PseudoPod 591: The Plutonian Drug and The Hashish-Eater

Show Notes

The drone used in “The Plutonian Drug” was Cerebral Cortex (Drone Mix) by Parvus Decree available and used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license from the Free Music Archive. No changes were made to the piece.  Available at the following link

The music used in “The Hashish Eater” was “Last Rites Of Amduscias” by Turmoil available and used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 from the Free Music Archive. No changes were made to the piece.  Available at the following link

The Plutonian Drug

 by Clark Ashton Smith

‘It is remarkable.’ said Dr. Manners, ‘how the scope of our pharmacopoeia has been widened by interplanetary exploration. In the past thirty years, hundreds of hitherto unknown substances, employable as drugs or medical agents, have been found in the other worlds of our own system. It will be interesting to see what the Allan Farquar expedition will bring back from the planets of Alpha Centauri when — or if — it succeeds in reaching then and returning to earth. I doubt, though, if anything more valuable than selenine will be discovered. Selenine, derived from a fossil lichen found by the first rocket-expedition to the moon in 1975, has, as you know, practically wiped out the old-time curse of cancer. In solution, it forms the base of an infallible serum, equally useful for cure or prevention.’

‘I fear I haven’t kept up on a lot of the new discoveries,’ said Rupert Balcoth the sculptor, Manners’ guest, a little apologetically. ‘Of course, everyone has heard of selenine. And I’ve seen frequent mention, recently, of a mineral water from Ganymede whose effects are like those of the mythical Fountain of Youth.’

‘You mean clithni, as the stuff is called by the Ganymedians. It is a clear, emerald liquid, rising in lofty geysers from the craters of quiescent volcanoes. Scientists believe that the drinking of clithni is the secret of the almost fabulous longevity of the Ganymedians; and they think that it may prove to be a similar elixir for humanity.’

‘Some of the extraplaaetary drugs haven’t been so beneficial to mankind, have they? ‘ queried Balcoth. ‘I seem to have heard of a Martian poison that has greatly facilitated the gentle art of murder. And I am told that mnophka, the Venerian narcotic, is far worse, in its effects on the human system, than is any terrestrial alkaloid.’

‘Naturally,’ observed the doctor with philosophic calm, ‘many of these new chemical agents are capable of due abuse. They share that liability with any number of our native drugs. Man, as ever; has the choice of good and evil… I suppose that the Martian poison you speak of is akpaloli, the juice of a common russet-yellow weed that grows in the oases of Mars. It is colorless, and without taste or odor. It kills almost instantly, leaving no trace, and imitating closely the symptoms of heart-disease. Undoubtedly many people have been made away with by means of a surreptitious drop of akpaloli in their food or medicine. But even akpaloli, if used in infinitesimal doses, is a very powerful stimulant, useful in cases of syncope, and serving, not infrequently to re-animate victims of paralysis in a quite miraculous manner.

‘Of course,’ he went on, ‘there is an infinite lot still to be learned about many of these ultra-terrene substances. Their virtues have often been discovered quite by accident — and in some cases, the virtue is still to be discovered.

‘For example, take mnophka, which you mentioned a little while ago. Though allied in a way, to the earthnarcotics, such as opium and hashish, it is of little use for anaesthetic or anodyne purposes. Its chief effects are an extraordinary acceleration of the time-sense, and a heightening and telescoping of all sensations, whether pleasurable or painful. The user seems to be living and moving at a furious whirlwind rate — even though he may in reality be lying quiescent on a couch. He exists in a headlong torrent of sense-impressions, and seems, in a few minutes, to undergo the experiences of years. The physical result is lamentable — a profound exhaustion, and an actual aging of the tissues, such as would ordinarily require the period of real time which the addict has “lived” through merely in his own illusion.

‘There are some other drugs, comparatively little known, whose effects, if possible, are even more curious than those of mnophka. I don’t suppose you have ever heard of plutonium?’

‘No, I haven’t,’ admitted Balcoth. ‘Tell me about it.’

‘I can do even better than that — I can show you some of the stuff, though it isn’t much to look at — merely a fine white powder.’

Dr. Manners rose from the pneumatic-cushioned chair in which he sat facing his guest, and went to a large cabinet of synthetic ebony, whose shelves were crowded with flasks, bottles, tubes, and cartons of various sizes and forms. Re turning, he handed to Balcoth a squat and tiny vial, twothirds filled with a starchy substance.

‘Plutonium,’ explained Manners, ‘as its name would indicate, comes from forlom, frozen Pluto, which only one terrestrial expedition has so far visited — the expedition led by the Cornell brothers, John and Augustine, which started in 1990 and did not return to earth till 1996, when nearly everyone had given it up as lost. John, as you may have heard, died during the returning voyage, together with half the personnel of the expedition: and the others reached earth with only one reserve oxygen-tank remaining.

This vial contains about a tenth of the existing supply of plutonium. Augustine Cornell, who is an old schoolfriend of mine gave it to me three years ago, just before he embarked with the Allan Farquar crowd. I count myself pretty lucky to own anything so rare.

‘The geologists of the party found the stuff when they began prying beneath the solidified gases that cover the surface of that dim, starlit planet, in an effort to learn a little about its composition and history. They couldn’t do much under the circumstances, with limited time and equipment; but they made some curious discoveries — of which plutonium was far from being the least.

‘Like selenine, the stuff is a bi-product of vegetable fossilization. Doubtless it is many billion years old, and dates back to the time when Pluto possessed enough internal heat to make possible the development of certain rudimentary plant-forms on its blind surface. It must have had an atmosphere then; though no evidence of former animal-life was found by the Cornells.

