And a Little Book Shall Lead Them

Benjamin DeCasseres

1Selected Poems. By George Sterling. Henry Holt & Company.

Ebony and Crystal. By Clark Ashton Smith. Printed by the Auburn Journal, Auburn, Cal.

I bunch these two books together because they came together and because George Sterling wrote the preface to the Ashton Smith poems.

It is hard for me to review books of poetry. In the first place, I am a poet myself; in the second place, I have so saturated my life since boyhood with the great poets and the great prose writers, that I have gone stale upon poetry. In a word, I am simply tired of it-at least today. I prefer to take my poetry, now, in prose or music or the curves of women's bodies. The poets writing today in America are mere echoes. After Whitman and Poe, Swinburne and Francis Thompson, Verlaine, Hugo, and D'Annunzio, what is there to be said? Nothing. And there is no new way of saying the old things.

I have always been an admirer of George Sterling since that day he burst upon us in the old Cosmopolitan yahooed by Ambrose Bierce. But his was never great poetry. No rebellion, no real terror, too much rhyming, too much perfection, too much artistry-no real personality. No one would, necessarily, want to know Sterling after reading his poetry. No one would be curious about him. And the test of all great art is personality. But I know no better poetry of its kind being written in present-day America than Sterling writes.

The poetry of Ashton Smith is out of an unearthly imagination. It is morphinated, hallucinated poetry. It is gemmed and jeweled stuff. Some of it is as ethereal as Poe's. It is a book I am always picking up and finding in it gorgeous adventures.

But, gentleman, poetry is dead the world around.


  1. "I had a good laugh over De Cassere's review (?). He couldn't be farther wrong, for poetry was never further from being dead than it is to-day. And for that matter, I wish folks would not 'want to know' me after reading my verses! An uncomfortable number do want to, as evidenced by letters and the spoken word." (GS-CAS, Nov. 28, 1923).

From: Art and Decoration, volume 19, August 1923, p. 47 [excerpt]:
Source and Footnotes: Scott Connors

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