Letter to H. P. Lovecraft

From Clark Ashton Smith

[21] [c. 15-23 February 1931]

From the vaults of
Tomeron, catacombs of

Dear E'ch-Pi-El,

"Manifold and multiform are the horrors that infest the visible ways and the ways unseen. They sleep beneath the unturned stone; they rise with the tree from its root; they move beneath the sea and in subterranean places; they dwell unchallenged in the inmost adyta; they emerge betimes from the shutten sepulcher of haughty bronze and the low grave that is sealed with earth. There be some that are long known to man, and others as yet unknown that abide the terrible future days of their revealing. Those which are the most dreadful and the loathliest of all, are haply still to be declared. But among those that have revealed themselves aforetime and have made manifest their veritable presence, there is one which may not openly be named for its exceeding foulness. It is that spawn which the hidden dweller in the vaults has begotten upon mortality".

This dreadful passage from the Necronomicon (which one fears to ponder overlong) is the one that I shall use to preface "The Nameless Offspring".[1] Personally, I think that some of Alhazred's appalling hints are beyond anything that I can hope to write, in their endless reverberations of cryptic horror. Is nothing safe, or indesecrate — when "They sleep beneath the unturned stone, and rise with the tree from its root"? Are the fountains all polluted, is the very soil pervaded with their poison? Do they veil their obscene entity with the mist, and mask themselves in the cloud of alabastrine whiteness?

[. . .] I think my reaction to James is very much like your own, His tales are about perfect in their way, and some of them -- particularly "A View from a Hill", "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas", "The Ash-Tree", and the one about the specter "with the crumpled linen face" (can't remember its title at the moment) are hideously powerful. All of them, indeed, are extremely good. No one ever thought up anything more original, and more graphically realized, in the way of phantoms and demons. Like you, I would place him a little below Poe and Machen; though he is fully as good as Bierce, and really more sustained and satisfying than B. The latter, somehow, hasn't worn any too well with me since my last re-reading. Even so great a story as "The Death of Halpin Frayser" has begun to reveal flaws. Like Machen's "The Great God Pan", it might have been a better piece of work if the "long arm of coincidence" hadn't been stretched so egregiously. You certainly put your finger on the weakness of "Pan". Another thing which I don't greatly care for is the helter-skelter way in which this latter tale is developed and told from so many different view-points.

[. . .]

I have lately received a delightful communication from Dr. Whitehead through his secretary. Whitehead, I was sorry to learn, has been very ill.

[. . .]

I spent a day or two, not long ago, trying to get rid of some flaws in my old verse-renderings from Baudelaire. Among other things, I tried to render the final stanzas of "L'Irremediable" (last poem in Sandalwood) which were omitted in my version. The result is none too good, but I quote it herewith:


Darkly and dear, the soul doth see
Its mirrored self in very sooth:
The black and lucid well of Truth
Where a star trembles lividly --

Flambeau of grace from sullen hells,
Infernal and ironic phare;
The one consoling glory there
A Conscience deep in evil dwells. [2]

(Un phare ironique, infernal,
Flambeau des grace sataniques;
Soulagement et gloire uniques —
La Conscience dans le Mal!)

If I really had the energy you credit me with I would try to do something with my translations, poems, etc. But with market conditions as they are at present, I imagine it would be doubly difficult to interest anyone. However, poetry is still published — I have recently had requests for contributions from the publishers of two projected anthologies. One, called California Poets, to be brought out by Henry Harrison of N.Y., will contain five of my best short poems ("Symbols", "Nyctalops", "The Nereid", "Palms", and "Sepulture"). [3] [. . .]

I hope most fervently that your programme will soon admit of some new original tales. Damn, but Brother Wright's rejection of "The Shunned House" (somehow, I had the impression it had been printed in W.T.) is certainly a record-breaker. It goes to show that editors and their preferences simply can't be taken seriously. I have become absolutely case-hardened, and refuse to be depressed by anybody's rejection of anything.

[. . .] If one were a millionaire, it would be huge fun to start a really good magazine devoted to the weird and fantastic, and do it all in style, and print the best obtainable regardless of the yowling public . . . Nom de Tsathoggua! What a pipe-dream!

Later. It is a week or more since I wrote the above. In the interim I have drafted a tale from the Commoriom myth-cycle — "The Testament of Athammaus". [. . .] In my more civic moods, I sometimes think of the clean-up which an entity like Knygathin Zhaum would make in a modern town. I really think he (or it) is about my best monster to date. It would be nice (if ever I get to the book-cover stage) to publish a separate volume of tales under some such title as The Book of Hyperborea. This primal continent seems to have been particularly subject to incursions of "outsideness" — more as, in fact, than any of the other continents and terrene realms that lie behind us in the time-stream. But I have heard it hinted in certain obscure and arcanic prophecies that the far-future continent called Gnydron by some and Zothique by others, which is to rise millions of years hence in what is now the South Atlantic, will surpass even Hyperborea in this regard and will witness the intrusion of Things from galaxies not yet visible; and, worse than this, a hideously chaotic breaking-down of dimensional barriers which will leave parts of our world in other dimensions, and vice versa. When things get to that stage, there will be no telling where even the briefest journey or morning stroll might end. The conditions will shift, too; so there will be no possibility of charting them and thus knowing when or where one might step off into the unknown.

[. . .]

Yrs, in the service of the Old Ones,


  1. The passage given in this letter differs somewhat from the published version.
  2. The translation given here differs considerably from that included in the "Sandalwood" section of Selected Poems (1971).
  3. The poems actually published were "Symbols", "Sepulture", "The Nereid", "Autumn Orchards", and "Consolation".

From: Clark Ashton Smith: LETTERS TO H. P. LOVECRAFT, edited by and footnotes by Steve Behrends (July 1987) Necronomicon Press.

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