‘Plutonium, in addition to carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, contains minute quantities of several unclassified elements. It was discovered in a crystalloid condition, but turned immediately to the fine powder that you see, as soon as it was exposed to air in the rocketship. It is readily soluble in water, forming a permanent colloid, without the least sign of deposit, no matter how long it remains in suspension.’

‘You say it is a drug?’ queried Balcoth. ‘What does it do to you?’

‘I’ll come to that in a minute — though the effect is pretty hard to describe. The properties of the stuff were discovered by chance: on the return journey from Pluto, a member of the expedition, half delirious with space-fever, got hold of the unmarked jar containing it and took a small dose, imagining that it was bromide of potassium. It served to complicate his delirium for a while — since it gave him some brand-new ideas about space and time.

‘Other people have experimented with it since then. The effects are quite brief (the influence never lasts more than half an hour) and they vary considerably with the individual. There is no bad aftermath, either neural, mental, or physical, as far as anyone has been able to determine. I’ve taken it myself, once or twice, and can testify to that.

‘Just what it does to one, I am not sure. Perhaps it merely produces a derangement or metamorphosis of sensations, like hashish; or perhaps it serves to stimulate some rudimentary organ, some dormant sense of the human brain. At any rate there is, as clearly as I can put it, an altering of the perception of time — of actual duration — into a sort of space-perception. One sees the past, and also the future, in relation to one’s own physical self, like a landscape stretching away on either hand. You don’t see very far, it is true -merely the events of a few hours in each direction; but it’s a very curious experience; and it helps to give you a new slant on the mystery of time and space. It is altogether different from the delusions of mnophka.’

‘It sounds very interesting,’ admitted Balcoth. ‘However, I’ve never tampered much vith narcotics myself; though I did experiment once or twice, in my young, romantic days with cannabis Indica. I had been reading Gautiet and Baudelaire, I suppose. Anyway, the result was rather disappointing.’

‘You didn’t take it long enough for your system to absorb a residuum of the drug, I imagine,’ said Manners. ‘Thus the effects were negligible, from a visionary standpoint, But plutonium is altogether different — you get the maximum result from the very first dose. I think it would interest you greatly, Balcoth, since you are a sculptor by profession: you would see some unusual plastic images, not easy to render in terms of Euclidean planes and angles. I’d gladly give you a pinch of it now, if you’d care to experiment.’

‘You’re pretty generous, aren’t you, since the stuff is so rare?’

‘I’m not being generous at all. For years, I’ve planned to write a monograph on ultra-terrestrial narcotics; and you might give me some valuable data. With your type of brain and your highly developed artistic sense, the visions of plutonium should be uncommonly clear and significant. All I ask is, that you describe them to me as fully as you can afterwards.’

‘Very well,’ agreed Balcoth. ‘I’ll try anything once.’ His curiosity was inveigled, his imagination seduced, by Manner’s account of the remarkable drug.

Manners brought out an antique whisky-glass, which he filled nearly to the rim with some golden-red liquid. Uncorking the vial of plutonium, he added to this fluid a small pinch of the fine white powder, which dissolved immediately and without effervescence.

‘The liquid is a wine made from a sweet Martian tuber known as ovvra,’ he explained. ‘It is light and harmless, and will counteract the bitter taste of the plutonium. Drink, it quickly and then lean back in your chair.’

Balcoth hesitated, eyeing the golden-red fluid.

‘Are you quite sure the effects will wear off as promptly as you say?’ he questioned. ‘It’s a quarter past nine now, and I’ll have to leave about ten to keep an appointment with one of my patrons at the Belvedere Club. It’s the billionaire, Claud Wishhaven. who wants me to do a bas-relief in pseudo-jade and neo-jasper for the hall of his country mansion. He wants something really advanced and futuristic. We’re to talk it over tonight — decide on the motifs, etc.’

“That gives you forty-five minutes,” assured the doctor — ‘and in thirty, at the most your brain and senses will be perfectly normal again. I’ve never known it to fail. You’ll have fifteen minutes to spare, in which to tell me all about your sensations.’

Balcoth emptied the little antique glass at a gulp and leaned back, as Manners had directed, on the deep pneumatic cushions of the chair; He seemed to be falling easily but endlessly into a mist that had gathered in the room with unexplainable rapidity; and through this mist he was dimly aware that Manners had taken the empty glass from his relaxing fingers. He saw the face of Manners far above him, small and blurred, as if in some tremendous perspective of alpine distance; and the doctor’s simple action seemed to be occurring in another world.

He continued to fall and float through eternal mist, in which all things were dissolved as in the primordial nebulae of chaos. After a timeless interval, the mist which had been uniformly gray and hueless at first, took on a flowing iridescence, never the same for two successive moments; and the sense of gentle falling turned to a giddy revolution, as if he were caught in an ever-accelerating vortex.

Coincidentally with his movement in this whirlpool of prismatic splendor, he seemed to undergo an indescribable mutation of the senses. The whirling colors, by subtle, ceaseless gradations, became recognizable as solid forms. Emerging, as if by an act of creation, from the infinite chaos, they appeared to take their place in an equally infinite vista. The feeling of movement, through decrescent spirals, was resolved into absolute immobility. Balcoth was no Ionger conscious of himself as a living organic body: he was an abstract eye, a discorporate center of visual awareness, stationed alone in space, and yet having an intimate relationship with the frozen prospect on which he peered from his ineffable vantage.

Without surprise, he found that he was gazing simultaneously in two directions. On either hand, for a vast distance that was wholly void of normal perspective, a weird and peculiar landscape stretched away, traversed by an unbroken frieze or bas-relief of human figures that ran like a straight undeviating wall.

