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Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 24 August, 2020 01:18AM
"Tolometh" is one of my favorites, as someone fascinated by idols and what they inspire in people. The poem contains many vivid impressions of imperial power, alien exoticism, and relentless cataclysms, and in this sense it feels, in itself, like the idol it's speaking for, small but concentrated with powerful suggestions. I get chills when reading this one, much more grim than "To The Nightshade." I never thought of it before, but this discussion's thoughts about the nuclear terror resonates well with this poem, whether or not that was CAS' intent. The mention of a last dawn and "atom-fire" is frightening to imagine, and makes Godzilla feel quaint by comparison.

Noivilbo makes an excellent point regarding CAS and the "human aquarium." While he was certainly a star-gazer through and through, his stories make it clear he had at least some interest in human psychology, politics, and history, albeit not to any great extent (he complained about the science of psychology and considered himself apolitical). I recall a few letters to August Derleth in which he complained about the Bolsheviks and the political climate of Russia, and the censorship of religion and the needless bloodshed that would ensue. He was certainly aware of his times, and I can see the possibility of Tolometh rising from this.

Quote:
Sawfish
If everyone feels we're done with Tolometh, I'd be eager to see someone else's suggestion for the next poem.

If no one objects, I'd love to delve into the poem "Sea Cycle." If "Tolometh" relates with the suggestions of evil gods in "To The Nightshade", then "Sea Cycle" is loosely related to Tolometh's suggestions of lost and sunken things. Not that there's any need to bridge one poem with the next, I just find that detail amusing.

[eldritchdark.com]

But only if anyone else feels up to it!



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 24 Aug 20 | 01:24AM by Hespire.

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith - "Sea Cycle"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 24 August, 2020 10:27AM
Great! This is a good one!

I'll return to this with more observations, but my initial reading reveals that this has the same structure as the first poem we explored, To the Nighthade, in that it has an initial stanza that observes a natural object and expands it with poetic descriptions, and in the second stanzas creates a poetic conceit that likens the object from the first stanza to another situation that's on his mind.

Maybe this is the definition of an ode: I don't know.

Poetry is pretty difficult for me. I've confined myself to stuff like Death of the Ball Turret Gunner, or Falling. These are very visceral--huge emotional payload--but with fewer traditional poetic devices. Figuring out the poetic devices and how they are used is really kinda fun, though--puzzle-like.

Too, for those who like long-form poems, one I've been able to read--maybe twice!--is Vikram Seth's A Golden Gate. Like a Shakespearean love comedy.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith - "Sea Cycle"
Posted by: Noivilbo (IP Logged)
Date: 24 August, 2020 07:26PM
“Sea Cycle” is a good choice because it brings together two themes that were constants in his work, from his earliest stories and poems to his last: that of return, resurrection, or a sort of reincarnation; and the theme of loss and/or a longing for the lost.

About the latter theme, I wonder if Smith at some point was in a relationship that went belly-up, which he always regretted. Or was it something opposite, a recurring pang for the “nostalgia of something unknown”? Purely speculative on my part, I know; but I have never been able to shrug the sense.

The second stanza brings both these themes together. Smith often uses the sea as a metaphor for oblivion. But for him, oblivion is not a permanent negation, because it is also the source of all things (an assimilation of Eastern mysticism)? The first stanza could then be interpreted as a contemplation of a void, from which all that has sunken into it may eventually re-emerge, in time (or as symbols from the necromantic imagination)?

Smith apparently had a deep concern for the cyclic, in the natural world and in a greater cosmic, eternal recurrence sort of way. The last poem he penned before he died was “Cycles,” a final return to the theme of return as found in “Sea Cycles” and many of his other works.

“…For Ubbo-Sathla is the source and the end… And all earthly life, it is told, shall go back at last through the great circle of time to Ubbo-Sathla.”

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith - "Sea Cycle"
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 24 August, 2020 08:27PM
Both of you make excellent points, expanding on some I know and revealing new thoughts to me, such as the subtle similarity to the "Nightshade" piece.

Without being religious or all that spiritual, the subjects of reincarnation, cycles, and the mythical sea have been very intimate to my imagination, so this poem holds a special place in my mind. It begins with wistful and ambivalent descriptions of the sea, comparing its crests to both feathers and helmet-plumes of a ceaseless, ancient army. Time and the ocean are similar in that neither is merciful to humanity, but they aren't malignant either, being altogether too huge and inhuman for that. The bounty of the sea is great, and clearly admired by the narrator, but they are carried over from other times and places, so that nothing is quite what it once was. It's the perfect metaphor for memories, which also ebb and flow in the mind, and not always in the same form. In response to Noivilbo, I wouldn't be surprised if the poem was influenced by both feelings. CAS' poetry and fiction have dealt with regret for past mistakes as well as yearning for past glories!

