Recent Books of Fact and Fiction
By George Sterling
As a boy of sixteen or thereabouts, Clark Ashton Smith was discovered as "the Keats of the Pacific Coast," and duly proclaimed as such by all the San Francisco newspapers. A great deal of water has passed in and out of the Golden Gate since then, but though we have heard less of the Keats, the bard has never ceased to woo the muse. His loves have changed and if unanimity were possible for a new label following publication of Ebony and Crystal, it would [be] "the Poe" or "the Baudelaire" of California.
Smith is a literary chameleon with a distressing facility for taking on the color of his poetic surroundings. At present these surroundings are Poe and Baudelaire with a little of George Sterling in the middle distance.
Baudelaire himself might have written such things as would make the Alexandrine sonnets "Inferno" and "Mirrors" read like perfect translations, while "The Land of Evil Stars" is so like Poe it might have been foisted on an innocent world as a long lost manuscript of our surest immortal. "The Hashish-Eater" outwizards "A Wine of Wizardry," for it more than speaks of the younger Sterling. It is a summing up of all possible weirdness and horror, a mosaic of a stupefying imagination. Yet it fails of that terror it was the evident purpose to suggest. To borrow from Gilbert it is sometimes merely "very terrible" and incites a smile.
Yet all in all this book is well stocked with splendidly imaginative lines. It is not for the general reader, but its craftsmanship will inspire either delight or envy in those that would rival it. A poet sings or croons to us in "Dissonance," "Transcendence," "Forgetfulness," and "The Harlot of the World"—the same being life.
The bard writes love poems, but he gives the impression of a poet with a mind more upon his own words than upon his lover's lips. He woos with artifice and not passionately: he presents jewels where he should give flowers. Evidently he has his own private dictionary from which all prose words have been expurgated. All is, as George Sterling says in a brief foreword, "pure and hard," and he might have added "without heart."
It is art in unhuman, almost unearthly form—a deliberate evasion of reality. But it is an art in which among living bards he stands alone.
—George Douglas [i.e., George Sterling]