For awhile, the frieze was incomprehensible to Balcoth, he could make nothing of its glacial, flowing outlines with their background of repeated masses and complicated angles and sections of other human friezes that approached or departed, often in a very abrupt manner, from an unseen world beyond. Then the vision seemed to resolve and clarify itself, and he began to understand.

The bas-relief, he saw, was composed entirely of a repetition of his own figure; plainly distinct as the separate waves of a stream, and possessing a stream-like unity. Immediately before him, and for some distance on either hand. the figure was seated in a chair — the chair itself being subject to the same billowy repetition. The background was composed of the reduplicated figure of Dr. Manners, in another chair; and behind this, the manifold images of a medicine cabinet and a section of wall-paneling.

Following the vista on what, for lack of any better name, might be termed the left hand, Balcoth saw himself in the act of draining the antique glass, with Manners standing before him. Then, still further, he saw himself previous to this, with a background in which Manners was presenting him the glass, was preparing the dose of plutonium, was going to the cabinet for the vial, was rising from his pneumatic chair. Every movement, every attitude of the doctor and himself during their past conversation, was visioned in a sort of reverse order, reaching away, unalterable as a wall of stone sculpture, into the weird, eternal landscape. There was no break in the continuity of his own figure; but Manners seemed to disappear at times, as if into a fourth dimension. These times, he remembered later, were the occasions whem the doctor had not been in his line of vision. The perception was wholly visual; and though Balcoth saw his own lips and those of Manner’s parted in movements of speech, he could hear no word or other sound.

Perhaps the most singular feature of the vision was the utter absence of foreshortening. Though Balcoth seemed to behold it all from a fixed, immovable point, the landscape and the intersecting frieze presented themselves to him without diminution, maintaiaing a frontal fullness and distinctness to a distance that might have been many miles.

Continuing along the left-hand vista, he saw himself entering Manners’ apartments, and then encountered his image standing in the elevator that had borne him to the ninth floor of the hundred story hotel in which Manners lived. Then the frieze appeared to have an open street for background, with a confused, everchanging multitude of other faces and forms, of vehicles and sections of buildings, all jumbled together as in some old-time futuristic painting. Some of these details were full and clear, and others were cryptically broken,and blurred, so as to be scarcely recognizable. Everything, whatever its spatial position and relation, was re-arranged in the flowing frozen stream of this temporal pattern.

Balcoth retraced the three blocks from Manners’ hotel to his own studio, seeing all his past movements, whatever their direction in tri-dimensional space, as a straight line in the time-dimemion. At last he was in his studio; and there the frieze of his own figure receded into the eerie prospect of space-transmuted time among other friezes formed of actual sculptures. He beheld himself giving the final touches with his chisel to a symbolic statue at the afternoon’s end, with a glare of ruddy sunset falling through an unseen window and flushing the pallid marble. Beyond this there was a reverse fading of the glow, a thickening and blurring of the half-chiselled features of the image, a female form to which he had given the tentative name of Oblivion. At length, among half-seen statuary, the left-hand vista became indistinct, and melted slowly in amorphous mist. He had seen his own life as a continuous glaciated stream, stretching for about five hours into the past.

Reaching away on the right hand, he saw the vista of the fature. Here there was a continuation of his seated figure under the influence of the drug, opposite the continued basrelief of Dr. Manners and the repeated cabinet and wallpanels. After a considerable interval, he beheld himself in the act of rising from the chair. Standing erect, he seemed to be talking awhile, as in some silent antique film, to the listening doctor. After that, he was shaking hands with Manners, was leaving the apartment, was descending in the lift and following the open brightly-lighted street toward the Belvedere Club where he was to keep his appointment with Claud Wishhaven.

The Club was only three blocks away, on another street; and the shortest route, after the first block, was along a narrow alley between an office building and a warehouse. Balcoth had meant to take this alley; and in his vision, he saw the bas-relief of his future figure passing along the straight pavement with a background of deserted doorways and dim walls that towered from sight against the extinguished stars.

He seemed to be alone: there were no passers — only the silent, glimmering endlessly repeated angles of arc-lit walls and windows that accompanied his repeated figure. He saw himself following the alley, like a stream in some profound canyon; and there midway, the strange vision came to an abrupt inexplicable end, without the gradual blurring into formless mist, that had marked his retrospective view of the past.

The sculpture-like frieze with its architectural ground appeared to terminate, broken off clean and sharp, in a gulf of immeasurable blackness and nullity. The last wave-like duplication of his own person, the vague doorway beyond it, the glimmering alley-pavement, all were seen as if shorn asunder by a falling sword of darkness, leaving a vertical line of cleavage beyond which there was — nothing.

Balcoth had a feeling of utter detachment from himself, an eloignment from the stream of time, from the shores of space, in some abstract dimension. The experience, in its full realization, might have lasted for an instant only — or for eternity. Without wonder, without curiosity or reflection, like a fourth-dimensional Eye, he viewed simultaneously the unequal cross-sections of his own past and future.

After that timeless interval of complete perception, there began a reverse process of change. He, the all-seeing eye, aloof in super-space, was aware of movement, as if he were drawn back by some subtle thread of magnetism into the dungeon of time and space from which he had momentarily departed. He seemed to be following the frieze of his own seated body toward the right, with a dimly felt rhythm or pulsation in his movement that corresponded to the merging duplications of the figure. With curious clearness, he realized that the time-unit, by which these duplications were determined, was the beating of his own heart.