This poem and subject make me think of something CAS said to Derleth in a letter, perhaps revealing something of his spirituality:

Quote:
Clark Ashton Smith
I am terribly curious to see the newly completed "Return of Hastur" and hope you will loan me the carbon if Wright rejects the tale. From what you say, it would seem that some remarkable inspiration, either subliminal or external, is involved. My theory (not favored by scientists!) is that some world, or many worlds, of pure mentation may exist. The individual mind may lapse into this common reservoir at death, just as the atoms of the individual body lapse into grosser elements. Therefore, no idea or image is ever lost from the universe. Living minds, subconsciously, may tap the reservoir according to their own degree and kind of receptivity. HPL would have argued that no mentation could survive the destruction of the physical brain; but against this it might be maintained that energy and matter, brain and ideation, can never quite be destroyed no matter what changes they undergo, The sea of Being persists, though the waves of individual entity rise and fall eternally, The truth about life and death is perhaps simpler and more complex than we dream.

[www.eldritchdark.com]

I also see the similarities to "Ubbo-Sathla", and on that subject of mysterious ancient god-creatures related to the void, I find it curious that CAS mentioned Nodens in this poem, even though he never mentions the god elsewhere. Nodens appeared in Lovecraft's "Strange High-House in the Mist", as the lord of the unfathomable Deep, so I wonder if there was any influence from there.



Edited 5 time(s). Last edit at 24 Aug 20 | 08:43PM by Hespire.

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith - "Sea Cycle"
Posted by: Noivilbo (IP Logged)
Date: 24 August, 2020 09:26PM
That's a really great commentary about metaphor and memory, Hespire! I think CAS is "going druid" here with this reference to Nodens, an old Celtic god of the sea (among other things). You can visit his temple in Lydney Park in Gloucestershire, a site which also attracted Tolkien's attention. And thank you for posting that great letter! I really should read more of his correspondence.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 24 Aug 20 | 09:28PM by Noivilbo.

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 25 August, 2020 07:23AM
What does "Saturnia's iron keys" mean?

How do you visualize this? "Ebbing between the cypress and the grass?"



These last two lines I don't quite understand either:

"Again we two shall wander, and shall not stay,
Finding the golden wrack of yesterday."

The sea has brought the two lost lovers together again, and they wander on the shore. But what happens then? They don't stay there for long. And then they find (or do not find)... what? What is the final point? Do they again find the golden experiences they once had? Or just miss it? Or what is "golden wrack" seaweed a symbol of? Do they see that everything has become spoiled, and therefore it is no use to stay, so they leave?

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 25 August, 2020 11:25AM
"Saturnia" refers to a fabulous far-off continent in Greek lore. It's understandable if you didn't know that because it's such an obscure myth! In fact, I only read about it once in some old book on legendary places (so old and so obscure I can't even recall the title!). "Keys" are a type of island, and these ones in particular are made of iron, a rather strong image. CAS was evoking the effect of a place more remote and exotic than Spain.

The "ebbing" segment is the most cryptic moment for me, but it's worth noting that cypress trees used to be symbols of death and mourning, and CAS often mentioned them in that context throughout his fiction and poetry (such as the cypresses surrounding the ghoulish fane of Mordiggian), so I always felt that line referred to the tragedy of that "love-relinquished hour." One could also say that an emotionally heavy moment took place amid the grass and cypresses, a mournful and edenic setting being washed over, whether by literal waves or the waves of time. I'm no expert on poetry myself, so I'm sure someone else knows better than I do about that line.

The "golden wrack" could refer to seaweed, but I always saw the wrack as a shipwreck, which is another one of its definitions. I think this part is the most up to interpretation, so I can't imagine any wrong answer. Your idea was plenty good. I saw it as a description of how they'll enjoy those golden experiences again, or something like it (it's a wrack now, not a ship), and will leave that moment just as before.

Your questions and interpretations were excellent, forcing myself to think even more carefully than before; do keep it up if you feel like delving into other poems!



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 25 Aug 20 | 11:36AM by Hespire.

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith - "Sea Cycle"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 25 August, 2020 11:29AM
For a while I had Nodens confused with one of the "sleep elves" that they tell kids about at bed time...you know, Winklen, Blinken, and Nodens.

This really confused me about HPL's intent, until I got it sorted out.

...

