Soliloquy in An Ebon tower

Clark Ashton Smith

The poet speaks, addressing a framed picture of
Baudelaire upon a bookcase:

The lamp burns stilly in the standing air,
As in some ventless caveen. Through wide windows
The midnight brings a silence from the stars,
And perfumes that the planet dreams in sleep.
The hounds have ceased to bay; and the cicadas
To play their goblin harps. The owl that whilom
Hooted his famine to a full-chapped moon,
Has pounced upon his gopher, or has gone
To fresher woods behind a farther hill;
And Hecate has grounded all the witches
For some glade-hidden Sabbat.

In my room
The quick, malign, relentless clock ticks on,
Firm as a demon's undecaying pulse,
Or creak of Charon's oar locks as he plies
Between the shadow-crowded shores. Evoked
Within the vaults of my funereal brain,
Voices awaken, sibilant and restless-
Tongues of the viper's charnel-fostered brood,
Half-grown, amid the shreds of winding sheets
And crumbling wicker of old bones. They sing,
Those little voices, all the poisonous,
Importunate melodies you too have heard,
O Baudelaire, in midnights when the moon
Sank, followed by some cloudy hearse of dreams.
Into the skyless nadir of despond.
Black-flickering, cloven tongues! Though we distill
Quintessences of hemlock or nepenthe,
We cannot slay the small, the subtle serpents.
Whose mother is the Iamia Melancholy
That feeds upon our breath and sucks our veins,
Stifling us with her velvet volumes.

My thoughts pursue the sandal and sad myrrh
Sighed by the shouds of all hesternal sorrows.
Busied with old regrets, they carry on
Such commerce as the burrowing necrophores
Conduct from grave to grave; or pause to mumble
Snatches of ancient amorous elegies,
Deploring still some splendid, stately love-
Gone like the pomps of void Ecbatana-
That only lives in epodes, but will rise
To ghost the goldless morrows, clothed about
With hues of suns declining and decayed,
And crowned with ruinous autumn.

Other thoughts
Exhume the withered wind-shards of ideals
Brittle and light as perished moths, or bring
To sight the mummied of blair mischance,
By dismal eves and moons disastrous flying,
Their vans have darkened. On beloved deaths
I muse, and through my twice-wept tears re-gather
The threads that Clotho and Lachesis have spun
And Atropos has cut; and see the bleak
Sinister gleaming of the steely shears
Behind the riven arrasses of time.

What weapon can we arm us with? What bulwark
Build against grief and time? What moat renewed
With waters mortal as those the shroud Gomorrah,
Will the sea-going termite never ferry
To gnaw the ebon tower, the ebon ark
Holding the Muses' covenant? Splendor-brimmed,
What grail of God or Satan will suffice
For all the breadless days, the unguerdoned labors?

Yet, for a toll so light, by Song transported,
To sail beyond Elysium and Thelem,
And see, from oblivion looming, balmier shores
Of fables infinite! To light our dreams
At rose Aldebaran or sky-huge Antares,
Then quench their heat, or temper Damascus thought
In cold aphelions and apastrons far!
To pace the sun's Typhoean ramparts vast!
To couch on Saturns's outmost ring, or roll
With Pluto through his orb of eventide
Whose Hesper is the dwindled sun! To flaunt
Before the blind in immarcesible purple
Won from the murex of Uranian seas,
And fire-plucked vermeil of Vulcan, worn against
These aguish mists and wintry shadows! Thus
We triumph; thus the laurel overtops
The upas and the yew; and we decline
No toil, no dolor of our votive doom.

High-housed within the Alchemic Citadel,
We are served by Azoth and by Alkahest.
Out of the gleamless mire and sand we make
Pactolian metal. Fumed from our alembics,
The world dissolves like vapors opium-wrought,
Or drips, condensed, to philtres and to venorns
That Circe nor Simaetha dreamed. We built,
Daedalus-like, a labyrinth of words
Wherein our thoughts are twi-shaped Minotaurs
The ages shall not slay. Our ironies,
Like marbled adders creeping on through time,
Shall fang the brains of poets yet to be.
Our nacred moons and corposants of beauty
Shall float on ever-mootful lands retained
By Lar and Lemur; where Chimera flies,
And still the Sphinx unanswerably rules;
Where the red phantoms we have loosed from Dis
Still haunt the thickets and the cities: where
Our phosphor lamps may serve as well as any
Along the rutted way to Charon's wharf.

Bibliographic Citation

Top of Page