The Mortuary

Clark Ashton Smith

I sought the cloister of the dead, when, fallen athwart the funereal glooms of yew and cypress, the sunset wrought a phantom flush upon the pale stone of tomb or of cenotaph. Dreaming above the marbles, I saw the troubled shadows rouse, and the sullen branches yield a dim and sombre gold to the lowering light. Withdrawn erewhile on the sun's enormous heart, the sanguine fire left all the heavens wan as a dying face Twilight came in veils of silver shadow, and I saw the moon, like a mausoleum of dead Beauty faroff on the waste of eastern azure.

How reticent, in their sealed marmorean cells, lay the cryptic brotherhood of death, while the tides of light and color, of shade, and form and vision, flowed forever athwart the heavens and the world! Methought their uniting silence had prevailed on that solitary place, where the very cypresses were full of a black langour, as they bent down with their groping roots fast-aught among forgotten bones. I felt the overflowing of peace and slumber, where Lethe had its fountain-head in every- tomb, and where the wind came to immerse itself for awhile in the stagnant air that was full of the floating shadows of the mortuary.

Musing upon the mystery of sleep and oblivion, the silence pervaded my very soul, and all things grew dim as with Lethean mist while I sank in a gulf of forgetfulness profound as that of the dead. Anon, as a murmuring of sound that rose from afar, and seemed to approach by slow degrees. I grew aware of all the bustle and tumult which went on beneath the apparency of peace and stillness-the subterranean labour of dissolution which ceases not for night or day-the toil of worms and beetles and moles in the service of time and change, and the merchantry of necrophores in the underground city of death.

From: Strange Shadows: The Uncollected Fiction and Essays of Clark Ashton Smith. Ed. Steve Behrends, Donald Sidney-Fryer and Rah Hoffman. Greenwood Press 1989.

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