Letter to George Sterling

From Clark Ashton Smith

Auburn, Calif.
Oct. 6th, 1911

Dear Mr. Sterling:

Your card and letter at hand. I am glad you like the photograph, but really, it isn't a very good one. To me the eye of a camera always looks like the mysterious, murderous muzzle of a thirteen-inch gun, and I am apt to look like the enemy.

I have heard nothing from the North American Review. It quite knocked me over to hear that you had sent my "Ode to the Abyss" to such a big magazine. If it's accepted, I'll probably lose what little reason I have left.

How I wish I were down in Carmel with you! I am not at all certain whether I can get away this winter or not. If I do come, it probably won't be before December. I am so tied down that the way is not at all obvious now. I'd rather be able to accept your invitation than have the "Abyss Ode" accepted-even by the "high and mighty" North American Review! Auburn is nothing but a cage, and with little gilding on the bars at that.

I am enclosing some more poems, which you must consider at your leisure. Don't worry about my feeling "neglected" if they are not returned for a month or two. I really do not know what you'll think about the "Star-Treader." It was written in a mood of midsummer fantasy, and altogether to suit myself. It is frightfully irregular, both in thought and form, and probably a little obscure. I have begun to doubt the propriety of such a lack of regular form in a narrative or semi-narrative poem, but this was the way it presented itself to me, and I have not the courage to try working it over.

The "Song From Hell" is a subject that it would take Browning to do rightly. I do not remember to have seen anything of the kind before. I think you will admit, after reading these two poems, that I do not lack courage in attacking difficult subjects!

I have several others as good, or for aught I know, better than the poems enclosed, but I lack the nerve to load any more upon you.

Here are a couple of lyrics which I am sure you will like. They are too slight to enclose separately:

Wind-Ripples
Did Beauty's unseen spirit pass
With tread unstayable and fleet?
Surely I saw the crested grass
Bow 'neath supernal feet!

A Live-Oak Leaf
How marvelous this bit of green
I hold and soon shall throw away!
Its subtle veins, its vivid sheen,
Seem fragment of a god's array.

In all the hidden toil of Earth,
Which is the more laborious part-
To rear the oak's enormous girth,
Or shape its leaves with poignant art?

I am glad that Mr. Markham liked the "Abyss" thing. The poem must be fearfully esoteric if he did not quite grasp the theme. It seems quite plain enough to me, but I have had others (people who read and understand most poetry) own up to being puzzled by it. I am astonished to find how few really grasp the sublimity and vastness of the stars and star-spaces. One acquaintance did not think such things suitable for poetic treatment, and from the indifference or bewilderment with which most who have seen it regard my cosmic work, I must regard those fitted to understand such things as being very rare.

Your younger-brother-poet,
Clark Ashton Smith.

Originally published in Mirage, 10 (1971), pp. 63-70.

Printed from: www.eldritchdark.com/writings/correspondence/1
Printed on: November 20, 2017