Echoes from Beyond Space

Consul Hasting

"Ebony and Crystal" by Clark Ashton Smith (printed by The Auburn Journal, Auburn, Calif.) (1922).

"The Star-Treader, and Other Poems" by Clark Ashton Smith. (A.M. Robertson, San Francisco. (1912).

Here is a book, from an obscure newspaper office, which should be seen by every one who really cares whether good literature is written in America or somewhere else. For more than ten years Mr. Smith has been writing poetry of an amazing force and originality; has published three volumes, of which "Ebony and Crystal" is the latest; and our intensely occupied literati have never heard of him outside of his own state. This book challenges the reading public in more ways than one. Its chief poem "The Hashish-Eaters [sic], or the Apocalypse of Evil" is the longest and most imaginative, to my mind unquestionably the greatest poem in the literature of the grotesque. It does not stand alone. Line after line, poem after poem, is stamped with the idiom of a unique creative imagination. Obscurity has taught the poet to scorn contemporary notice and he has written with utter defiance of the unimaginative, critical minds that constitute the literary body politic. Why has he remained unknown? He has been closely contemporaneous, for one thing, with the intellectualised trend of ultramodern writing, and his work makes no pretensions to analytical power or intellectuality. Then, connoisseurs of the grotesque are few; and the average man of culture, finding much of the book below the author's best level, turns away and loses the gold with the sand. But he has the examples of Bierce and Poe for company in his obscurity, both of whom have been powerful influences upon his writing.

I cannot attempt in this brief compass to justify my claims about Mr. Smith's ability, particularly since comparatively few amateurs have seen the works in questions. But for a casual sample, here is the closing sestet from his sonnet, "To Life:"

Fair as the moon of summer is thy face,
And mystical with cloudiness of hair. . .
Only an eye, subornless by delight,

Shall find within thy phosphorescent gate
These caverns of corruption and despair
Where the worm toileth in the charnel night.

But no single passage can give a notion of his sheer power and the surprising variety which it casts upon so limited a universe—it is a Baudelairean volume to the core, from that point of view.

The poet concentrates all the force of his imagination and of his immense and exotic vocabulary upon single lines, careless of the rules of perfect art, swooping through his unearthly outerworld only to report, seldom to discriminate. Like Poe, he is the "haunted sot." But without Poe's superb art or his keen and versatile mentality, Mr. Smith is perhaps more naive; reading his volume gives me the same sort of delight that endears to me the minor Elizabethan drama—one can ramble on infinitely, now and then finding passages which repay an hour of drearier stuff. Naive, Mr. Smith is young. He writes as a schoolboy plays, with big words and big images and big effects which fail as often as they succeed-but succeed stupendously well. "The Hashish-Eaters [sic]" is a gigantic fib in which the events are very limited—the hero ascends into a universe of such processional horror and beauty as no one has painted before, and after a considerable fright, is left there with escape or awakening his only recourse. I would not have it well written for anything—the vocabulary is intolerably outlandish, and there is absolutely no conception of varied beat in his blank verse—it is too gloriously uplifting as it is and when there is a particularly good whopper, one can smile. It must be taken in its entirety, and so must the volume as a whole.

Mr. Smith was born in Central California in 1893, and has always lived in Auburn with his mother, writing poetry, making love, doubtless something of a local deity. He has never sought a "higher education." His first volume, "The Star-Treader," contains some of his finest work, written before his nineteenth year! He is certainly America's most prodigious boy-wonder, if one must collect such things. Perhaps his finest poem belongs to this early period, "Nero," which expresses with a horror that is truly and everlastingly sublime, a lust to be among the gods and to play sadistical tricks with the stars. This is Mr. Smith's province, the terrific and infinite void, which only such a whimsical imagination as his own can justly populate. But if you think he is powerless before other topics, read his love poems. He has written many, quite as astoundingly bad and good as the rest, with some which ought to outlast most of the American verse with which I am acquainted. But we cannot discuss his genius until some one has bought his books, and the professional haters of the new and daring in literature are likely to hold the field for some time yet.

From -THE UNITED AMATEUR, July 1925.
"Consul Hasting" was a pseudonym of Alfred Galpin (1901-1983), a friend and fellow member of the United Amateur Press Association with H.P. Lovecraft. Galpin, a resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, was introduced to amateur journalism and to Lovecraft by his teacher, Maurice W. Moe. In July 1922 Galpin and Lovecraft both travelled to Cleveland, Ohio where they met each other for the first time, and also met fellow amateur and poet Samuel Loveman. Loveman was a friend of both Ambrose Bierce and George Sterling, and had been corresponding with Smith for quite some time. Loveman showed Galpin and Lovecraft Smith's poetry and drawings; for Lovecraft's reaction, see SELECTED LETTERS # 109 (To CAS, August 12, 1922), 95 (To Maurice W. Moe, misdated January 1922, should be October 1922), and 110 (To Lillian Clark, August 31, 1922). Lovecraft quoted Galpin as calling Smith "the greatest living poet of America." Galpin graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, studied in Paris, and became Professor of Romance Languages at his alma mater. He later assisted Smith with both his translations from Baudelaire and his attempts at original composition of poetry in French. Lovecraft was Official Editor of THE UNITED AMATEUR when this review was published. According to Smith's letter to George Sterling dated December 17, 1922 (New York Public Library, Berg Collection), Galpin's article was originally written for THE NEW REPUBLIC.—Scott Connors

Source: Alfred Galpin

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