Friday, March 25, 2022

Seer of the Cycles

Read "Seer of the Cycles" at The Eldritch Dark:

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) provided the title for one Roy Squires' letterpress editions of CAS' poetry published in 1976.  

This work has an hallucinatory quality, seemingly inspired by musings on the shapes and the movements of clouds.  Beyond the vivid imagery, it has a shapeless feel to it, lacking a central motif or idea, which is quite uncommon for CAS' work in verse.  It feels very much like the result of a pleasant day spent lying in the grass and watching the clouds float by overhead!  

Thursday, March 24, 2022


Read "Nada" at The Eldritch Dark:

The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a significant typo in the fifth line; the correct wording is shown below:

upon this sepulture adust and bare,

The poem's title is the Spanish word for "Nothing".

The theme of "Nada" could be expressed as the persistence of memory, even to the point that it becomes a curse for one who would rather forget.  The closing sestet is practically a complete poem all by itself, with a dark music reminiscent of the verse of Edgar Allan Poe:

Oblivion's river flows in other lands
than this where memory feeds a mordant spring:
the walking dead beseech with parching hands
the cool, far shadow of the raven's wing;
and, leaning from the mouldered bed of lust,
love's skeleton writes Nada in the dust.

There is a deep, grim finality to these lines, an acceptance that something great has been lost.  The love that was will never be again, and leaves little but bitterness and regret in its wake.  Clark Ashton Smith was approaching the age of sixty when he wrote "Nada", and a lifetime of experience speaks boldly through these lines.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

In Time of Absence

Here's another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete text:

Why come you not, as formerly you came, 
Bringing the wine-jug and the loaf of bread?
Have you forgot the kisses without stint,
The hair disheveled, and the tumbled bed?

What is it comes between and keeps you far,
While the stars change and chapless moons grow old,
While the green grasses whiten, and their seeds
Fall pale and parching on the rainless wold?

Silence and sunderance, with serpent fangs,
Would put their furtive poison in my blood;
I tear distorted masks of doubt, that fold
Your image with a false similitude.

I know the stifling horror of loneliness --
A horror that you too, my dear, have known:
In the dusty path conducting to my door
There are no other footprints than my own.

Among many poems of love that CAS wrote over his career, this one stands out for its stark recollection of the good days past and the darker days of the present.  A passionate affair is recalled in the first stanza, only for the rest of the poem to give way to regrets over what once was, but is no more.  The closing lines are particularly devastating:

In the dusty path conducting to my door
There are no other footprints than my own.

Although the beauty of "In Time of Absence" has a melancholy nature, it is nonetheless a remarkably effective poem.  I cannot help but be surprised that CAS did not choose to include this one in either of the Arkham House collections of his poetry that were published during his lifetime.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022


Here is another poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) that was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so the complete text follows.  Note that both the title and the body of the poem were written in all capital letters in the surviving manuscript.



In the Hippocampus Press edition of The Complete Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith, editors S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz describe this work as "A parody of modern poetry."  That seems to be a reasonable assertion, especially given CAS' choice to present the poem exclusively in capital letters, thus commenting on the tendency of modernist poetry to experiment with odd line spacings, page formatting, etc.  

"STYES WITH SPIRES" is most certainly a very minor effort from the Bard of Auburn, and it's no surprise he chose not to publish this one.

Monday, March 21, 2022

The Song of Songs

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

Purest aroma, and amber exquisite
Savorous honey that the bees have sucked;
The immaculate whiteness of the fleece of sheep;
The sanguine freshness of pomegranate-flowers,

The curling petals of the perfume iris,
eyes filled with ____ and ardor, vermilion n__ntels
Kisses of fire; amorous complaint
Caresses of the lover and the beloved

fruition of delight; fountain of life;
reflection cast by ____ luminaries;
intensest passion, born interiorly;
the celestial hymn that opens from human hearts...
such images the saddened soul will dream 
at any mention of the Song of Songs.

As seen in the text above, there are some gaps in the manuscript, indicating that this poem was a left in an incomplete state by the author.

