Contemporary Reviews of The Star-Treader and Other Poems Edited and Annotated

Scott Connors

From "The Spectator" Town Talk, the Pacific Weekly No. 1056 (November 16, 1912), 12-131:

"The Star-Treader"
Clark Ashton Smith, the Auburn boy for whom puberty and poetry were simultaneous phenomena, has attained to the dignity of book covers. He has been published by Aleck Robertson, which is a distinction in itself: and furthermore has been printed in golden gorgeousness with a rubricated title page by the Philopolis Pres. The virgin poems of Keats or Shelley, Wordsworth or Tennyson were casketed in no fairer receptacle. Wherefore the shy singer of the mountains may be very proud, if he will; but there's a peril for poets in any sort of pride, so he had better not. The Star- Treader and Other Poems contains some half a hundred efforts, short and long; withal a toothsome morsel for the bite of criticism. At first glance they seem to range over a wide field, but in fact they are pretty closely confined to that gloomy meadow 'tother side of Phlegethon where day is indistinguishable from night. Young Smith loves the gloom; and if he must face the light, 'tis rarely the honest sun-rather the rarefied ether of the interstellar spaces-which holds his gaze. Star-Treader is no misnomer.

An Impressionable Poet.
A very impressionable young man is Clark Ashton Smith, taking the swift impress of Nature the more readily if she hap to be in her moods of mystery. Taking also the swift impress of other poets. It may be the Tennyson of "In Memoriam," it may be the Browning of "Childe Roland"; but principally it is Keats and Shelley. One of the best poems in this book is "Saturn," a longish narrative in blank verse. Reading it one cannot resist stating the obvious, and the obvious is that if there had been no Keats' "Hyperion" there would be no Clark Ashton Smith's "Saturn." "Hyperion," as Macaulay's school boy remembers, was left unfinished. "The poem," said Keats pathetically, "was intended to have been of equal length with 'Endymion,' but the reception given to that work discouraged the author from proceeding." Smith had the courage to resume a little beyond where Keats left off. Doubtless he found his inspiration in these words:

"Above her, on a crag's uneasy shelve,
Upon his elbow rais'd, all prostrate else,
Shadow'd Enceladus; once tame and mild
As grazing ox unworried in the meads;
Now tiger-passion'd, lion-thoughted, wroth
He meditated, plotted, and even now
Was hurling mountains in that second war
Not long delayed.

Smith gives us that second war of the Titans against Jove and his younger gods, and right warm milling it is too!

Peering Into the Abyss
Young Smith is avid of the mood melancholy. He is a callow Il Pensoroso who wear a cloud on his brow and sends his thoughts along the murky channel of gloomy musings. Thus we have "The Night Forest," "Song to Oblivion," "Medusa," "Ode to the Abyss," "The Last Night," "Lament of the Stars," "Lethe," "The Eldritch Dark," "Shadow of Nightmare," "To the Darkness," and "Averted Malefice," till one is constrained to cry, "Something too much of this." Somebody who had influence with young Smith, say George Sterling, should entreat him to come away from the abyss.2 If he loses his balance a good poet is lost. This entire book, as a matter of fact, should be regarded as a collection of those efforts which a poet leaves behind him as he nears maturity. All young singers are fascinated by the dark, luxuriate in melancholy and hollow their cheeks with weeping for the death of Pan and the evanishment of the Olympians. That is a phase through which the poet must pass. But it is not to be taken too seriously, except in relation to his future work. Young Smith has the gift of song, there's no denying that; but it remains to be seen whether he will emerge into the clean white light of day and do his singing in the open road, instead of haunting caverns and treading the spaces between the stars.

The Promise of "Nero"
I think we may pin our faith to the youngster. All the work in this volume is superbly done, and some of it is as valuable for its matter as its manner. Especially the "Nero," a monologue in the Tennysonian style of "Ulysses," but not a copy of anything I know. A strength not boyish muscles these lines wherein the last of the Caesars yearns for the godhead which would make his power of mischief infinite. Any poet alive today might well be proud to have written this poem. And there are others which show promise, simple things which perhaps young Smith doesn't value overmuch. Such as "The Mystic Meaning," "The Winds," "Cherry Blossoms" and others. There is no new tone in any of these, as there is no new tone in the longer, more pretentious poems, but they are downright music just the same. Withal The Star-Treader is a book which no lover of poetry will care to miss.

