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CAS Influence? James Thomson's "The City of Dreadful Night"
Posted by: metsat00 (IP Logged)
Date: 12 May, 2013 05:56AM
Is there any historical evidence that Clark Ashton Smith read or was influenced by Scottish poet James Thomson's eerie, dark and ennui-ridden work "The City of Dreadful Night"?

The poem itself is too long to post here in its entirety, but these beginning stanzas conjure many of the same emotions in me that CAS' best poetry and prose evoke. Interested in everyone's thoughts.

Sandor Szabo




The City of Dreadful Night


PROEM


Lo, thus, as prostrate, "In the dust I write
My heart's deep languor and my soul's sad tears"
Yet why evoke the specters of black night
To blot the sunshine of exultant years?
Why disinter dead faith from mouldering hidden?
Why break the seals of mute despair unbidden
And wail life's discords into careless ears?


Because a cold rage seizes one at whiles
To show their bitter old and wrinkled truth
Stripped naked of all vesture that beguiles
False dreams, false hopes, false masks and modes of youth
Because it gives some sense of power and passion
In helpless impotence to try to fashion
Our woe in living words howe'er uncouth


Surely I write not for the hopeful young
Or those who deem their happiness of worth
Or such as pasture and grow fat among
The shows of life and feel not doubt nor dearth
Or pious spirits with a God above them
To sanctify and glorify and love them
Or sages who foresee a heaven on earth


For none of these I write and none of these
Could read the writing if they deigned to try
So may they flourish in their due degrees
On our sweet earth and in their unplaced sky
If any cares for the weak words here written
It must be some one desolate, fate-smitten
Whose faith and hope are dead, and who would die


Yes, here and there some weary wanderer
In that same City of tremendous night
Will understand the speech and feel a stir
Of fellowship in all-disastrous fight
"I suffer mute and lonely yet another
Uplifts his voice to let me know a brother
Travels the same wild paths though out of sight"


O sad fraternity do I unfold
Your dolorous mysteries shrouded from of yore?
Nay, be assured no secret can be told
To any who divined it not before
None uninitiated by many a presage
Will comprehend the language of the message
Although proclaimed aloud for evermore


The City is of Night perchance of death
But certainly of Night for never there
Can come the lucid morning's fragrant breath
After the dewy dawning's cold grey air
The moon and stars may shine with scorn or pity
The sun has never visited that City
For it dissolveth in the daylight fair

Re: CAS Influence? James Thomson's "The City of Dreadful Night"
Posted by: jimrockhill2001 (IP Logged)
Date: 12 May, 2013 07:43AM
Yes, Smith was familiar with Thomson's great dark poem. The SELECTED LETTERS (an indispensable book) contains the following citations:

"I’ve also been reading The City of Dreadful Night, by James Thomson. It’s a tremendous thing in its way, and rather different from anything else that I’ve read. The thing is about the last word in the literature of despair and pessimism." [To George Sterling - Feb. 3rd, 1913]

"Have you read any of the books of Edgar Saltus? I’ve just been reading The Philosophy of Disenchantment—a fascinating and finely written exposition of the history and theory of pessimism. I’m trying to obtain another book by Saltus, entitled The Anatomy of Negation.1 I’ve been reading a great deal lately—De Profundis, the dramas of John Webster and Cyril Tourneur, the Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff, Dostoevsky’s Journal of an Author, James Thomson’s City of Dreadful Night, and two or three books by Lafcadio Hearn, among many others. Hearn, Wilde, and de Quincey (aside from Poe and Bierce) are the prose-writers to whom I seem to take most naturally." [To George Sterling - April 14th, 1917]

"What you tell me (via Bates) about Whitehead's end is very affecting and makes one feel like echoing some of the sentiments about human fate in 'The City of Dreadful Night'." [To Lovecraft - 1 March 1933]

At least the last of these is available on this website.

Jim

Re: CAS Influence? James Thomson's "The City of Dreadful Night"
Posted by: jimrockhill2001 (IP Logged)
Date: 12 May, 2013 08:27AM
For some reason unknown to me, although they appear here on the website, none of the dates for the latters I quoted appeared in email. These should read:

To George Sterling - Feb. 3rd, 1913,
To George Sterling - April 14th, 1917
&
To Lovecraft - 1 March 1933.

I had also flanked the titles with figures denoting italics, but they also disappeared.

Jim

Re: CAS Influence? James Thomson's "The City of Dreadful Night"
Posted by: metsat00 (IP Logged)
Date: 12 May, 2013 02:17PM
Aloha Jim,
Thanks for the insightful history on this! This whets my appetite to find out what other authors influenced CAS (in addition to those referenced here) and check out their works as well.

As expected, "Selected Letters" is not available in the Kindle Store, so I clicked on the "Tell the publisher: I'd like to read this book on Kindle" link. Next stop: Waikiki public library which almost certainly won't have it either, but perhaps might be able to get it via interlibrary loan. Mahalo,

Sandor

Re: CAS Influence? James Thomson's "The City of Dreadful Night"
Posted by: jimrockhill2001 (IP Logged)
Date: 12 May, 2013 03:31PM
You are welcome, Sandor. You will also need to look at Steve Behrends' fine recently reprinted CLARK ASHTON SMITH: A GUIDE TO THE MAN AND HIS WORK from Wildside/Borgo Press, the book of essays on Smith edited by Scott Connors (THE FREEDOM OF FANTASTIC THINGS, which contains fine essays focusing on the poetry, as well as some coverage of Smith's poetics in the essays focused on other topics, and Donald Sidney Fryer's classic essay THE SORCERER DEPARTS. Therefore, you might as well see if the library can obtain all of these for you.

Re: CAS Influence? James Thomson's "The City of Dreadful Night"
Posted by: metsat00 (IP Logged)
Date: 12 May, 2013 04:01PM
Aloha and mahalo Jim,
Just got the Kindle Version of CAS: A Critical Guide to the Man and His Work, 2nd Edition. Your well-written review in the Kindle Store is appreciated, and points to the importance of on-line communities such as The Eldritch Dark. Had it not been for this site, I shudder to think of how much of the man's inspirational work I would never have discovered.

One would hope that a future author would take advantage of the wealth of information available here and, through careful scholarship, make available in printed or on-line books an absolutely comprehensive corpus of CAS' work. For instance, a Kindle book called "Everything Clark Ashton Smith Ever Wrote" with all of his short stories, poems, prose poems, artwork, correspondence and an exhaustive bibliography which would be updated periodically as new information was received. Sortable via the date it was written or by genre or subject (e.g., poems, Averoigne, etc). Perhaps with a pricing structure such as $XX for the book and $1/year for updates? I'd buy it!

Sandor

Re: CAS Influence? James Thomson's "The City of Dreadful Night"
Posted by: phillipAellis (IP Logged)
Date: 14 May, 2013 05:14AM
Sandor,

your desire is nigh on fulfilled, with the recent publication of the fiction, the poems, and the earlier publications as well. A uniform edition, tho, would be welcome, especially if it were a variorum edition that listed all known textual variants against a baseline text. I would delight in that, and invest in the poetry volumes, at the very least.

Phillip



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