It's unusual to find a poem from CAS that directly references a Biblical text.  And yet given the very earthy nature of the Song of Songs (aka Song of Solomon), it's not necessarily surprising to find that CAS would be inspired by this particular work.  His own metaphorical language echoes that of the King James version, part of which reads:

Behold, thou art fair, my love;
Behold, thou art fair;
Thou hast doves' eyes
Within thy locks:
Thy hair is as a flock of goats,
That appear from mount Gilead.
Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn,
Which came up from the washing;
Whereof every one bear twins,
And none is barren among them.

CAS' own incomplete poem is a rather minor work from his poetic corpus, but interesting nonetheless as a reminder of his great knowledge of classical source texts, including The Bible itself.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Secret Worship

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

Veiled is the altar, and the liturgy
is undivulged, and undivulged the vows.
The fire no vestal builds or keeps
consumes its smoke in burning,
flames not outward;
low-fuming are the censers;
discreet, the sacrifice 
contains itself, nor bleeds for eyes profane;
and the soft-beaten psaltries 
are stilly toned as is the twilight bat.

Goddess, thou goest cowled,
though not as does the chaste and sober nun.
Dark as the Cloven Hill thy hidden shrine,
thy nakedness
revealed alone to inward-shining lamps
and to thy worshipper.

This poem has a highly-charged erotic subtext, so perfectly developed that I'm surprised CAS didn't choose to include this verse in either of the Arkham House collections of his poetry that were issued in his lifetime.  It's a wonderful example of how CAS could use the trappings of the weird and the supernatural to express sentiments that had nothing to do with ghosts and goblins.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Lives of the Saints

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

(with no apologies to Ogden Nash)

Little find we that is fiery
In the monkish old papyri.
History affords no highlight
On the love-life of the Stylite.

The poem's almost-dedication explicitly references Ogden Nash, the popular writer of humorous verse who was a contemporary of CAS.  Many of Ogden's poems were written in the form of single-stanza quatrains, and CAS adopted that same form for "Lives of the Saints".  

Ogden's poem "The Ostrich" is a good example of his typical approach to light verse:

The ostrich roams the great Sahara.
Its mouth is wide, its neck is narra.
It has such long and lofty legs,
I’m glad it sits to lay its eggs.

I love how CAS mimics Nash's humorous approach to his subject matter, but given that "Lives of the Saints" comes from the pen of the Star-Treader himself, it's hardly surprising that the poem has a somewhat less "crowd pleasing" nature, and even manages to references the Stylites, those religious ascetics who made their homes on the tops of pillars.  The erotic subtext of "Lives of the Saints" makes an interesting comparison to CAS' poem "Two on a Pillar", which I blogged about last month:

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Ye Shall Return

Read "Ye Shall Return" at The Eldritch Dark:

The version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark has a significant typo in the third stanza at line eleven; the correct text reads:

Or climb the sharpened mountain-horns
To see earth's kingdoms gleam afar,
Litten with promise and mirage
Beneath a mistless diamond vault;

This poem seems to refer to ghosts or other entities returning (however briefly) from the afterlife, to once again experience the beauty, the sensuality, and the chaos of human life.  But such visitants can only be tourists; their proper place is not within the earthly realm:

Know surely that ye shall return
Into the shadow-land ye left,
And draw again your languored breath
Where breathe the poppies of the dusk.

CAS packs a great deal of emotion and visual splendor into the twenty short lines of "Ye Shall Return", while maintaining a steady rhythm largely devoid of any sort of rhyme.  It's an impressive work of near-free verse from a writer who often excelled at the use of more traditional poetic forms.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

What Dreamest Thou, Muse?

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

Tell me thy dream, my indolent Muse:
In some profound, enchanted wilderness
hearest and seest the emblazoned phoenix
of sliver with its crest outshining far
the griffin-guarded gold?

Fleest though, perhaps, from the huge circle of horror
where rolls the basilisk in his spiral
with eyes of bitumen flaming forth their evil?
or listenest, against thy will, to the enchanter
who calls to his demon from the deep cypress-grove?

Beholdest, by some tideless ocean-bay,
arising from her pool enlaid with nacre,
the nymph with sunburnt hair 
like tangled sea-weed trailing from the reef?
Speakest thou with her by a halted sun?

