Saturday, February 5, 2022


Read "Malediction" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) seems to be the very definition of "weird poetry", powered by the grim, rich imagery that only CAS could articulate:

While the kraken, blind and white,

Guards the greening books abhorred
Where the evil oghams rust—
In accurst Atlantis stored;

A line like "Guards the greening books abhorred" is my kind of poetry: vivid, musical, and capable of inspiring the reader's imagination to travel to all sorts of exotic realms.

But what catches my attention in "Malediction" is the broken rhythm, an unusual technique for CAS which works very well here.  The poem roughly follows a villanelle form, but only in its general outline.  Where a traditional villanelle uses repeated lines in a predictable sequence, CAS abandons that approach in favor of introducing several lines with the word "While" ("Where" is substituted in one instance), but the sequence is not regular: of the nineteen lines in "Malediction", six of them begin with one of those key words: the first, fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth, and thirteenth lines.

The pattern noted above speeds the cadence of reading in the middle stanzas (two through five), and then suggests a natural pause at the beginning of the final stanza:

Never shall the spell be done
And the curse be lifted never
That shall find and leave you one

With forgotten things for ever.

(I'm considering the final four lines of "Malediction" as a quatrain, even though the last line has been offset, since these lines read as a single sentence).

The repetition of the word "never" with an unusual rhythm (fist appearing at the beginning of a line, and later at the end of a line) injects a sense of inescapable fate, the malison that will haunt you forever.  

I imagine (although I can't really know) that CAS began writing "Malediction" as a traditional villanelle, and then altered the form to fit the intended meaning in revision.  It's a great example of CAS' formalist tendencies giving way as needed to best serve the language and the subject matter.  And by any measure, it's a great poem!

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