Thursday, February 17, 2022

Alpine Climber

Here's another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime.  Since it's not available on The Eldritch Dark, here's the complete text:

Above the zone of scented pines, above
The stance of granite-mortised junipers, 
He climbs by cliff-won inches.  The bleak sun
Flames like a titan pharos based with snows
Upon the untaken tower he covets. Earth
Broadens afar its bowl of vertigo

With peak-fanged chasms deepening underneath...
As one who mounts a throne of vanished gods,
Wind-clean and vacant, gazing on stark visnes
Of white-horizoned Thule he takes hold
Of the ultimate ice-sharp edge, and rears upon
That glacial source from which no trickle flows

To torrents nursed by lesser alps. He stands
Till, tranced amid the hawkless heavens lone,
He feels the world turn under him, he hangs
Nadirward-pointing from an inverse peak,
And hears the cataracting eons roar
And crash adown the planet-bouldered deeps.

As with several poems that CAS wrote about the group of Christian ascetics known as the stylites, "Alpine Climber" concerns a seeker.  This alpinist initially has material concerns ("the untaken tower he covets"), but in the last stanza, his experience transfers significantly upon achieving his goal.

At the very tip of the peak he has sought to conquer, the climber "feels the world turn under him", and his perspective is shifted, almost literally turned upside down, and he "hears the cataracting eons roar / And crash adown the planet-bouldered deeps."

Similar to poems such as "The Stylite" and "Paphnutius", CAS presents "Alpine Climber" as a metaphor for the act of seeking the ineffable, reaching beyond the ordinary and the everyday in search of what lies at the very extremity of our sensual perceptions.  It's a powerful statement from a poet who lived a humble life on the material plane, but whose imagination and creativity allowed him to soar to heights his neighbors probably never imagined!

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