Now with accelerative swiftness, the vision of petrific form and space was re-dissolving into a spiral swirl of multitudinous colors, through which he was drawn upward. Presently he came to himself, seated in the pneumatic chair, with Dr. Manners opposite. The room seemed to waver a little, as if with some lingering touch of the weird transmutation; and webs of spinning iris hung in the corners of his eyes. Apart from this, the effect of the drug had wholly vanished, leaving, however, a singularly clear and vivid memory of the almost ineffable experience.

Dr. Manners began to question him at once, and Balcoth described his visionary sensations as fully and graphically as he could.

‘There is one thing I don’t understand,’ said Manners at the end with a puzzled frown. ‘According to your account, you must have seen five or six hours of the past, running in a straight spatial line, as a sort of continuous landscape; but the vista of the future ended sharply after you had followed it for three-quarters of an hour; or less. I’ve never known the drug to act so unequally: the past and future perspectives have always been about the same in their extent for others who have used plutoninum.’

‘Well,’ observed Balcoth, ‘the reaI marvel is that I could see into the future at all. In a way, I can understand the vision of the past. It was clearly composed of physical memories — of all my recent movements; and the background was formed of all the impressions my optic nerves had received during that time. But how could I behold something that hasn’t yet happened?’

‘There’s the mystery, of course,’ assented Manners. ‘I can think of only one explanation at all intelligible to our finite minds. This is, that all the events which compose the stream of time have already happened, are happening, and will continue to happen forever. In our ordinary state of consciousness, we perceive with the physical senses merely that moment which we call the present. Under the influence of plutonium, you were able to extend the moment of present cognition in both directions, and to behold simultaneously a portion of that which is normally beyond perception. Thus appeared the vision of yourself as a continuous, immobile body, extending through the time-vista.’

Balcoth, who had been standing, now took his leave. ‘I must be going,’ he said, ‘or I’ll be late for my appointment.’

‘I won’t detain you any longer,’ said Manners. He appeared to hesitate, and then added: ‘I’m still at a loss to comprehend the abrupt cleavage and termination of your prospect of the future. The alley in which it seemed to end was Falman Alley, I suppose — your shortest route to the Belvedere Club. If I were you, Balcoth, I’d take another route, even if it requires a few minutes extra.’

‘That sounds rather sinister,’ laughed Balcoth. ‘Do you think that something may happen to me in Falman Alley?’

‘I hope not — but I can’t guarantee that it won’t.’ Manners’ tone was oddly dry and severe. ‘You’d better do as I suggest.’

Balcoth felt the touch of a momentary shadow as he left the hotel — a premonition brief and light as the passing of some night-bird on noiseless wings. What could it mean -that gulf of infinite blackness into which the weird frieze of his future had appeared to plunge, like a frozen cataract? Was there a menace of some sort that awaited him in a particular place, at a particular moment?

He had a curious feeling of repetition, of doing something that he had done before, as he followed the street. Reaching the entrance of Falman Alley, he took out his watch. By walking briskly and following the alley, he would reach the Belvedere Club punctually. But if he went on around the next block, he would be a little late. Balcoth knew that his prospective patron, Claud Wishhaven, was almost a martinet in denanding punctuality from himself and from others. So he took the alley.

The place appeared to be entirely deserted, as in his vision. Midway, Balcoth approached the half-seen door — a rear entrance of the huge warehouse — which had formed the termination of the time prospect. The door was his last visual impression, for something descended on his head at that moment, and his consciousness was blotted out by the supervening night he had previsioned He had been sand- bagged, very quietly and efficiently, by a twenty-first century thug. The blow was fatal; and time, as far as Balcoth was concerned, had come to an end.

The Hashish Eater -or- the Apocalypse of Evil

by Clark Ashton Smith

Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams;
I crown me with the million-colored sun
Of secret worlds incredible, and take
Their trailing skies for vestment when I soar,
Throned on the mounting zenith, and illume
The spaceward-flown horizons infinite.
Like rampant monsters roaring for their glut,
The fiery-crested oceans rise and rise,
By jealous moons maleficently urged
To follow me for ever; mountains horned
With peaks of sharpest adamant, and mawed
With sulphur-lit volcanoes lava-langued,
Usurp the skies with thunder, but in vain;
And continents of serpent-shapen trees,
With slimy trunks that lengthen league by league,
Pursue my light through ages spurned to fire
By that supreme ascendance; sorcerers,
And evil kings, predominanthly armed
With scrolls of fulvous dragon-skin whereon
Are worm-like runes of ever-twisting flame,
Would stay me; and the sirens of the stars,
With foam-like songs from silver fragrance wrought,
Would lure me to their crystal reefs; and moons
Where viper-eyed, senescent devils dwell,
With antic gnomes abominably wise,
Heave up their icy horns across my way.
But naught deters me from the goal ordained
By suns and eons and immortal wars,
And sung by moons and motes; the goal whose name
Is all the secret of forgotten glyphs
By sinful gods in torrid rubies writ
For ending of a brazen book; the goal
Whereat my soaring ecstasy may stand
In amplest heavens multiplied to hold
My hordes of thunder-vested avatars,
And Promethèan armies of my thought,
That brandish claspèd levins. There I call
My memories, intolerably clad
In light the peaks of paradise may wear,
And lead the Armageddon of my dreams
Whose instant shout of triumph is become
Immensity’s own music: for their feet
Are founded on innumerable worlds,
Remote in alien epochs, and their arms
Upraised, are columns potent to exalt
With ease ineffable the countless thrones
Of all the gods that are or gods to be,
And bear the seats of Asmodai and Set
Above the seventh paradise.