The Latest Books The Argonaut, 71, 1862 (November 30, 1912), 365 (courtesy of S. T. Joshi):

"The Star-Treader"

Those who have awaited the appearance of Mr. Clark Ashton Smith's volume of verse in the hope of discovering a new poet will not be disappointed. This little book, wisely limited to a hundred pages and to about half number of poems, contains some work of a notable strength and beauty and unusually significant of still better values to come. But the existing values are surprisingly high. In the first place Mr. Smith shows a commendable tendency to aim at the loftiest peaks within his sight. His subject is nearly always vast, cosmic. Even in his fine verse to "The Butterfly" he finds occasion to write largely and as though nothing were to small to suggest great analogies, immense correspondences. There are no self-searchings, or yearnings, or soul-communions in Mr. Smith's poems, nowhere a trace of the morbid or introspective, and we may expect much from a poet who will at least try to interpret for us the consciousness of nature rather than that of his own personality. As an example-possibly not the best example-of a certain stateliness of diction to be found in many places we may quote six lines from the opening of "Nero:"

And were I weary of the glare of these,
I would tear out the eyes of light, and stand
Above a chaos of extinguished suns,
That crowd, and grind, and shiver thunderously,
Lending vast voice and motion, but no ray
To the stretched silence of the blinded gulfs.

Similarly exalted is "The Song of the Comet," but we get a different but even more arresting note in some of the one and two stanza poems of the collection. For example, "The Maze of Sleep" has a captivating lilt that leaves an echo behind it:

Sleep is a pathless labyrinth,
Dark to the gaze of moons and suns,
Through which the colored clue of dreams,
A gossamer thread, obscurely runs.

Necessarily there are imperfections in Mr. Smith's verse, as in all other. But they are surface faults, not temperamental and possibly due to unwise imitation. For example, in a single stanza we find the words "vesitures," "emperies," and "susurrous," and the combined effect is almost cruel. The word "screed" would be fatal to any verse, and we shiver a little at the word "untremulous." The poet would do well to view with extreme suspicion any word that is unusual, while anything that suggests a preference for unusual words or a search for them is apt to create a positive hostility in the mind of the reader. Mr. Smith has so few faults that it is a pity he should have any or that he should allow himself to be misled by examples that may have a certain popularity, but that are not poetry.

The Star-Treader and Other Poems. By Clark Ashton Smith. San Francisco: A. M. Robertson; $1.25 net.

Clark Smith's Poems. Wonderful Lyrics Deserve Recognition with World's Best, by Herbert Bashford. San Francisco Bulletin, 115, 47 (November 30, 1912), 14:3

Some one has said that "full many a man is a born an age too late." This applies particularly to the poet born within the past few decades, when poetry is much less appreciated than in the days of Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, and the others of the famous New England group. Mr. Howells once called attention to this phase of our national materialism by saying that poems frequently appeared in the magazines which, if published fifty years ago, would have made their authors famous, but which now receive scant recognition. Mr. Stedman expressed similar views in stronger terms. Few people today, comparatively speaking, read poetry. Many are fond of humorous verse or fetching trifles, but real poetry "authentic with the seal of the muse" appeals only to a small minority, and the very name of poet, when applied to a client of Apollo, is too frequently received with derision in certain commercial circles. A young man who possesses the gift of song-whose lips have been touched by the Sacred Fire-is apt to grow discouraged for want of appreciative listeners, provided he is sensitive as most poets are, and awaken to the realization that the world is whistling "ragtime" and amusing itself, when not engaged, in money-getting, and that his rhythmical creations of beauty, which should gladden the hearts of men, are known only to the cultured members of women's clubs and to his brother craftsmen. Of course, all this has nothing whatsoever to do with The Star-Treader and Other Poems, brought out by A. M. Robertson of this city, and we sincerely trust that the youthful poet, Clark Ashton Smith, will receive the recognition due genius, but if this, by chance, should be denied him during his life time he may find some consolation in the thought that many a man is born an age too late. Had this young man written those tremendously powerful and imaginative lines on "Nero" in the days when Poe was on earth there would be no question whatever concerning his fame, but as it is he may have to rely upon posterity for a general appreciation of his genius, which would be a sad comment on the literary taste of the reading public of today. Clark Ashton Smith, a youth of nineteen, living in the town of Auburn in the shadow of the Sierras, is a poet. He is not a "white hope" or one to inspire the enthusiasm of the vast majority, but if we may be so bold as to prophecy he will one day be numbered among the greatest of the world's geniuses, despite the fact that he was born a poet in an immensely materialistic age. Such poetry as his cannot fail to arouse the admiration of mankind some time. Regarded as the creation of a mature mind, to say nothing of the youth of the poet, what American bard has ever excelled in imaginative splendor or poetic power such lines as the following from Mr. Smith's poem "Nero?" [Quotes lines 38-61 and lines 76-96]

To say that such Miltonic blank verse from the pen of a youth of nineteen is marvelous feebly expresses it. California has produced a great poet. The Sierras have given us a second Chatterton. "Nero" is a masterpiece. This work throughout is remarkable.

