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This poem from Clark Ashton Smith (CAS) was unpublished in his lifetime, and is not available on The Eldritch Dark, so here's the complete English text: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

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