Reviews of Sandalwood

Scott Connors

On April 11, 1922, CAS wrote to George Sterling that "I've planned a new book, which oughtn't to be so hard to dispose of. It will be made up entirely of love-poems, and the colouring will be sensuous rather than sensual. "Sandalwood" ought to be a good title, since the imagery and the setting will be largely exotic."

In response to a query regarding possible publishers, Sterling wrote Smith that "I think I have a publisher for you, at least for a small book. George Steele Seymour was with me for three hours yesterday, and I gave him a long talk about you. His organization, The Bookfellows (Chicago) brings out one or two books yearly, and though he has "signed up" for one for the Christmas season, he says he can handle another one, if it doesn't run over 75 pages. It would have to be something he could sell for a dollar. But printing isn't so expensive in the east as it is out here, and he could, I think, bring out a very tolerable little volume. So if you care to send him such a MS., you are at liberty to do so any time, as he left for home last night."(June 18, 1925) Seymour and The Bookfellows had earlier published the first edition of Sterling's dramatic verse, Truth, in 1923, so CAS sent Seymour the typescript; however, "Seymour returned my typescript. I enclose his letter. I had an intuition, somehow, that he wouldn't do anything with my stuff. I can't think of anyone else to try it on;—and the increase in second-class postal-rates is no joke, anyway." (CAS-GS, August 2, 1925) Seymour had not turned down the book, but instead wrote CAS that "he can do nothing with it till next year. I am inclined to fear that he is emulating the courtesy of the Chinese!" (CAS-Donald Wandrei, August 4, 1925)

Rather than take a chance with The Bookfellows, Smith inquired of Bert Cassidy, publisher of The Auburn Journal, about the costs of bringing out Sandalwood as he did with Ebony and Crystal, only in pamphlet form and in a smaller edition, "if I can steal, earn or borrow enough money." (CAS-Donald Wandrei, August 7, 1925) The estimated cost was well over $100, but Cassidy "knocked off over a hundred dollars from the bill, in consideration of my services to the "Journal" (CAS-GS, October 14, 1925). Donald Wandrei, who had recently started corresponding with Smith, and although he only had $65 Wandrei immediately sent CAS a check for $50 (see Don Herron, "The Last Cosmic Master," Studies in Weird Fiction No. 4 (Fall 1988): 17), which allowed him to have the book printed since Cassidy would extend him credit for the balance (CAS-GS, September 14, 1925). This act of generosity favorably impressed Lovecraft, who wrote that "His share in Sandalwood surely attests the depth & sincerity of his appreciation" (Selected Letters II, p. 89).

Smith was probably wrong in his estimation of the chances of Seymour bringing out the book, since he dedicated the May 1927 issue of The Step Ladder, the official organ of The Bookfellows, to Smith and his poetry. (The CAS portion of this issue was reprinted in mailing 105.) The Bookfellows had a distinguished editorial board that included Edwin Markham, Katherine Lee Bates, John Mansfield, Hugh Walpole, Sterling, James Branch Cabell, and other major contemporary writers and poets. If Sandalwood had appeared under their imprint, it would probably have received more critical attention than it did as what amounted essentially to vanity publication. Although Sterling personally took review copies to the editors of the Call, Examiner, Bulletin, Chronicle, Argonaut, and Daily News, he could not guarantee either the adequacy or the favor of the reviews. The Call was the first newspaper to review the book briefly, Smith calling it "quite amusing" (CAS-GS , November 10, 1925), but this has not been found, unless it is our first item. After the Bulletin and Argonaut reviews appeared, there was no further action from either the Examiner or the Chronicle; Smith observed that "Apparently the S.F. papers don't care about reviewing "Sandalwood." Perhaps they are wise at that!" (CAS-GS, December 25, 1925). The Examiner reviewer was to have been Idwal Jones (1890-1964), author of the novel Vines of the Sun, The Vineyard ( and one of Lawrence Clark Powell's selections for his California Classics), China Boy, and Ark of Empire. San Francisco's Montgomery Block, which has been described as one of the best written histories of San Francisco. His review was delayed or prevented by illness. (Jones may have reviewed Ebony and Crystal as well.) Sterling continued to inquire of the editor of the Chronicle as to when they would review Smith's book, with the results we see below.

"...Debut Honors Sterling." [Uncredited newspaper clipping found among Clark Ashton Smith Papers, Brown University Library. Possibly from The {San Francisco} Call.]

Out of the romantic and picturesque atmosphere of the Rocky Mountains, America's continental divide, has come a new poet, Clark Ashton Smith, with his dedication to his own craft—a collection of poetical gems, gathered together in one volume under the title "Sandalwood." The volume is dedicated to George Sterling, the well known poet, "with admiration and affection."

Smith has written other works, notably "The Star Treader and Other Poems, "Odes and Sonnets," and "Ebony and Crystal." He began his poetical work when he was 16 years old and lays honest claim to being the first "poet of the Sierras" who wrote with his beloved mountain range as his inspiration.

"Sandalwood" consists of forty-two separate offerings, of which nineteen are from the French of Charles Pierre Baudelaire. The work of the young poet shows a wide range of understanding and poetical appreciation and, according to critics, vast promise of attaining pre-eminence in his chosen craft."