A Young Poet and True, by Porter Garnett.4 San Francisco Call, Sunday, December 1, 1912 (courtesy of David E. Schultz):

The emergence of a true poet usually excites an interest which is more general than genuine. Clark Ashton Smith, whose book The Star-Treader and Other Poems has just been brought out by A. M. Robertson, is a true poet. He is a truer poet than we had any right to infer from the examples of his which have appeared in the news columns of the daily press in advance of their publication. Let one of Mr. Smith's most charming productions speak for itself:


What islands marvellous are these, That gem the sunset's tides of light- Opals aglow in saffron seas? How beautiful they lie, and bright, Like some new-found Hesperides!

What varied, changing magic hues
Tint gorgeously each shore and hill!
What blazing, vivid golds and blues
Their seaward winding valleys fill!
What amethysts their peaks suffuse!

Close held by curving arms of land
That out within the ocean reach,
I mark a faery city stand,
Set high upon a sloping beach
That burns with fire of shimmering sand.

Of sunset-light is formed each wall;
Each dome a rainbow-bubble seems;
And every spire that towers tall
A ray of golden moonlight gleams;
Of opal-flame is every hall.

Alas! how quickly dims their glow!
What veils their dreamy splendours mar!
Like broken dreams the islands go,
As down from strands of cloud and star,
The sinking tides of daylight flow.

Here is a poem of a rare and symmetrical beauty which does not falter unless one were to quarrel with the line,

If, however, its beauty seems too frail, let us turn to the splendid sonnet "Retrospect and Forecast," in which we meet the philosophic note. It is upon a poem such as this that Mr. Smith's reputation may most securely rest:


Turn round, O Life, and know with eyes aghast
The breast that fed thee-Death, disguiseless, stern;
Even now, within thy mouth, from tomb and urn,
The dust is sweet. All nurture that thou hast
Was once as thou, and fed with lips made fast
On Death, whose sateless mouth it fed in turn.
Kingdoms debased, and throne that starward yearn,
All are but ghouls that batten on the past.

Monstrous and dread, must it fore'er abide,
This unescapable alternity?
Must loveliness find root within decay,
And night devour its flaming hues alway?
Sickening, will Life not turn eventually,
Or ravenous Death at last be satisfied.

But these poems are not typical of Mr. Smith's muse. They are merely his best. They are the poems that he himself is likely to prefer in a few years. Here is another short poem of exquisite perfection. Two similar lyrics, "The Dream Bridge" and "A Live Oak Leaf" almost equal it:


O little lances, dipped in grey,
And set in order straight and clean,
How delicately clear and keen
Your points against the sapphire day!

Attesting Nature's perfect art
Ye fringe the limpid firmament,
O little lances, keenly sent
To pierce with beauty to the heart!

The following quatrain is a peculiarly happy expression of a form seldom handled so well.


Behind each thing a shadow lies;
Beauty hath e'er its cost;
Within the moonlight-flooded skies
How many stars are lost!

A careful examination of the contents of this little volume is productive of certain definite impressions. The first impression is drawn from the poems-"Nero," "The Star Treader," etc.-which have been placed at the beginning presumably because they are considered the poet's best. They are his most ambitious productions and in many ways they are remarkable. There is no denying their richness and power, but in the last analysis they fail to evoke the finer emotions which it is the function of poetry to excite. If one were to read these first poems only, the verdict could hardly be favorable. Indeed, it is probable that some critics, basing their judgments on these poems in seeing in them imperfections, will say things that are hasty and unkind. It is unfortunate that in this first collection of Mr. Smith's poems the dates of production should not have been given. It would then be possible (and interesting) to mark the steps of what is patently a growing talent. It is perhaps unnecessary to add that all true talent must be in a fluid state of growth! The moment it becomes set it ceases to have constructive value. The more nearly it keeps apace with the forward movement of the art of which it is the expression, the greater its significance and the more enduring it will be. Regarding these more ambitious poems of Mr. Smith's, the reader will find the poet's declaration of principles (from which in the poems already quoted he happily departs) in his "Ode on Imagination," which begins thus:

Imagination's eyes
Outreach and distance far
The vision of the greatest star
That measures instantaneously-
Enisled therein as in a sea-
Its cincture of the system-laden skis.
Abysses closed about with night
A tribute yield
To her retardless sight;
And Matter's gates disclose the candent ores
Rock-held in furnaces of planet-cores.

