maenads can be found there as well:

Behind, before us sweep
Maenad and Bassarid in spectral rout
With many an unheard shout;
Cithaeron looms with every festal steep
Over this hill resolved to dream and doubt.

I'm not surprised that the mythical figures of the ecstatic, intoxicated maenads had a strong appeal for CAS, given his passion for the unrestricted expression of the creative impulse, not to mention his fondness for wine!  Despite their violent reputation, the unrepressed nature of the maenads has an undeniable appeal to our wilder natures.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Initiate of Dionysus

This short poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available at The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Pagan shadows fill the eyes
Of one who shares 
Even once the Mysteries.

In the Hippocampus Press edition of The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith, the editors note that "the Mysteries" refers to the Eleusinian Mysteries of the ancient Greek cult of Demeter and Persephone.  The god Dionysus was tangentially involved in those same Mysteries.

The opening phrase "Pagan shadows" feels right in line with the author's general oeuvre, especially if the reader recalls his short fiction set in the (fictional) medieval realm of Averoigne, where pious Christians are routinely undermined and undone by entities from the primeval forests encircling the helpless cathedrals and monasteries. 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Felo-de-se of the Parasite

Read "Felo-de-se of the Parasite" at The Eldritch Dark:


The Latin phrase "felo de se" refers to a person who commits suicide.

In a letter to fellow writer Samuel Loveman* from 1919 (many years before this haiku was written), Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) provided some interesting background with reference to his home in California's Sierra Nevada foothills:

Glad you got the mistletoe.  It's very common here, and even kills some of the oaks on which it flourishes as a parasite.  I've seen them thicker with mistletoe than they ever were with their own foliage.  I admit a fondness for the stuff, with its old Druidic associations.

It's interesting how in this short poem "Felo-de-se of the Parasite" CAS casts the parasitic mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) as a suicidal pest of the mighty oak, but of course, that is the fate of all parasitic plants which eventually kill their hosts.

*See letter #144 in Born Under Saturn: The Letters of Samuel Loveman and Clark Ashton Smith published by Hippocampus Press.

Friday, November 26, 2021


Read "Water-Hemlock" at The Eldritch Dark:


Yesterday, I posted about Clark Ashton Smith's (CAS) poem "Berries of the Deadly Nightshade", which takes for its topic the toxic fruit of Atropa belladonna.  The common name "water hemlock" is applied to several plants of the genus Cicuta, most of which are also poisonous to humans.  As the relevant Wikipedia article reminds us, "Water hemlock is considered one of North America's most toxic plants." 

So its not a surprise that CAS chose to write about water hemlock, given his predilection for looking beneath the surface of things and seeing beyond the pretty flowers (as shown above).  The closing phrase "Rooted with death" has dual meanings, given that the roots of water hemlock tend to have the highest concentration of cicutoxin, but also highlighting the inability of "the south wind's breath" to displace the threat.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Berries of the Deadly Nightshade

Life circumstances have kept me from blogging the last few months, but I hope to start doing so more frequently as the grey days of fall and winter keep me indoors!

So back to business: 

Read "Berries of the Deadly Nightshade" at The Eldritch Dark:


Atropa belladonna (or "deadly nightshade") is mentioned several times throughout the creative work of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS), as in this related poem which I blogged about earlier: 


With the haiku "Berries of the Deadly Nightshade", CAS perfectly distills the essence of the longer poem "To the Nightshade" by zeroing in on the part of the plant that is toxic to humans.  In "To the Nightshade", he gave us:

...purple like the agony of Death,
And their fruit as its livid consummation.

Compare that to the similarly grim outro of "Berries of the Deadly Nightshade":

Laden with slumber
Of nights that have no number.

The skill of the maturing poet is evident in the transition from "the agony of Death" to "slumber / Of nights that have no number".  That closing line is wonderful all by itself, alliterative and rhythmically perfect.  How glad I am to get back to the project of reading and reveling in all of CAS' poetry!