"Sandalwood" is just off the Auburn press, in a limited edition of 250 copies.

"Clark Ashton Smith Publishes New Book. Late Poems and Translations Contained in New Work of Poet." The Auburn Journal (November 5, 1925), p. 3: Clark Ashton Smith, Auburn's own poet, has completed publication of his latest book of poems and translations, "Sandalwood." The book was printed in the office of The Auburn Journal, and is now on sale by Mrs. Timeus Smith. Two hundred and fifty copies of the first edition of Smith's latest book were published and the edition will be sold out in a very short time. A large number have already gone east and some to England, where the well known poet has a large following.

While the work is Smith's latest, in many ways it is his best. He leans to simplicity of language, something he has not attempted in his previous works. To us, simplicity means strength. In the translations , which are from the French, Clark has outdone himself in his language. When one knows that one year ago he knew nothing of the French language, his translations are indeed a great achievement in the world of literature. It was by hard work that he studied the works, then adding to his study his marvelous vocabulary, he has presented French works in the English, that are indeed a masterpiece.

This latest book in our estimation will be his best seller. Following is a brief word of recommendation from Markham, whose works are well known to all followers of literature:

"West New Brighton, N.Y.
September 20, 1925.

"My dear Clark Ashton Smith:

"A few days ago I sent you a copy of The Literary Review of New York City, wherein I had the happiness to quote two or three of your remarkable lines of poetry. I fancy that my article will interest you as it touches upon the poetic realm to which you have dedicated your intellectual powers. I have already heard good reports of this summary of the great line symposium. 1

"If I mistake not, you had the kindness to send me a copy of your book of poems a long time ago. I fear that I did not acknowledge it. If I failed in this matter, I wish you to know that the failure was not due to any lack of interest in your remarkable contribution to modern verse. No, it was due to the fact that much of my time has been in eagle-flights over the continent, lighting at times in the great cities to read from my own verse and to proclaim the gospel of poetry.

"I now wish to express my keen admiration of some of your lines and passages, for there are moments when you rise to the high realms of the creative imagination. In these moments you stir our hearts with beauty and wonder.

"I trust that you will have the strength and courage to go on with your noble devotion to the Muse. I can assure you that the circle of those who admire your distinguished work will continue to widen, for that circle will include all discriminating and intelligent readers who happen to come into contact with your poetry.

"Ever cordially yours,

"The Bard of Auburn" [by Morton Todd .] The Argonaut (November 14, 1925), p. 9: 2 Sandalwood. By Clark Ashton Smith. Auburn: The Author, $1.00.

Clark Ashton Smith dedicates his latest volume of verse to George Sterling, and the dedication is significant for the reason that "Sandalwood" marks the author's emancipation from the Sterling influence. Not that it was a bad influence, but simply that it was something not the poet himself. Even more remarkable is the fact that although the collection includes nineteen translations from Baudelaire the original verse is far less in the mood of Baudelaire than was that in "Ebony and Crystal." By translation and dedication the poet pays his debt and burns the mortgage.

Smith now sings for himself in his own tones and in the key of his own emotion. He is singing out of life as he is living it, and not devising variations on the themes and moods of others. Others he might imitate when addressing nature, but not when appealing to human nature—to the woman or women of his inspiration. One would as soon offer a woman a second-hand engagement or marriage ring, as a second-hand simile or a shop-worn sentiment.

Though scarcely more than a boy when he began to write verse of great promise and some achievement, Smith has been slow of emotional development. Only now do we find him swayed by the passion without which pulsating poetry is not written. In earlier poems he spoke of love, but not as one absorbed by it. His tributes to Eros were carven of fine gold, but the carving almost concealed the precious metal. In other words, he was writing and not singing. All this has been changed. He now dips his pen in ink that has been "tempered with love's sighs." We find him singing:

Queen, whose perilous bosom bare
Was the field of Love's emprise,
I would hush my weary sighs
In the silence of thy hair.

In my heart thy kisses wrought
Raptures of the fabled faun;
Seal my lids before the dawn
With thy lips and lift them not. 3

The translations from Baudelaire are poems in themselves, as good translations of poetry ought to be. Of what value are mere literal versions if their very literalness necessitates loss of the original music?

"A Gentle Bard" [by George Douglas.] The [San Francisco] Bulletin (November 14, 1925), p. 10. 4

For his chaste muse employed her heaven-taught lyre
None but the noblest passions to inspire.

Those lines from Lyttleton's prologue to Thomson's Coriolanus" may be applied not unfittingly to the muse of Clark Ashton Smith, who a dozen years ago in San Francisco newspapers was proclaimed the "youthful Keats," "the juvenile Shelley," and "the boy Byron" of Auburn, our own sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the Sierra foothills. So chaste is his muse and so noble are his passions, his poetry, though beautiful, lacks human warmth.

When reviewing a previous volume, "Ebony and Crystal," the hope was expressed that the bard would emancipate himself from imitation of George Sterling and the influence of Baudelaire, and in part it is fulfilled in "Sandalwood." We have more of love as something felt as well as something experienced vicariously in the verse of others, but it is still a timid, a "doubtful love."