As has already been shown, all of Mr. Smith's poetry is not erected upon the conception of imagination expressed in these lines and emphasized in the remainder of the poem. Much of it is. In many of his poems he projects his mind beyond the immediate and the human. His thoughts fly on the wings of Imagination to where

She stands endued
With supramundane crown, and vestitures
Of emperies that include
All under-worlds and over-worlds of dream--

In some of these poems he takes an external view of the material universe, looking in from space like a "curious god." In others he looks out upon space like an astronomer at the eyepiece of his telescope which lures his vision beyond the stars, yet does not permit him to see the forested hills about him nor the cottage nearby, where a child is being born. Now the poet whose imagination takes him in such wide courses addresses himself to our emotions in two ways only-either by an impelling and powerful diction which armors his thought, or by the creation through imagery of a high visual beauty. To those who do not react to powerful diction or who, considering it only a small part of art to be used sparingly, crave another evocation, he will have little to say. By the same token, he will have little to say to those who do not conceive beauty in terms of supramundane things. The fundamental difficulty with all poetry written in contemplation of infinitude is that the exalted nature of the object contemplated exalts language in the effort to express it; the truest poetry, however, is cast in language so passionate or so beautiful that it infuses passion or beauty into the thing of which it treats and which becomes thereby transfigured. The poet should be able to say, "I speak and my words make beautiful and vital whatsoever they touch." He should not say, "That is sublime, let me find adequate words to describe it." But as we have endeavored to show in the poems quoted above, Mr. Smith does not always soar in spaces whither one may follow him without becoming dizzy. "The Cloud Islands" has to do with the sky, it is true, but it is of the earth. The poet deals with a simple subject and beautifies and makes it memorable by means of his art. It will be seen that Mr. Smith's poetry falls into two major categories. In one his imagination transcends the limits of life and matter; in the other he clothes the things of earth with lyric beauty. There is, however, a third category in which fall such poems as "The Butterfly." In this he applies the method of the first category to the material of the second. The poem is as aloof as "The Star Treader." Of the poems in the spatial and stellar vein "The Song of the Comet" is in many ways the best. It shows a freer rhythm and the pentasyllables and words of disturbing unusualness are comparatively infrequent. It would be idle to allude to the influences detectable in Mr. Smith's work. They are sufficiently obvious. The really important thing is that, in spite of the derivative character of some of the poems-so inevitable in the work of a young poet as to call for no comment-there is abundant evidence that the poet has the independence of modernity in his blood. He shows it in the free rhythms of some of his poems and it is easy to fancy his being picked up by the great wave which has been sweeping poetry away from tradition with greater swiftness than it has ever moved since the beginning of English literature. It is the wave upon which Whitman the pioneer rode so mightily. It is the wave that bore Browning and Meredith and Henley. It is on the crest of this wave that Masefield rides today like one of his great and beautiful ships

Whose tests are tempests and the sea that drowns

Others too-singers of the new voice-Davidson, Housman, Dowson, Symons, Bridges, Middleton, Bynner-have ridden on this wave that sweeps irresistibly onward. Poets may escape the wave by scrambling up on the ancient peaks of song or by soaring into the empyrean, but both places are deserted and lonely and filed with death and the coldness of death. Even hell is cold in poetry, as it is in slang. Only life is hot. Nature is warm. Regarding Mr. Smith's adherence or nonadherence to the traditions of prosody, it is only necessary to quote Edwin Bjorkman's words, "Rules are made for those who do not think." There is much that might be said about the mechanics of Mr. Smith's poetry, but let it suffice to call attention again to his rhythm. In many cases his sentence structure militates against rhythmical flow, and frequent polysyllables impair the music of his measures. Their absence from "The Song of the Comet" results in a superior rhythmical unity. How welcome, too, the two lines that emerge in agreeable monosyllabic rhythm from "Ode to the Abyss:"

O thou whose hands pluck out the light of stars, Are worlds grown but as fruit for thee?

Save for the consonantal plexus in "worlds grown," the rhythm here shows a successful handling of a succession of monosyllables which is one of the ultimate tests of technique. A greater suavity of rhythm is achieved in the beautifully wrought octave of a sonnet entitled "A Dream of Beauty." Let our young and true poet speak once more and exquisitely:

I dreamed that each most lovely, perfect thing
That Nature hath, of sound, and form, and hue-
The winds, the grass, the light-concentering dew,
The gleam and swiftness of the sea-bird's wing;
Blueness of sea and sky, and gold of storm
Transmuted by the sunset, and the flame
Of autumn-colored leaves, before me came,
And, meeting, merged to one diviner form.

Incarnate Beauty 'twas, whose spirit thrills
Through glaucous ocean and the greener hills,
And in the cloud-bewildered peaks is pent,
Like some descended star she hovered o'er,
But as I gazed, in doubt and wonderment,
Mine eyes were dazzled, and I saw no more.