In culminant omniscience manifold,
And served by senses multitudinous,
Far-posted on the shifting walls of time,
With eyes that roam the star-unwinnowed fields
Of utter night and chaos, I convoke
The Babel of their visions, and attend
At once their myriad witness. I behold
In Ombos, where the fallen Titans dwell,
With mountain-builded walls, and gulfs for moat,
The secret cleft that cunning dwarves have dug
Beneath an alp-like buttress; and I list,
Too late, the clam of adamantine gongs
Dinned by their drowsy guardians, whose feet
Have fell the wasp-like sting of little knives
Embrued With slobber of the basilisk
Or the pail Juice of wounded upas. In
Some red Antarean garden-world, I see
The sacred flower with lips of purple flesh,
And silver-Lashed, vermilion-lidded eyes
Of torpid azure; whom his furtive priests
At moonless eve in terror seek to slay
With bubbling grails of sacrificial blood
That hide a hueless poison. And I read
Upon the tongue of a forgotten sphinx,
The annulling word a spiteful demon wrote
In gall of slain chimeras; and I know
What pentacles the lunar wizards use,
That once allured the gulf-returning roc,
With ten great wings of furlèd storm, to pause
Midmost an alabaster mount; and there,
With boulder-weighted webs of dragons’ gut
Uplift by cranes a captive giant built,
They wound the monstrous, moonquake-throbbing bird,
And plucked from off his saber-taloned feet
Uranian sapphires fast in frozen blood,
And amethysts from Mars. I lean to read
With slant-lipped mages, in an evil star,
The monstrous archives of a war that ran
Through wasted eons, and the prophecy
Of wars renewed, which shall commemorate
Some enmity of wivern-headed kings
Even to the brink of time. I know the blooms
Of bluish fungus, freaked with mercury,
That bloat within the creators of the moon,
And in one still, selenic and fetor; and I know
What clammy blossoms, blanched and cavern-grown,
Are proffered to their gods in Uranus
By mole-eyed peoples; and the livid seed
Of some black fruit a king in Saturn ate,
Which, cast upon his tinkling palace-floor,
Took root between the burnished flags, and now
Hath mounted and become a hellish tree,
Whose lithe and hairy branches, lined with mouths,
Net like a hundred ropes his lurching throne,
And strain at starting pillars. I behold
The slowly-thronging corals that usurp
Some harbour of a million-masted sea,
And sun them on the league-long wharves of gold—
Bulks of enormous crimson, kraken-limbed
And kraken-headed, lifting up as crowns
The octiremes of perished emperors,
And galleys fraught with royal gems, that sailed
From a sea-fled haven.

Swifter and stranger grow
The visions: now a mighty city looms,
Hewn from a hill of purest cinnabar
To domes and turrets like a sunrise thronged
With tier on tier of captive moons, half-drowned
In shifting erubescence. But whose hands
Were sculptors of its doors, and columns wrought
To semblance of prodigious blooms of old,
No eremite hath lingered there to say,
And no man comes to learn: for long ago
A prophet came, warning its timid king
Against the plague of lichens that had crept
Across subverted empires, and the sand
Of wastes that cyclopean mountains ward;
Which, slow and ineluctable, would come
To take his fiery bastions and his fanes,
And quench his domes with greenish tetter. Now
I see a host of naked gents, armed
With horns of behemoth and unicorn,
Who wander, blinded by the clinging spells
O hostile wizardry, and stagger on
To forests where the very leaves have eyes,
And ebonies like wrathful dragons roar
To teaks a-chuckle in the loathly gloom;
Where coiled lianas lean, with serried fangs,
From writhing palms with swollen boles that moan;
Where leeches of a scarlet moss have sucked
The eyes of some dead monster, and have crawled
To bask upon his azure-spotted spine;
Where hydra-throated blossoms hiss and sing,
Or yawn with mouths that drip a sluggish dew
Whose touch is death and slow corrosion. Then
I watch a war of pygmies, met by night,
With pitter of their drums of parrot’s hide,
On plains with no horizon, where a god
Might lose his way for centuries; and there,
In wreathèd light and fulgors all convolved,
A rout of green, enormous moons ascend,
With rays that like a shivering venom run
On inch-long swords of lizard-fang.

From this my throne, as from a central sun,
The pageantries of worlds and cycles pass;
Forgotten splendors, dream by dream, unfold
Like tapestry, and vanish; violet suns,
Or suns of changeful iridescence, bring
Their rays about me like the colored lights
Imploring priests might lift to glorify
The face of some averted god; the songs
Of mystic poets in a purple world
Ascend to me in music that is made
From unconceivèd perfumes and the pulse
Of love ineffable; the lute-players
Whose lutes are strung with gold of the utmost moon,
Call forth delicious languors, never known
Save to their golden kings; the sorcerers
Of hooded stars inscrutable to God,
Surrender me their demon-wrested scrolls,
lnscribed with lore of monstrous alchemies
And awful transformations.

