The Masque of Forsaken Gods

Clark Ashton Smith

Scene: A moonlit glade on a summer midnight.


How pale the sapphire of the central night,
Wherein the stars turn grey! The summer's green,
Edgéd and strong by day, is dull and faint
Beneath the moon's all-monorating mood,
That in this absence of the impassioned sun
Sways to a sleep of sound and calm of color
The live and vivid aspect of the world.
Even thought itself is strangely overcome,
And like the pale beginning of a dream.
Here were the theater of a miracle,
If such, within a world long alienate
From its first dreams, and shut with skeptic years,
Might now befall.


The Huntress rides no more
Across the upturned faces of the stars:
'Tis but the dead shell of a frozen world,
Glttering with desolation. Earth's old gods—
The gods that haunt like dreams each planet's youth—
Are fled from years incredulous, and tired
With penetrating of manifolded masks
That give but emptiness they served to hide.
Remains not faith enough to bring them back—
Pan to his wood, Diana to her moon,
And all the powers that once made populous
A haggard world where Time grows weary now.
Yet Youth, that lives, might for a little claim
That vanished pantheon, on such a night,
When, under the lowering marvel of the moon,
The films of time wear perilously thin,
And thought looks backward to the simpler years,
Till all the vision seems but just beyond.
If one have faith, it may be that he shall
Behold them once—once only, and no more,
Because of Time's inhospitality,
For which they may not stay.


The quiet light
Surges and fumes like to a spectral sea
Whereof relimning foundered shapes are born!
Is it a throng of luminous white clouds—
Phantoms of some old storm's death-driven Titans,
That float beneath the moon, and speak with voices
Like the last echoes of a thunder spent ?
'Tis the forsaken gods, that win a foothold
About the magic circle which the moon
Draws like some old enchantress round the glade.


I see them not; the vision is addressed
Only to thine acute and eager youth.


All heaven and earth were once my throne;
Now I have but the wind alone
For shifting judgment-seat.
The pillared world supported me:
Yet man's old incredulity
Left nothing for my feet.


Man hath forgotten me:
Yet seems it that my memory
Saddens the wistful voices of the wood;
Within each erst-frequented spot
Echo forgets my music not,
Nor Earth my tread where trampling years have stood.


Time hath grown cold
Toward beauty loved of old.
The gods must quake
When dreams and hopes forsake
The heart of man,
And disillusion's ban,
More chill than stone,
Rears till the former throne
Of loveliness
Is dark and tenantless.
Now must I weep—
Homeless within the deep
Where once of old
Mine orbéd chariot rolled—
And mourn in vain
Man's immemorial pain
Of light and beauty fled.


Time wearied of my song—
A satiate and capricious king
Who for his pleasure bade me sing,
First of his minstrel throng;
Till, cloyed with melody,
His ear grew faint to voice and lyre:
Forgotten then of Time's desire,
His thought was void of me.


I, born of sound and foam,
Child of the sea and wind,
Was fire upon mankind—
Fuelled with Syria, and with Greece and Rome.
Time fanned me with his breath,
Love found new warmth in me,
And Life its ecstasy,
Till I grew deadly with the wind of death.


How can the world be still so beautiful
When beauty's self is fled ? 'Tis like the mute
And marble loveliness of some dead girl;
And we that hover here are as the spirit
Of former voice and motion and live color
In that which shall not stir nor speak again.


Nay, rather say this lovely, lifeless world
Is but a rigid semblance, counterfeiting
The world which was: nor have the gods retained
Such power as once informed and rendered vital
The cryptic irresponsiveness of stone—
That statue which Pygmalion made and loved.


I, who was discord among men,
Alone of all Time's hierarchy
Find that Time hath no need of me,
No lack that I might fill again.


Tell me, O gods, are ye forever doomed
To fall and flutter among spatial winds,
Finding release nor foothold anywhere—
Debarred from doors of all the suns, like spirits
Whose names are blotted from the lists of time,
Though they themselves yet wander undestroyed ?


Throneless, discrowned, and impotent,
In man's sad disillusionment,
We passed with Earth's returnless youth,
Who were the semblances of truth,
The veils that hid the vacantness
Infinite, naked, meaningless,
The blank and universal Sphinx
Each world confronts at last—and sinks.
New gods forefend awhile the gaze
Of man—each one a veil that stays—
Till the new gods, discredited,
Like mist that melts with noon, are fled—
That power oppressive, limitless,
The tyranny of nothingness.
Our power is dead upon the earth
With the first dews and dawns of time,
But in the far and younger clime
Of other worlds, it hath rebirth.
Yea, though we find not entrance here—
Astray like feathers on the wind,
To neither earth nor heaven consigned—
Fresh altars in a distant sphere
Are keen with fragrance, bright with fire,
New hearths to warm us from the night,
Till, banished thence, we pass in flight
While all the flames of dream expire.

Bibliographic Citation

Top of Page