Confrontest thou the terror of thy nightmares--
the leprous hag in her deadly desire 
touching thy nipples with her hellish face?--
the abominable love of the mottled gnome? ...
--My poet, I dream neither of beauty nor of evil.

CAS wrote alternate versions of this poem in both French ("Que songes-tu, Muse?") and Spanish ("¿Qué sueñas, Musa?").

The poem reads as the lament of an artist, frustrated by his "indolent Muse" and ruminating on what great wonders that muse might yet reveal.  

The kicker comes in the final line: "My poet, I dream neither of beauty nor of evil."  It seems that even as the artist contemplates somewhat ordinary scenes of drama and splendor, his muse has something altogether different in store.  What exactly that may be the poem does not reveal, but given the cosmic breadth of CAS' imagination, "What Dreamest Thou, Muse?" plants seeds in the reader's mind that go far beyond what the poem itself describes.

Saturday, March 5, 2022


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

What matters love, what matters pain
if out of pain and love a little wisdom is drawn?
These things came not to flower in the world
but in the spirit they have flowered,
and the flower stands, and overtops the suns of time.

The French title of this poem can be translated into English as "What does it matter?"

Even in a short poem expressing an insight granted by maturity (CAS was in his fifties when he wrote this), the author still manages to bring his unique cosmic flair to the subject matter, with the wonderful closing line "and the flower stands, and overtops the suns of time."  The brief length of "Qu'Importe?" belies the depth of its feeling, and provides quite a contrast to the more verbose verse of the poet's younger years. 

Thursday, March 3, 2022

The Twilight of the Gods

Read "The Twilight of the Gods" at The Eldritch Dark:

One can only assume that Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was experiencing a dark moment when he wrote this poem, which offers a sad commentary on the fate of classical divinity and heroism in the age of mercantilism.  

The opening line "All the satyrs have been dehorned" seems to really say it all; the rest of the poem is just a sad catalog of the extraordinary reduced to the oh so very ordinary.  Definitely not my favorite poem from CAS, and one reading is enough for me - on to the next poem!

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Soliloquy in an Ebon Tower

Read "Soliloquy in an Ebon Tower" at The Eldritch Dark:

There are quite a few typos in the version of this poem at The Eldritch Dark, but most of them should be fairly obvious when encountered in context.  The exception is the fourth stanza, which is missing an entire line (in addition to some typos), so here is the corrected text:

                                                 Other thoughts
Exhume the withered wing-shards of ideals
Brittle and light as perished moths, or bring
To sight the mummied bats of blear mischance,
By dismal eves and moons disastrous flying,
But fallen now, and dead as are the heavens
Their vans have darkened. On beloved deaths
I muse, and through my twice-wept tears re-gather
The threads that Clotho and Lachesis have spun
And Atropos has cut; and see the bleak
Sinister gleaming of the steely shears
Behind the riven arrasses of time....

This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) directly addresses Charles Baudelaire, the author of Les Fleurs du mal and one of CAS' literary heroes.  The poem leaves no doubt of the profound sympathy that CAS felt for Baudelaire's verse, with its ready acknowledgment and embrace of life's darker aspects:

Black-flickering, cloven tongues! Though we distill
Quintessences of hemlock or nepenthe,
We cannot slay the small, the subtle serpents.
Whose mother is the lamia Melancholy
That feeds upon our breath and sucks our veins,
Stifling us with her velvet volumes.

Despite the hint of resignation in the lines quoted above, and despite the overall somber tone of "Soliloquy in an Ebon Tower", it is clearly a work of affirmation, stating with confidence that the two poets (CAS and Baudelaire) have earned their right to inhabit the metaphorical tower:

                                      We build,
Daedalus-like, a labyrinth of words
Wherein our thoughts are twi-shaped Minotaurs
The ages shall not slay.

This poem is unusually rich with learned diction and the ready invocation of legendary names from myth and fable.  While those elements are found throughout CAS' body of work, this poem particularly is difficult to read without ready access to a dictionary and other reference sources.  But that extra effort is well rewarded, and allows the reader to really experience the glory of what is surely one of CAS' defining statements as an artist and a poet.