;^)

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith - "Sea Cycle"
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 25 August, 2020 11:53AM
Thanks Noivilbo! I never knew Nodens was an actual god! I thought he was simply another of HPL's eldritch god-creatures! My knowledge of Celtic mythology is beyond scant, but I do recall CAS mentioning druids more than once in his work.

A sleep elf? Ha! It must have been such a strange moment at first, to read HPL's lengthy description of that oceanic pomp and splendor, only for it all to introduce a diminutive elf! Or the idea that the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep's greatest foe is such a creature, this little elf riding the Night Gaunts! Though there is a folkloric charm to it all.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 25 Aug 20 | 11:54AM by Hespire.

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 25 August, 2020 11:58AM
Thank you very much, Hespire.

Yes, "golden wreck" as shipwreck makes sense, then they sail away in the dream ship of yesterday.

I saw the "golden wreck" as once beautiful yellow seaweed swaying in the currents, or simply glistening golden on the beach. But it's a bit hard to see that as symbol of something precious and valuable. Shipwreck it likely is.

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith - "Sea Cycle"
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 25 August, 2020 12:35PM
I've read that the model for Nyarlathotep, at least as imagined in the prose poem of he same name, was Tesla.

Maybe I read that here.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Hespire (IP Logged)
Date: 31 August, 2020 12:05PM
I was waiting to see if OldJoe had any thoughts on "Sea Cycle", or if he was going to suggest the next poem, but since he appears to be busy, I thought I'd ask about this weird little piece next. And when I say weird I mean weirder than weird fiction:

[eldritchdark.com]

Any thoughts on what the heck any of this means?!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 31 Aug 20 | 12:06PM by Hespire.

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 31 August, 2020 06:42PM
Could it be a hoax, written by somebody pretending to be Klarkash-Ton?

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Noivilbo (IP Logged)
Date: 31 August, 2020 08:43PM
It's authentic, recorded as being written June 23, 1952. Done in the drunken master style? Or maybe a parody of Surrealism (he wrote a few such parodies)? It probably belongs on the "stinker" thread! :-)



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 31 Aug 20 | 09:39PM by Noivilbo.

Re: A closer look at the poems of Clark Ashton Smith
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 1 September, 2020 03:17PM
Well, OK. First I need to figure out what he is talking about...

Quote:
I am that saint uncanonized,who saw
the copulation of the toad-like stones
and spawning of the seer, sun-mumbled bones
to golden efts and flowers without flaw.

The narrative voice makes the general claim to have witnessed something like a miracle: stones that looked like toads, mating, followed by the apparent birth of salamanders and flawless flowers from dry and sun-bleached bones.

Also, "the seer" of the title, I suppose.

Gosh.

Quote:
The clouds were squared to temples of the Law,
the clouds were sphered to pandemonian thrones.

OK, this seems to be an implied allusion to the act of "squaring the circle"--which is another way of saying doing the very difficult, if not impossible.

Of course CAS says "sphere" not circle, and this could be a mixed metaphor, since there is also the concept of cubing the sphere, also very challenging.

But his two operations, the squaring of the clouds and the "sphering" of the clouds yield conceptually opposing outcomes--the squaring to Law; the "sphering" to what might be another way to say Chaos, so who knows what the intent actually was?

Quote:
Out of the beaked and feathered telephones
There came the falcon s cry, the raven s caw.

So a "beaked and feathered telephome" is either a direct metaphor for a bird, or else a surrealistic image designed to further disorient the reader.

Again, hard to say what CAS intended.

Quote:
Riding the inland sunset rose anew
triremes of Carthage and Columbian sails
convoyed by sirens with their fan-like fins.

More dissonant and contradictory imagery...

Here we have a sunset, but not just any sunset: and inland sunset--but then we have both ancient (Carthaginian) and early modern (Columbus era) watercraft being escorted by mythical beings.

Quote:
Over the mountains a mad tortoise flew,
spouted upon by levitating whales
that in the zenith hung like Zeppelins.

The mad tortoise is difficult to pin down, but the spouting "levitating whales" that hung over the highest part of the (sky?), sure seems to me to refer to the way that ancient maps were detailed with fanciful artwork.

So taken altogether, what in the world does this whole thing mean?

But you know, the entire 2nd stanza looks to me like a description of an ancient map, what with the illustration of old ships, perhaps superimposed over the land masses, being escorted by sirens and flying tortoises and spouting whales in other parts of the map.

So...

CAS was an early experimenter in psychedelia, huh? ;^)

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 1 Sep 20 | 04:07PM by Sawfish.

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