A Young Poet. He has Quality, but Also the Faults of Youth, [by Shamus O'Sheel]6. New York Times Book Review, (January 26, 1913), p. 38:

The Star-Treader and Other Poems, by Clark Ashton Smith. San Francisco: A. M. Robertson.

Clark Ashton Smith is as typically Californian as ever a Lake Poet was typically English. He is the latest note in that symphony of the arts which undoubtedly is taking form under the favorable skies, amid the caressing hills, of our Pacific empire. When it is understood that not "Mister," but "Master," is the title of our poet, his years being but eighteen7, it will be the more leniently forgiven him that his verse has more than a faint echo of that somewhat laboriously titanic poet, George Sterling. He has drunk too deeply of the "Wine of Wizardry" for one of his tender years. The result is a book which is a bit uncanny in its persistent preoccupation with themes of mighty scope and deepest speculation, and more or less like a splendid wilderness in which we long for an occasional oasis with tiny rippling springs and small flowers. To become serious, this youth has become super-serious. He is overtrained. The efforts to produce such a book at such a time has been a bit too much for him. Hardly a note breathes of personal love or any such vivid adventurous life of the body and the blood as youth should have. So the book becomes monotonous. There are failures, too, in its chosen field. So "The Masque of Forsaken Gods" is another rehearsal of the original Olympian company in their classical stunt. Each deity steps forward and says a little bit about their former divinity, just as a thousand poets have made them do before. Alas, poor Pan, protesting too much that he is not dead. Gods were not killed by Christian priests, but by the poets who have fed upon their fame. There are moments of youthful hysteria in the presence of great themes, and instances of arid pseudo-mysticism which makes us hope that Mr. Smith will read the Celts and learn that true mysticism is a subtle and sudden and magic thing. But what makes us say that there is at last to be a poet by the name of Smith is, that the best poems in the book are astonishingly splendid and majestic treatments of cosmic themes, in a style of high and radiant rhetoric. We should like to quote from the title poem, from the "Song to Oblivion" and the "Ode to the Abyss," but we will let this splendid sonnet, in which rhetoric soars up into vision, stand for example; it is called "Nirvana:"

Poised as a god whose lone, detached post,
An eyrie, pends between the boundary-marks
Of finite years, and those unvaried darks
That veil eternity, I saw the host
Of worlds and suns, swept from the furthermost
Of night-confusion as of dust with sparks-
Whirl tow'rd the opposing brink; as one who harks
Some warning trumpet, Time, a withered ghost,
Fled with them; disunited orbs that late
Were atoms of the universal frame.
They passed to some eternal fragment-heap
And, to the gods from space discorporate,
Who were its life and vital spirit, came
Drawn outward by the vampire-lips of sleep!8

Recent Poetry [excerpt]: Current Opinion, 54, 2 (February 1913), 150:

The appearance of a new poet ought to be of at least equal importance with the discovery of a new comet. For what have the comets ever done for humanity except to frighten us out of our wits in the past with their portents of disaster? Yet we keep raking the skies with our costly telescopes and he who sees a new comet fifteen minutes before anybody else sees it feels well repaid for weeks of patient endeavor and is acclaimed like the winner of an Olympic contest. There are two new poets just emerging in our sky. One of them is a beardless lad of nineteen years who hails from a little town (Auburn) in California. Another is a girl of twenty who dwells in a small city in Maine, where she pushes aside the stars and communes with infinity. Clark Ashton Smith has just had his first volume, The Star-Treader and Other Poems, published in San Francisco (A. M. Robertson). Edna St. Vincent Millay has been exciting wondering comment with her poem "Renascence," in The Lyric Year. There are mathematicians in plenty who can calculate the orbit of a comet and tell you just where it will be a hundred years from now. But where is the critic keen enough to calculate the flight of imagination and tell us just where in the heavens these two youthful prodigies will be shining a dozen years hence? We quote from two of the sixty poems from Mr. Smith's volume, and these are not the most ambitious of his efforts either:9

Our Modern Poets, by William Stanley Braithwaite. The Boston Evening Transcript, 84, 78 (April 2, 1913), p. 24 (courtesy of Victor Berch) [excerpt]10:

From the New England tradition and atmosphere in the Poems of Frederic and Mary Palmer to the broad and awesome spaces of California in Clark Ashton Smith's The Star-Treader and Other Poems is a contrast more impressive in mental and spiritual qualities than for physical opposites in the formation and scale of nature. Mr. Smith is a very young man, this collection of poems being to the credit of his nineteenth years. They show his youth, his as yet unrealized value of simple words and phrases. The imagination of childhood is still with him; he has glimpses of those presences which Wordsworth said lay about our infancy like an atmosphere. He shows in places a tolerable command of music, and now and then breaks out with a flaming characterization of mood, a haunting and a piercing epithet that cuts into mystery like a flashing gleam of a bird's wing darting in the sunlight. These successes are notable because they are rare in the midst of a heavy, rumbling, confused, piled-up succession of images. There is a lot of rough ore in this book, which time and practice on Mr. Smith's part might refine into very noble and beautiful poetry. The spell of those vast, towering mountain heights which tinge with sublimity the poets of California is upon this youth, and he appears helpless under their daring evocations. We are constantly confronted with such phrases as "intervital sleep,11" "systems triplicate,12" "anterior ones,13" "shuttles intricate of earth,14" "rapt in aural splendors ultimate,15" and "candent ores.16" We find imitations of Keat's worst mannerisms in compound verbs, as in this example:

It yours adown the sky And rears at the cliff of night Uppiled against the vast [sic]17

But the substance of a very fine poet is in Mr. Smith. He has displayed in this book imagination enough to stock a good many poets, but where poets of infinitely less imagination are his masters as artists and seers, is in the focusing of the imaginative quality with the intensity that generates vision. The instinct of vision is lacking in this young poet; his imagination is without vision. What he yet may do is attested in this isolated gleam that burns in the dull metal of his chaotic ideas; this lines in which the one word "pinnacled" transforms the significance of an otherwise commonplace expression: "Great ideals pinnacled in thought."18 Where Mr. Smith is sincere and hopeful, and worthy of our respect and encouragement, another youthful poet is deceptive and experienced in the false practice of verse. An infinitely greater poet than Mr. Pound thinks himself to be, Sidney Lanier, hampered greatly the expression of his undoubtedly high genius by attempting to make poetry embody the law of another art. If there were no greater fault than this experimentation in what Mr. Pound insists in inflicting upon the world as artistic accomplishment, there would be small matter for protest, for the work would assign itself very speedily to the oblivion that attends temporary aberrations from artistic sanity. No poet ever yet created the substance for poetry; the art of poetry is only a medium of ideal and symbolic speech through which the substance of life is evoked, materialized in images to express and interpret the inarticulate feelings of human experience. And you can't play any antics in the doing of this mysterious process of turning the water of human experience into the wine of poetry. Here is a sample called "Silent," of the "great " art Mr. Pound complacently writes, carrying its own unconscious rebuke, which the readers of real poetry in the line "What is the use of setting to rime?" will find themselves asking concerning the entire collection:

When I behold how black, immortal ink
Drips from my deathless pen-ah, well-away!
Why should we stop at all for what I think?
There is enough in what I chance to say.

It is enough that we once came together;
What is the use of setting it to rime?
When it autumn do we get spring weather,
Or gather may of harsh northwindish time?

The "complete Poetical Works of T. E. Hulme" appended to Ripostes consisting of five short poems are we believe by the evidence of a foot-note signed "T.E.H." a thin disguise of Mr. Pound's effort to be humorous. It is quite without value or interest.

Voices from Overseas, by Stephen Phillips.19 The Poetry Review, 2 (1913), 141 [excerpt]:

The Star-Reader [sic] and Other Poems. Clark Ashton-Smith [sic]. (A. M. Robertson, San Francisco, California.)

Too little space is left to say what one would like to say about a quite remarkable book published by a young poet little more than a boy, and under conditions which might well have sufficed not merely to damp, but to damn a latent fire how strong soever. He has, however, so we understand, managed to make himself heard within those strict limits which for the time confine him. We believe he has a future, and a not uncertain one, if he will only keep heart and not despair too easily. For a youth not yet twenty this is far from contemptible as a description of a "Sunset:"

"As blood from some enormous hurt
The sanguine sunset leapt;
Across it, like a dabbled skirt,
The hurrying tempest swept.

He will, we believe, go far, and we hope to renew his acquaintance shortly.

Recent Poetry, by Harriet Monroe.20 Poetry, A Magazine of Verse, 2, 1 (April 1913), 31-32:

The Star-Treader and Other Poems, by Clark Ashton Smith. A. M. Robertson, San Francisco.

This Californian has extreme youth in his favor, so it would be idle to complain that his subjects are chiefly astronomic. Life will bring him down to earth, no doubt, in her usual brusque manner, and will teach him something more intimate to write about than winds and stars and forsaken gods. Meantime he shows an unusual imaginative power of visualizing these remote splendors until they have the concrete definiteness of a personal experience. These lines To the Sun for example:

Thy light is an eminence unto thee,
And thou art upheld by the pillars of thy strength.
Thy power is a foundation for the worlds;
They are builded thereon as upon a lofty rock
Whereto no enemy hath access.
Thou puttest forth thy rays, and they uphold the sky
As in the hollow of an immense hand.
Thou erectest thy light as four walls
And a roof with many beams and pillars.
Thy flame is a stronghold based as a mountain;
Its bastions are tall, and firm like stone.

