by Clark Ashton Smith
Imagination, to thine occult sight,
All things are crystal—earth, and sea, and sky,
The seen and the unseen, but limpid light;
Unvisioned stars shall not thy wings defy;
For thee the Future hath no secrecy:
Not with the senses dost thou share the chains
Of Time, and Space’s prison; thou dost fly
At will the narrow bourne of their domains
For realms where never bruit of Time and Space attains.
All earth is empire of thy tireless quest:
Thy wings achieve the cloud-invested height,
Or down the distant sunset-flooded West,
Thou vanishest in long unerring flight,
That far outspeeds the swarthy plumes of Night.
Thou findest rest a space on sunset sands,
But soon a star, with Westward-sinking light,
Doth speak of more remote, untrodden strands,
And forth thou farest toward those undiscovered lands.
No realm nor place is secret from thy gaze.
The kingdoms of the bird and fish are thine:
Thy pinions try the eagle’s lucid ways,
Then sink to search the foaming vasts of brine.
Thou soar’st to meet the morning’s lucent shine,
Where Night and Day beneath thy feet are spread
In long insuperable battle-line;
Then in a breath thou front’st the sunset’s red,
Or seekest midnight’s realm of mystery and dread.
The ocean yields its secrets unto thee:
Far down beneath the agitated wave,
Where winds stir not the anger of the sea,
Thou plungest to some Nereid’s emerald cave,
Whose floors the varied shells of ocean pave.
Here wealth of pearls and strange sea-flowers is thine,
But soon, aweary grown, thy soul doth crave
The noontide air, and where the breakers shine,
Thou soar’st to watch their furious cliff-assailing line.
And then thou questest dusks obscure and strange—
Perpetual twilights—in some jungle’s heart,
Where darkness comes, a scarcely-noted change.
Here trees inweave, as if with conscious art,
O’er pools that of the gloom appear a part,
Nor know the silver kiss of star or moon;
And birds strange-plumaged, unauthentic, dart
Through shadows that affirm and then impugn
And leaves and flowers unfamiliar to the noon.
Now o’er a Winter land thou hoverest,
Its sunlit snow to mark, on transient wing.
To trees, in glittering icy armour dressed,
Mild Southern winds bear bruit of coming Spring,
And seek to rouse, with amorous whispering,
The white-robed grass; the clouds austere and grey
That late were earth’s dark-vaulted covering,
In ranks disordered, dim, now flee away,
And skies of azure threaten Winter’s waning sway.
Thy pinions find a desert drear, forlorn,
Where purple Night fills all the fruitless land,
Deepest a little ere the East of morn
Grows ominous. Her all-deleting hand
Seems promise that her reign awhile shall stand,
When Day, with baleful Cyclopean eye,
Upleaps in flame, and of his sway the sand
Grows ostent, swift. In gardens of the sky,
At his fell breath, the stars are withered utterly!
Of other worlds thy wings ambitious are:
O’er airless gulfs that yawn past reach of Day—
Unfathomed voids of space ’twixt star and star,
Unhesitatingly thou dost essay
Some world exclusive from the sun’s wide sway.
Strange forms of life thine eyes thereon descry—
New, unfamiliar—that yet tread a way,
Which, dim and difficult, like ours doth lie
Through dark and pain, toward goals that gleam in unity.
The outer barriers of our system past,
Thou stayst thy flight, to mark in awe and dread,
Some world that ruins down the darkling vast,
Or suns and asteroids, that hurtling red,
To cataclysmic vortices are fed,
And equallized in ruin. Then in gloom
Of planets derelict, long ages dead,
That whirl where never suns nor stars illume,
Thou ’light’st a space to muse upon their frozen doom.
Thy magic spells recall the Past to life,
Before thine eyes the pageant of the years
Doth move, with its reanimated strife,
Its record of forgotten hopes and fears;
Dead loves and hates, and buried joys, and tears
Long-fallen, to thy voice obedient,
Arise and live again; unto thine ears
Voices for ages still are eloquent,
And thou beholdest forms long years in darkness pent.
Once more the might of Rome and Babylon
Lies as a shadow over East and West;
Again Greece sheds a glory as of dawn,
Whose lambent splendour all the years attest;
Once more in empire’s tidal, quick unrest,
Egypt and Tyre and Persia rise in state,
And Alexander’s world-lust is addressed
Unto their humbling; thrones and nations great
Again are raised or levelled, as the Fates dictate.
’Mong peoples and through realms restored to light,
At will thou wanderest. Thou dost behold
Swart Egypt’s gods, enthroned in templed might
Along the Nile, and ’fore thine eyes unfold
Their vanished pomps, with glare of gems and gold;
Thou look’st on Rome, when at its utmost height,
Her grandeur dazzled earth; the wars of old
Upflame and rage anew within thy sight,
With sanguine pageant of advance, retreat, and fight.