If I will
I am at once the vision and the seer,
And mingle with my ever-streaming pomps,
And still abide their suzerain: I am
The neophyte who serves a nameless god,
Within whose fane the fanes of Hecatompylos
Were arks the Titan worshippers might bear,
Or flags to pave the threshold; or I am
The god himself, who calls the fleeing clouds
Into the nave where suns might congregate
And veils the darkling mountain of his face
With fold on solemn fold; for whom the priests
Amass their monthly hecatomb of gems
Opals that are a camel-cumbering load,
And monstrous alabraundines, won from war
With realms of hostile serpents; which arise,
Combustible, in vapors many-hued
And myrrh-excelling perfumes. It is I,
The king, who holds with scepter-dropping hand
The helm of some great barge of orichalchum,
Sailing upon an amethystine sea
To isles of timeless summer: for the snows
Of Hyperborean winter, and their winds,
Sleep in his jewel-builded capital,
Nor any charm of flame-wrought wizardry,
Nor conjured suns may rout them; so he fees,
With captive kings to urge his serried oars,
Hopeful of dales where amaranthine dawn
Hath never left the faintly sighing lote
And lisping moly. Firm of heart, I fare
Impanoplied with azure diamond,
As hero of a quest Achernar lights,
To deserts filled with ever-wandering flames
That feed upon the sullen marl, and soar
To wrap the slopes of mountains, and to leap
With tongues intolerably lengthening
That lick the blenchèd heavens. But there lives
(Secure as in a garden walled from wind)
A lonely flower by a placid well,
Midmost the flaring tumult of the flames,
That roar as roars a storm-possessed sea,
Impacable for ever; and within
That simple grail the blossom lifts, there lies
One drop of an incomparable dew
Which heals the parchèd weariness of kings,
And cures the wound of wisdom. I am page
To an emperor who reigns ten thousand years,
And through his labyrinthine palace-rooms,
Through courts and colonnades and balconies
Wherein immensity itself is mazed,
I seek the golden gorget he hath lost,
On which, in sapphires fine as orris-seed,
Are writ the names of his conniving stars
And friendly planets. Roaming thus, I hear
Like demon tears incessant, through dark ages,
The drip of sullen clepsydrae; and once
In every lustrum, hear the brazen clocks
Innumerably clang with such a sound
As brazen hammers make, by devils dinned
On tombs of all the dead; and nevermore
I find the gorget, but at length I find
A sealèd room whose nameless prisoner
Moans with a nameless torture, and would turn
To hell’s red rack as to a lilied couch
From that whereon they stretched him; and I find,
Prostrate upon a lotus-painted floor,
The loveliest of all beloved slaves
My emperor hath, and from her pulseless side
A serpent rises, whiter than the root
Of some venefic bloom in darkness grown,
And gazes up with green-lit eyes that seem
Like drops of cold, congealing poison.

What word was whispered in a tongue unknown,
In crypts of some impenetrable world?
Whose is the dark, dethroning secrecy
I cannot share, though I am king of suns,
And king therewith of strong eternity,
Whose gnomons with their swords of shadow guard
My gates, and slay the intruder? Silence loads
The wind of ether, and the worlds are still
To hear the word that flees mine audience.
In simultaneous ruin, al my dreams
Fall like a rack of fuming vapors raised
To semblance by a necromant, and leave
Spirit and sense unthinkably alone
Above a universe of shrouded stars
And suns that wander, cowled with sullen gloom,
Like witches to a Sabbath. . . . Fear is born
In crypts below the nadir, and hath crawled
Reaching the floor of space, and waits for wings
To lift it upward like a hellish worm
Fain for the flesh of cherubim. Red orbs
And eyes that gleam remotely as the stars,
But are not eyes of suns or galaxies,
Gather and throng to the base of darkness; flame
Behind some black, abysmal curtain burns,
Implacable, and fanned to whitest wrath
By raisèd wings that flail the whiffled gloom,
And make a brief and broken wind that moans
As one who rides a throbbing rack. There is
A Thing that crouches, worlds and years remote,
Whose horns a demon sharpens, rasping forth
A note to shatter the donjon-keeps of time,
Or crack the sphere of crystal. All is dark
For ages, and my toiling heart-suspends
Its clamor as within the clutch of death
Tightening with tense, hermetic rigors. Then,
In one enormous, million-flashing flame,
The stars unveil, the suns remove their cowls,
And beam to their responding planets; time
Is mine once more, and armies of its dreams
Rally to that insuperable throne
Firmed on the zenith.