In spite of the sophomoric quality in many of these poems we have here a rare spirit and the promise of poetic art.

Excerpt from California the Wonderful by Edwin Markham. NY: Hearst's International Library Co., 1914, p.360:

Gossip on Parnassus
The wind of poesy bloweth where it listeth; poesy is a mystery deep as the world. She strikes her chords in unexpected places. Up in the leafy coverts in our Auburn hills, there is a young man who has felt the thrilling touch of her rushing wing; and not he has a gift of song that colleges cannot confer. This young man is Clark Ashton Smith. His first volume of verse shows that his mind tends toward the vast, the remote, the mysterious. Shall I say that he exhorts Orion, instructs the Shadow, admonishes Demogorgon, explores the Abyss? He has some of the excess of youth-yes: yet how much nobler is the excess of youth than the poverty of age. Ashton Smith is a true poet: he has caught sight of the wonder behind the appearance of the world, the vision that forever allures and forever eludes.

Foot Notes

  1. Attributed by Donald Sidney-Fryer (Emperor of Dreams: A Clark Ashton Smith Bibliography [West Kingston, RI: Donald M. Grant, 1978], p. 226) to Town Talk editor Theodore F. Bonnet.
  2. In fact, Sterling did attempt to do just this. Writing of Smith's poem "Psalm to the Desert" (first published in Klarkash-Ton and Monstro Ligriv [Saddle River, NJ: Gerry de la Ree, 1974], he commented "The Abyss obsesses you overmuch. Still, who could ever 'write it out?'" (GS to CAS, March 6, 1915). Smith replied "Why shouldn't the Abyss be the dominant theme of my work? Other poets have made their main work a series of expatiations on some central subject, and no one has risen up to rebuke them for monotony or self-repetition. . . . However, it may be well to vary the images and symbols a bit, and I shall write less about the gulf for awhile. I've plenty of other themes, tho the ideas of change and death and evanescence will continue to be the ground-tones of my work." (CAS-GS, March 11, 1915). See S. T. Joshi, "Introduction" to Ambrose Bierce, George Sterling, and Clark Ashton Smith, The Last Oblivion (San Francisco: Anamnesis Press, forthcoming) for a discussion of this issue (printed in What Is Anything?, 12, 4 [October 1999], 11).
  3. "I rejoice to say that I survive all onsets of the critics to date. If the reviews on this coast are a fair sample, the dictionary will be rather well de-boned for verbs of abuse, by the time the eastern cohorts of critics are through. ... I've seen only one really decent review so far,-one by Hubert [sic] Bashford in the "Bulletin" for Nov. 30th." (CAS-GS, December 13, 1912). "Lend me the 'Bulletin' review; I'd like to see what the toadlike Bashford had to say. I thought he'd knock you, as he and I do not get on well together." (GS-CAS, December 18, 1912) "I'll return you the Bashford review as soon as [Porter] Garnett returns it to me. He is certainly 'strong' for you-and his natural tastes are not along your 'lines' at all. Why don't you write and thank him for the review? It was the old custom, and I occasionally revert to it, in the case of an unusually kind review." (GS-CAS, January 11, 1913) "Bashford has risen several degrees in my estimation, 'tho he has no use for Bierce." (GS-CAS, February 1, 1913). Bashford (1871-1928) was a frequent sparring partner of Ambrose Bierce. CAS's letter to Bashford has been located.
  4. Porter Garnett (1871-1951) was assistant librarian at the Bancroft Library from 1907 to 1912. He was also a printer of some note. He edited The Grove Plays of the Bohemian Club (3 vols., San Francisco, 1919), which lists "C. A. Smith" among the participants in the chorus (p. xxviii). He later taught at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh.
  5. The title actually is "The Cloud Islands."
  6. Shaemas O'Sheel (1886-1954) was a New York poet and writer heavily influenced by Yeats and the Celtic Renaissance. Among his books were The Blessing Bough (1911), The Light Feet of Goats (1915), Jealous of Dead Leaves (1928), and the alternate history novel It Never Could Happen; or, The Second American Revolution (1932).
  7. Actually, at the time this review was published Smith was twenty years old; however, the bulk of the collection was written before his nineteenth birthday.
