Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Unknown

Here's another poem that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) created in both English and Spanish versions (the latter was titled "Lo Ignoto").  Neither version was published in his lifetime, and neither version is available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete English text:

The vaults of time and space
hold no exemplar of thy beauty; 
and no sculptor has chiseled the same 
conception of thy form and of thy features.

Drawn on by some mendacious magnetism,
we seek and never find thy perishable
palace...and the lantern of paths occult
has never shown thee in thy nearness.

Hidest thou in the constellated night?
or dwellest in the atom's deep abyss?
Discovered, wilt thou be a burnt-out pyre,
or the new flame of an unheard-of world?...

or light from heaven in terrestrial beacons?...
or ignis fatuus of the quagmires?

(The Latin phrase "ignis fatuus" can be translated into English as "wisp").

CAS was certainly a romantic poet in the grandest sense, a seeker after beauty and the sublime.  Hence his interest in enormous concept of the unknown, and this poem takes a surprisingly ambivalent stance, as the speaker hopes for "the new flame of an unheard-of world" but may have to settle for "a burnt-out pyre".

The key phrase comes earlier in the poem, where the lure of the unknown is described as possessing a "mendacious magnetism".  The poets and the artists are ever in quest of that which may in fact be completely illusory, but somehow that does not diminish the value of the quest itself.

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