Letter to Samel. J. Sackett

From Clark Ashton Smith

Auburn, Calif.,
July 11th, 1950.

Dear Sam:

Thanks for the sketch, which I have read over carefully, checking several obvious errors made by the typist.

Your data are substantially correct, apart from a few minor points. Poe, not Omar Khayya., was the first poet who impressed me, and I'll never forget the thrill of finding his poems in a grammar-school library at the age of thirteen. I remember too that the librarian commented reprovingly on my morbid and unhealthy taste in reading- matter!

Arthur A. Hillman is in error on one or two points. The changes in "Dweller in Martian Depths" were not made by me but by the editor. David Lasser, and were made without my knowledge. The original text of this tale, under its original titled, "The Dweller in the Gulf", will appear in next volume of tales. The worst thing about the alterations was, that they were crudely done. Also, it is hardly true that l was forced to discontinue writing fiction, since there has been no time when my tales were not in request among editors and readers. The chief reason was my own growing disgust with pulp fantasy and with the restrictions imposed upon writers.

James Blish's critique is new to me, and I find parts of it quite astounding. No doubt a wider scholarship on Mr. Blish's part would enable him to assemble a much longer list of alleged "influences," including writers that I have never read! He has missed some of my favourite poets, including Keats and Beddoes, and apparently does not take Huysmans or Ambrose Bierce into account in tabulating sources (?) for my prose! For the bane of every new creative artist, the world is full of people with Mr. Blish's turn of mind—that is to say, people who can see nothing but resemblances either real or fancied (usually the latter) and who can always be depended upon to miss or ignore the essential differences between a new talent and its predecessors.

Incidentally, the phrase "super-terrestrial fairylands accurst" which Blish quotes as being from Lovecraft, is really taken from an appreciation of my poetry written by Benjamin De Casseres.

Blish, too, is obviously one of those who refuse to admit the ornate literary style (such as that of Sir Thomas Browne) as a legitimate form of art. On this point, I might quote Lytton Strachey, who thoroughly appreciates Browne and wrote a fine essay upon him. "There is a great gulf fixed between those who naturally like the ornate and those who naturally abhor it." As Strachey points out, argument is useless. . . .
As to my own employment of an ornate style, using many words of classic origin and exotic color, I can only say that [it] is designed to produce effects of language and rhythm which could not possibly be achieved by a vocabulary restricted to what is known as "basic English". As Strachey points out, a style composed largely of words of Anglo-Saxon origin tends to a spondaic rhythm. "which by some mysterious law, reproduces the atmosphere of ordinary life." An atmosphere of remoteness, vastness, mystery and exoticism is more naturally evoked by a style with an admixture of Latinity, lending it self to more varied and sonorous rhythms, as well as to subtler shades, tints and nuances of meaning all of which, of course, are wasted or worse than wasted on the average reader, even if presumably literate.

Among writers who have praised my poetry highly, you might add to your list Ambrose Bierce. Vachel Lindsay, Robert Haven Schauffler, Starton Cobentz, Lilith Lorraine, and the late British poet, Alice Meynell.

I enclose some reviews and appreciations, including the one written by De Casseres, which you have probably not seen. There have been many others, but unfortunately I have not kept all of them and have mislaid others. For instance, there was a fine write-up by Stanley Mullen in The Gorgon about three years back; and another, written by one Richard Stockton (who really showed some understanding of my work) appeared in The Acolyte.

As to coinages, I have really made few such apart from proper names of personages, cities, countries, deities, etc., in realms lying "east of the sun and west of the moon." I have used a few words, names of fabulous monsters. etc., drawn from Herodotus, Maundeville. and Flaubert which I have not been able to find in dictionaries or other works of reference. Some of these occur in "The Hashish-Eater", a much-misunderstood poem, which was intended as a study in the possibilities of cosmic consciousness, drawing heavily on myth and fable for its imagery. It is my own theory that if the infinite worlds of the cosmos were opened to human vision. the visionary would be overwhelmed by horror in the end, like the hero of this poem.

I hope I have made it plain that my use of rare and exotic words has been solely in accord with an aesthetic theory, or, one might say, a technical theory.

I had intended to write and thank you some months back for your letter returning my French verses with the criticism of your Lithuanian professor. Curiously enough, he, not I. was in error in two instances out of three—the third being due to my own carelessness in not actually checking up on a word.

Incidentally, some of my French, and also my Spanish, verses have been praised by scholars deeply grounded in these languages. Latterly I have concentrated on the study of Spanish. I'll enclose a specimen or two of Spanish verse, which has been checked over by a local professor.

I hope that you and your wife will be able to come up during the summer. Let me know beforehand, since I may be away for a week or two, at a date not yet determined. I enjoyed George Modell's last visit here in company with his wife, and hope they will be able to repeat it ere long.

My best to all of you,


P.S. I'm not sure when my poems will appear, since publication is being held up by the exorbitant cost of printing. My next prose volume, The Abominations of Yondo, is evidently scheduled to precede the poems, and should be out early next year, if not sooner.

From: Klarkash-Ton: The Journal of Smith Studies #1, 1988, Cryptic Publications.

The review that cas mentions in this letter as "really showed some understanding of my work" is An Appreciation of the Prose Works of Clark Ashton Smith

Top of Page