Once again I seek
The meads of shining moly I had found
In some anterior vision, by a stream
No cloud hath ever tarnished; where the sun,
A gold Narcissus, loiters evermore
Above his golden image. But I find
A corpse the ebbing water will not keep,
With eyes like sapphires that have lain in hell|
And felt the hissing coals; and all the flowers
About me turn to hooded serpents, swayed
By flutes of devils in lascivious dance
Meet for the nod of Satan, when he reigns
Above the raging Sabbath, and is wooed
By sarabands of witches. But I turn
To mountains guarding with their horns of snow
The source of that befoulèd rill, and seek
A pinnacle where none but eagles climb,
And they with failing pennons. But in vain
I flee, for on that pylon of the sky
Some curse hath turned the unprinted snow to flame—
Red fires that curl and cluster to my tread,
Trying the summit’s narrow cirque. And now
I see a silver python far beneath-
Vast as a river that a fiend hath witched
And forced to flow reverted in its course
To mountains whence it issued. Rapidly
It winds from slope to crumbling slope, and fills
Ravines and chasmal gorges, till the crags
Totter with coil on coil incumbent. Soon
It hath entwined the pinnacle I keep,
And gapes with a fanged, unfathomable maw
Wherein Great Typhon and Enceladus
Were orts of daily glut. But I am gone,
For at my call a hippogriff hath come,
And firm between his thunder-beating wings
I mount the sheer cerulean walls of noon
And see the earth, a spurnèd pebble, fall—
Lost in the fields of nether stars—and seek
A planet where the outwearied wings of time
Might pause and furl for respite, or the plumes
Of death be stayed, and loiter in reprieve
Above some deathless lily: for therein
Beauty hath found an avatar of flowers-
Blossoms that clothe it as a colored flame
From peak to peak, from pole to sullen pole,
And turn the skies to perfume. There I find
A lonely castle, calm, and unbeset
Save by the purple spears of amaranth,
And leafing iris tender-sworded. Walls
Of flushèd marble, wonderful with rose,
And domes like golden bubbles, and minarets
That take the clouds as coronal-these are mine,
For voiceless looms the peaceful barbican,
And the heavy-teethed portcullis hangs aloft
To grin a welcome. So I leave awhile
My hippogriff to crop the magic meads,
And pass into a court the lilies hold,
And tread them to a fragrance that pursues
To win the portico, whose columns, carved
Of lazuli and amber, mock the palms
Of bright Aidennic forests-capitalled
With fronds of stone fretted to airy lace,
Enfolding drupes that seem as tawny clusters
Of breasts of unknown houris; and convolved
With vines of shut and shadowy-leavèd flowers
Like the dropt lids of women that endure
Some loin-dissolving ecstasy. Through doors
Enlaid with lilies twined luxuriously,
I enter, dazed and blinded with the sun,
And hear, in gloom that changing colors cloud,
A chuckle sharp as crepitating ice
Upheaved and cloven by shoulders of the damned
Who strive in Antenora. When my eyes
Undazzle, and the cloud of color fades,
I find me in a monster-guarded room,
Where marble apes with wings of griffins crowd
On walls an evil sculptor wrought, and beasts
Wherein the sloth and vampire-bat unite,
Pendulous by their toes of tarnished bronze,
Usurp the shadowy interval of lamps
That hang from ebon arches. Like a ripple
Borne by the wind from pool to sluggish pool
In fields where wide Cocytus flows his bound,
A crackling smile around that circle runs,
And all the stone-wrought gibbons stare at me
With eyes that turn to glowing coals. A fear
That found no name in Babel, flings me on,
Breathless and faint with horror, to a hall
Within whose weary, self-reverting round,
The languid curtains, heavier than palls,
Unnumerably depict a weary king
Who fain would cool his jewel-crusted hands
In lakes of emerald evening, or the field
Of dreamless poppies pure with rain. I flee
Onward, and all the shadowy curtains shake
With tremors of a silken-sighing mirth,
And whispers of the innumerable king,
Breathing a tale of ancient pestilence
Whose very words are vile contagion. Then
I reach a room where caryatids,
Carved in the form of voluptuous Titan women,
Surround a throne flowering ebony
Where creeps a vine of crystal. On the throne
There lolls a wan, enormous Worm, whose bulk,
Tumid with all the rottenness of kings,
Overflows its arms with fold on creasèd fold
Obscenely bloating. Open-mouthed he leans,
And from his fulvous throat a score of tongues,
Depending like to wreaths of torpid vipers,
Drivel with phosphorescent slime, that runs
Down all his length of soft and monstrous folds,
And creeping among the flowers of ebony,
Lends them the life of tiny serpents. Now,
Ere the Horror ope those red and lashless slits
Of eyes that draw the gnat and midge, I turn
And follow down a dusty hall, whose gloom,
Lined by the statues with their mighty limbs,
Ends in golden-roofèd balcony
Sphering the flowered horizon.

Ere my heart
Hath hushed the panic tumult of its pulses,
I listen, from beyond the horizon’s rim,
A mutter faint as when the far simoom,
Mounting from unknown deserts, opens forth,
Wide as the waste, those wings of torrid night
That shake the doom of cities from their folds,
And musters in its van a thousand winds
That, with disrooted palms for besoms, rise,
And sweep the sands to fury. As the storm,
Approaching, mounts and loudens to the ears
Of them that toil in fields of sesame,
So grows the mutter, and a shadow creeps
Above the gold horizon like a dawn
Of darkness climbing zenith-ward. They come,
The Sabaoth of retribution, drawn
From all dread spheres that knew my trespassing,
And led by vengeful fiends and dire alastors
That owned my sway aforetime! Cockatrice,
Chimera, martichoras, behemoth,
Geryon, and sphinx, and hydra, on my ken
Arise as might some Afrit-builded city
Consummate in the lifting of a lash
With thunderous domes and sounding obelisks
And towers of night and fire alternate! Wings
Of white-hot stone along the hissing wind
Bear up the huge and furnace-hearted beasts
Of hells beyond Rutilicus; and things
Whose lightless length would mete the gyre of moons—
Born from the caverns of a dying sun
Uncoil to the very zenith, half-disclosed
From gulfs below the horizon; octopi
Like blazing moons with countless arms of fire,
Climb from the seas of ever-surging flame
That roll and roar through planets unconsumed,
Beating on coasts of unknown metals; beasts
That range the mighty worlds of Alioth rise,
Afforesting the heavens with mulitudinous horns
Amid whose maze the winds are lost; and borne
On cliff-like brows of plunging scolopendras,
The shell-wrought towers of ocean-witches loom;
And griffin-mounted gods, and demons throned
On-sable dragons, and the cockodrills
That bear the spleenful pygmies on their backs;
And blue-faced wizards from the worlds of Saiph,
On whom Titanic scorpions fawn; and armies
That move with fronts reverted from the foe,
And strike athwart their shoulders at the shapes
The shields reflect in crystal; and eidola
Fashioned within unfathomable caves
By hands of eyeless peoples; and the blind
Worm-shapen monsters of a sunless world,
With krakens from the ultimate abyss,
And Demogorgons of the outer dark,
Arising, shout with dire multisonous clamors,
And threatening me with dooms ineffable
In words whereat the heavens leap to flame,
Advance upon the enchanted palace. Falling
For league on league before, their shadows light
And eat like fire the arnaranthine meads,
Leaving an ashen desert. In the palace
I hear the apes of marble shriek and howl,
And all the women-shapen columns moan,
Babbling with terror. In my tenfold fear,
A monstrous dread unnamed in any hall,
I rise, and flee with the fleeing wind for wings,
And in a trice the wizard palace reefs,
And spring to a single tower of flame,
Goes out, and leaves nor shard nor ember! Flown
Beyond the world upon that fleeing wind
I reach the gulf’s irrespirable verge,
Where fads the strongest storm for breath, and fall,
Supportless, through the nadir-plungèd gloom,
Beyond the scope and vision of the sun,
To other skies and systems.