  8. "I'm enclosing Shaemas O'Sheel's review of your book, in the 'Times Review of Books' (sic). I'm hoping the first of it will not hurt you; and yet you are very sensitive. Remember that toward the last he pays you a fine tribute. ...It's oddly reminiscent of my first reviews, to the extent that they usually complimented me & took a fling at Bierce. Now Shaemas lams me. The Lord bless the joyous Mick!-I don't care." (GS-CAS, Feb. 1, 1913) "Thanks for the 'Times' review. It isn't so bad, except for the generally flippant tone and the execrable English. How can a poet be a 'note in the symphony of arts'? A poet isn't an art. And is the phrase 'caressing hills' a bit of the Celtic mysticism recommended to my study? The phrase is mystic enough, I'll confess. I'd like to find a way to put a crimp in the self-satisfaction of such critics. But there isn't any way. And the English language has few champions these days, to protect her." (CAS-GS, Feb. 3, 1913)
  9. "'Current Literature' has just noticed my book, quoting two poems from it. I suppose you've seen it, too. I think there are forty or fifty better things in the book that they might have quoted from." (CAS-GS, February 3, 1913). "I saw the 'Current Lit." review. They usually select with poor taste, and you've fared no worse than we others." (GS-CAS, February 14, 1913) The two poems quoted are "The Cloud Islands" and "Retrospect and Forecast" (see supra).
  10. "The enclosed is Stanley Braithwaite's review of my book, in the Boston Transcript. The tag at the top doesn't mean that I'm subscribing to a cutting-bureau. The Komicke firm keeps sending me samples, along with an invitation to subscribe. This is the third or fourth that they've sent; and I think you admit that it's a prize. Think of getting a hundred such for only five dollars! (the subscription price) Don't return the thing." (CAS-GS, April 12, 1913) William Stanley Braithwaite (1878-1962) was a conservative critic and poet who exercised immense influence during this period, despite the fact that he was of African-American ancestry (something which he downplayed). As literary editor of the Boston Evening Transcript, he commissioned Sterling to write an "Ode on the Centenary of the Birth of Robert Browning," which won second prize in the Lyric Year contest for 1912. Sterling later fell out with Braithwaite concerning delays in responding to submissions, requests for "occasional" poems, and the general opinion he formed that Braithwaite was "opaque to pure poetry, that you miss 'the soul and inner light of song,' and fail to note when the baser rock passes into crystal. You care for assertions, optimisims, and pieties, and become art-brother to that absurd old hunker [William Lyon] Phelps, whose breath of life is platitudes and sanctimonies." (GS to Braithwaite, April 8, 1919). See Dalton Gross, "George Sterling's Letters to William Stanley Braithwaite: The Poet Versus the Editor," The American Book Collector 24, 2 (November-December 1973), 18-20. Included with the review of Smith's book is a review of Ezra Pound's Ripostes which immediately followed it, offered for contrast. Sterling contributed an article on "The Poets of the Pacific Coast" to Braithwaite's Anthology of Magazine Verse for 1926; the paragraph which discussed Smith's work was reprinted in The Step-Ladder for May, 1927 (rpt EOD mailing 106). For a fascinating discussion of Braithwaite's relationship with Lovecraft, see S. T. Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life (Necronomicon Press, 1996), p. 200.
  11. "The Star-Treader," IV, line 8.
  12. "The Star-Treader," V, line 5.
  13. "The Star-Treader," VII, line 1.
  14. "The Star-Treader," VII, line 9.
  15. "Ode to Music," line 49.
  16. "Ode on Imagination," line 10.
  17. "The Soul of the Sea," lines 5-7, should read as follows:
    It pours adown the sky,
    And rears at the cliffs of night
    Uppiled against the vast.
  18. "Ode to Music," line 15
  19. "Stephen Phillips recently have me rather brief mention in the English 'Poetry Review,' at the end of a review of Robert W. Service's latest book of doggerels [sic]. He quoted my quatrain 'The Sunset,' with the comment that it wasn't by any means contemptible considering my age! And then he had the gall to send me a copy of the number containing this 'review.' This, and the Braithwaite review, both forced upon my notice, are all the criticism I've seen in months. But they're enough." (CAS-GS, April 12, 1913). "I saw Phillip's review, and thought it a damned skimpy one. But an English poet always thinks it a great condescension even to mention an American one. So you did better than you think." (GS-CAS, May 8, 1913) Phillips (1868-1915) was a prominent British poet, playwright, editor and critic. The same volume in which this review appeared also published Lord Dunsany's play "The Gods of the Mountain."
  20. For a full discussion of Monroe (1860-1936) and Smith, see "Gesturing Towards the Infinite," Continuity, 4 (October 1999), p. 3.
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