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“Beyond the Far Cathayan Wall”

By no means is Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961) considered as a mainstream American writer. Yet his poems and stories have a certain quality, reinforced by his association with H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E Howard. Of him, Lovecraft said, “in sheer daemonic strangeness and fertility of conception, Clark Ashton Smith is perhaps unexcelled.” And Ray Bradbury said that Smith “filled my mind with incredible worlds, impossibly beautiful cities, and still more fantastic creatures.”

Below is a poem of his entitled “Beyond the Great Wall”:

Beyond the Great Wall

Beyond the far Cathayan wall,
A thousand leagues athwart the sky,
The scarlet stars and mornings die,
The gilded moons and sunsets fall.

Across the sulphur-colored sands
With bales of silk the camels fare,
Harnessed with vermeil and with vair,
Into the blue and burning lands.

And ah, the song the drivers sing
To while the desert leagues away—
A song they sang in old Cathay
Ere youth had left the eldest king,

Ere love and beauty both grew old
And wonder and romance were flown
On irised wings to worlds unknown,
To stars of undiscovered gold.

And I their alien words would know,
And follow past the lonely wall
Where gilded moons and sunsets fall,
As in a song of long ago.

I think that Smith deserves a long second look, both for his poems and his eldritch short stories.