Monday, January 3, 2022

The Dark Chateau

Read "The Dark Chateau" at The Eldritch Dark:

It's worth noting that in the version on The Eldritch Dark, the fifth stanza has a couple of significant typos, so here's the corrected version of that stanza:

Hoar silence is the seneschal
Of court and keep, of niche and coigne.
With drumless ear no lute annoys,
Nor clang from farring jambarts drawn,
Death, with dulled arrasses for pall,
Waits whitely there; and none will join
Your quest, nor ever any voice
Speak from the chambered epochs gone:

This is the title poem from Clark Ashton Smith's first collection of poetry published by Arkham House: The Dark Chateau and Other Poems (1951).  

It's a powerfully supernatural poem, rich with Poesque detail ("Beneath a swathed and mummied sun").  It traces a journey beginning with death, through the nether regions to a ghostly reincarnation, a doom to haunt forever the dark chateau of the title.  The ultimate absence of life is beautifully expressed in these lines from the fourth stanza:

Pause, and look forth: no ghost remains
Save you to gaze on that dim ground
Where once the budding almond-bough
Waved, and the oleander-spray.

CAS is justly renowned for his extensive English vocabulary, and "The Dark Chateau" gives him plenty of opportunity to put that knowledge to work, with such unusual terms as "jambart" (a piece of leg armor) and "lampadephore" (a contestant in a torch-race).  

Although the use of exotic diction can challenge the reader, CAS' word choice is always very deliberate.  The word "jambart" provides an interesting case study.  "Jambart" is more commonly rendered in English as "jambeau"; the word is derived from the French term "jambe", which simply means "leg" in English.

CAS puts the word to use in the fifth stanza in the lines "With drumless ear no lute annoys, / Nor clang from farring jambarts drawn".  By referring to one small piece of a complete set of medieval armor, the author invokes the clanking sounds of knights in motion, which his ghostly protagonist cannot hear.  The use of the word "jambarts" grants those lines a wonderful contrast to the sweeter sounds of a lute, challenging them with the harsh metallic tones of war.  

It's an impressive effect that expands the soundscape of the poem, and a perfect demonstration of CAS' careful use of language to achieve masterful poetic art.

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