This doubtful love has slumbered long—
At most a shadow-mobled flame,
The murmur of a muted song;
And scarce will tell its rightful name
Lest love should do our friendship wrong. 5


Like a star
In the nether darkness drowned,
Lies the love
We have not found. 6

Always the epicure of words, Clark Ashton Smith comes to still finer distinction in this, his best volume of verse. Included in the collection are 19 poems translated from Baudelaire, and for once we have the spirit and the beauty, if not always the literal rendering of the idea of the original. In these translations Baudelaire is brought nearer than ever before to readers of English.

"Clark Ashton Smith Soars High Again Upon His Hippogriff" [by Ben Macomber.] San Francisco Chronicle, 127, 179 (January 10, 1926): 4D: 7

George Sterling came in, a while ago, to call our attention to "Sandalwood," a thin volume of verses by Clark Ashton Smith of Auburn. And now he has been in again to inquire if we were EVER going to say anything about that book. Well, it seems to us that if our attention has been called to it twice by George Sterling, and we say so, that ought to be of some value to prospective readers of "Sandalwood," and warmly heartening to Mr. Smith.

We have read the verses—twice. We don't understand them very well yet, but we are ready and willing to say of Mr. Smith as a poet that we are impressed by his eager earnestness in pursuit of winged beauty, and gratified that occasionally he comes to earth with a fistful of bright feathers.

Mr. Smith has music in him. There's a soaring and swooning Swinburnian style to his lines, which makes them effective for reading aloud, if one does not inquire too closely for the meaning. Like this:

Love was the flight of a crimson bird
Across the forest of your soul,
Where cypress-leaf and cypress-bole,
By mordant airs of autumn stirred,
Sigh with a long and sea-like ward.

Perhaps the key to it all is in the lines:

Unknown chimera, take us, for we tire
Amid the known monotony of things!

He finds that key after reading all the verses, except the final ones, which are, more or less, "from the French of Charles Pierre Baudelaire."

Hip, hip, hippogriff! Away, away, from the known monotony of things! (Auburn, Calif.: published by the author: $1.00)

The Secret

Like a word
Of an archetypal tongue,
Never told,
Never sung;

All unstirred,
Like the corals of the deep
In their cold
And purple sleep;

Lost and Far,
Like a forest-folded bloom
Lulled above
Its own perfume;
Like a star
In the nether darkness drowned,
Lies the love
We have not found.


  1. Markham started a running symposium in The Literary Review, a supplement to the New York Evening Post, in the August 1, 1925 issue, "Searching for the Magic Line," in which he invited readers to send in their favorite lines of poetry. In a letter to Sterling dated August 2, 1925, Smith made his observations regarding its theme: "The symposium of great poetic lines is interesting; so many of the selections lean toward the didactic, which is just what one would expect! Personally, I am quite unable to select any particular line in English verse that seems more beautiful than all others. I think, however, that Keats is richer in fine lines than any other English poet. He was able to play on more than one string, too:--'Mid hushed, cool-rooted flowers fragrant-eyed;' 'Savour of brass and poisonous metal sick'; 'Her open eyes where he was mirrored small in paradise;' 'Aea's isle was wondering at the moon,' etc." The September 12, 1925 issue featured "The Judgment of Mr. Markham," in which he concluded the search by quoting these lines from "Nero:"  Were I God,
    What rapture it would be if but to watch
    Destruction crouching at the back of Time.
  2. "Thanks for the Argonaut review—which, like the other, amused and disgusted, but did not surprise, me." CAS-GS, December 1, 1925.
  3. "The Song of Cartha (from 'The Fugitives')", Sandalwood (SW), p. 14..
  4. "Thanks for the "Bulletin" review, which is quite diverting, at any rate." (CAS-GS, November 18, 1925)
  5. "Query," SW, p. 10.
  6. "The Secret," SW, p. 12.
  7. "I went to see the 'Chronicle' critic yesterday, and found his neglect to review 'Sandalwood' was not inappreciation, but merely a combination of carelessness and overwork. He'll get busy, now, soon; but his review may seem very inadequate to you. Your 'case' needs a 'specialist' in poetry, not the average hack." (GS-CAS, January 5, 1926) "I saw the review in the 'Chronicle' this morning. Carramba! porca madonna! That bird takes the caraway-seed for literal-mindedness. Much of the verse in 'Sandalwood' does deal with 'the monotony of things'—or, at least, of emotions. For all the strange colouring, the book is absolutely faithful in its rendering of certain erotic moods-- But few people seem to notice this. . . . I suppose, too, from his comment on the Baudelaires, that he wants an absolutely literal translation in verse. All that I assume to do is to render the underlying conception, concerving {sic} as much as possible of the music and spirit. But I could do a literal version—in prose." (CAS-GS, January 10, 1926) "The 'Chronicle' critic is beneath contempt. I sent you his review (?) only that you might see what the criticism of such termites as he and Mavity [Nancy Barr Mavity, reviewer of Sterling's Selected Poems for the Chronicle] is worth." (GS-CAS, January 20, 1926)


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