In a world
Deep-wooded with the multi-colored fungi
That soar to semblance of fantastic palms,
I fall as falls the meteor-stone, and break
A score of trunks to atom powder. Unharmed
I rise, and through the illimitable woods,
Among the trees of flimsy opal, roam,
And see their tops that clamber hour by hour
To touch the suns of iris. Things unseen,
Whose charnel breath informs the tideless air
With spreading pools of fetor, follow me,
Elusive past the ever-changing palms;
And pittering moths with wide and ashen wings
Flit on before, and insects ember-hued,
Descending, hurtle through the gorgeous gloom
And quench themselves in crumbling thickets. Heard
Far off, the gong-like roar of beasts unknown
Resounds at measured intervals of time,
Shaking the riper trees to dust, that falls
In clouds of acrid perfume, stifling me
Beneath an irised pall.

Now the palmettoes
Grow far apart, and lessen momently
To shrubs a dwarf might topple. Over them
I see an empty desert, all ablaze
With ametrysts and rubies, and the dust
Of garnets or carnelians. On I roam,
Treading the gorgeous grit, that dazzles me
With leaping waves of endless rutilance,
Whereby the air is turned to a crimson gloom
Through which I wander blind as any Kobold;
Till underfoot the grinding sands give place
To stone or metal, with a massive ring
More welcome to mine ears than golden bells
Or tinkle of silver fountains. When the gloom
Of crimson lifts, I stand upon the edge
Of a broad black plain of adamant that reaches,
Level as windless water, to the verge
Of all the world; and through the sable plain
A hundred streams of shattered marble run,
And streams of broken steel, and streams of bronze,
Like to the ruin of all the wars of time,
To plunge with clangor of timeless cataracts
Adown the gulfs eternal.

So I follow
Between a river of steel and a river of bronze,
With ripples loud and tuneless as the clash
Of a million lutes; and come to the precipice
From which they fall, and make the mighty sound
Of a million swords that meet a million shields,
Or din of spears and armour in the wars
Of half the worlds and eons. Far beneath
They fall, through gulfs and cycles of the void,
And vanish like a stream of broken stars
into the nether darkness; nor the gods
Of any sun, nor demons of the gulf,
Will dare to know what everlasting sea
Is fed thereby, and mounts forevermore
In one unebbing tide.

What nimbus-cloud
Or night of sudden and supreme eclipse,
Is on the suns opal? At my side
The rivers run with a wan and ghostly gleam
Through darkness falling as the night that falls
From spheres extinguished. Turning, I behold
Betwixt the sable desert and the suns,
The poisèd wings of all the dragon-rout,
Far-flown in black occlusion thousand-fold
Through stars, and deeps, and devastated worlds,
Upon my trail of terror! Griffins, rocs,
And sluggish, dark chimeras, heavy-winged
After the ravin of dispeopled lands,
And harpies, and the vulture-birds of hell,
Hot from abominable feasts, and fain
To cool their beaks and talons in my blood—
All, all have gathered, and the wingless rear,
With rank on rank of foul, colossal Worms,
Makes horrent now the horizon. From the wan
I hear the shriek of wyvers, loud and shrill
As tempests in a broken fane, and roar
Of sphinxes, like relentless toll of bells
From towers infernal. Cloud on hellish cloud
They arch the zenith, and a dreadful wind
Falls from them like the wind before the storm,
And in the wind my riven garment streams
And flutters in the face of all the void,
Even as flows a flaffing spirit, lost
On the pit s undying tempest. Louder grows
The thunder of the streams of stone and bronze—
Redoubled with the roar of torrent wings
Inseparable mingled. Scarce I keep
My footing in the gulfward winds of fear,
And mighty thunders beating to the void
In sea-like waves incessant; and would flee
With them, and prove the nadir-founded night
Where fall the streams of ruin. But when I reach
The verge, and seek through sun-defeating gloom
To measure with my gaze the dread descent,
I see a tiny star within the depths-
A light that stays me while the wings of doom
Convene their thickening thousands: for the star
increases, taking to its hueless orb,
With all the speed of horror-changèd dreams,
The light as of a million million moons;
And floating up through gulfs and glooms eclipsed
It grows and grows, a huge white eyeless Face
That fills the void and fills the universe,
And bloats against the limits of the world
With lips of flame that open . . .

About the Author

Clark Ashton-Smith

Clark Ashton Smith (January 13, 1893 – August 14, 1961) was a self-educated American poet, sculptor, painter and author of fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories. He achieved early local recognition, largely through the enthusiasm of George Sterling, for traditional verse in the vein of Swinburne. As a poet, Smith is grouped with the West Coast Romantics alongside Joaquin Miller, Sterling, Nora May French, and remembered as “The Last of the Great Romantics” and “The Bard of Auburn”. (more…)

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About the Narrator

Dr. Hal

Dr. Hal

Dr. Hal is most known for his voicework on the Half-Life and Dota 2 videogames, as well as his long-standing position as Master of Church Secrets for the Church of the Subgenius. He is also an author, screenwriter, movie and tv actor and Underground Cartoonist, having appeared in R. Crumb’s WEIRDO magazine, as well as being an expert on dinosaurs. He can be heard and seen as the chief raconteur of the ASK DR. HAL on Twitch (see, the second Sunday of each month, and in live appearances in San Francisco.

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Dr. Hal