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13.0 The Poetry of H. P. LOVECRAFT
L. Sprague de Camp and Jonathan Vos Post

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The Poetry of H. P. LOVECRAFT by L. Sprague de Camp (as edited by Jonathan Vos Post) (with written permission from L. Sprague de Camp)

The following notes on H[oward]. P[hillips]. Lovecraft [1890-1937] are almost entirely from the best single volume biography of that influential writer, Lovecraft: A Biography, by L. Sprague de Camp, Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1975 [references to this book denoted by LAB and page number]. Where bay and tranquil river blend, And leafy hillsides rise, The spires of Providence ascend Against the ancient skies, And in the narrow winding ways That climb o'er slope and crest, The magic of forgotten days May still be found to rest -- H. P. Lovecraft, "Providence", lines 1-8, in Fungi from Yuggoth (1971), p.1, [LAB, 1] Born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, in a 15-room room home and a 2,000 book library, H. P. Lovecraft force-fed himself upon "the magic of forgotten days" -- Dryden, Pope, Thomson, Ovid, Horace -- thus accounting for both the strengths and manifest weaknesses of his fantasy poetry. "As a small child, Lovecraft showed a precocious ability to memorize poetry and at six began composing rhymed jingles. These, he said later, were so bad that even he was aware of their faults and set about improving himself. He learned his rules of versification from Abner Alden's Reader of 1797, which his great-grandfather had used as a schoolbook and which he found in the attic in 1897.... He tried to purge his speech of post-Colonial words and expressions... 'I think I am probably the only living person to whom the ancient 18th century idiom is actually a prose & poetic mother-tongue .... the naturally accepted norm, & the basic language of reality to which I instinctively revert...'." [LAB, 22] Needless to say, the 18th century language is NOT the "basic language of reality" in the scientific idiom of the 20th century, thus almost always limiting Lovecraft's prose and poetry alike to the Fantasy side of the Science Fiction & Fantasy continuum, in my opinion, even when the subject is science fictional. "In the grip of this Baroque obsession, Lovecraft began grinding out pseudo-Georgian couplets, in imitation of Addison, Dryden, Pope, and their colleagues. At eleven, he bound up a manuscript book with the erudite title of Poemata Minora and dedicated it 'To the Gods, Heroes, and Ideals of the Ancients.' One poem, 'Ode to Selene or Diana', began: Take heed, Diana, of my humble plea; Convey me where my happiness shall last-- Draw me against the tide of time's rough sea, And let my spirit rest amidst the past. -- H. P. Lovecraft, A. Galpin, personal correspondance, [LAB, 23] "While this stanza certainly expresses Lovecraft's outlook, the loss of most of these poems in a warehouse, years later, does not seem an unbearable tragedy." [LAB, 23] Given the eccentricities of Lovecraft's critical ear, it is a possibility that he had some stupendous verses lost, which he himself did not appreciate. Who can say? "He was still reading writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and their translations of Graeco-Roman classics. These inspired him to attempt an epic in the same style. Called The Poem of Ulyssses, or the New Odyssey, it began: The night was dark, O reader Hark, and see Ulysses' fleet; All homeward bound, with Vict'ry crowned, he hopes his spouse to greet; Long hath he fought, put Troy to naught, and levell'd down it's walls, But Neptune's wrath obstructs his path, while into snares he falls..." -- H. P. Lovecraft, to B. A. Dwyer, 3 Mar 1927 [LAB, 32] Even in a charitable mood, no critic can consider this on a level with the 33,333-line Odyssian epic of Nikos Kazantzakis (the longest modern Fantasy poem of note?) let alone Homer himself. His food preferences were extreme -- utter loathing for all seafood, passion for cheese candy and icecream -- as indicated by a jingle he wrote on Thanksgiving Day, 30 Nov 1911 (upon sleeping through a feast), whose lines include: But lest I starve, for lack of food to eat Leave here a dish of Quaker Puffed Wheat .... Announce the fact to me by telephone, That whilst you eat, I may prepare my own. [LAB, 72] In the Providence Evening News, from 1 Jan 1914-May 1918, "Lovecraft retold the old myths about the planets and the constellations, quoting ancient [Science and Fantasy] poems by Aratos, Manilius, and Ovid, as translated by Dryden, Addison, and other Baroque writers. He also included a few of his own poems. 'A recent writer writer has attempted a portrayal of astronomical infinity in blank verse, describing a dream or vision in this fashion:' Alone in space, I view'd a feeble fleck Of silvern light, marking the narrow ken Which mortals call the boundless universe. On ev'ry side, each as a tiny star, Shone more creations, vaster than our own. As on a moonless night, the Milky Way In a solid sheen displays its countless orbs To weak terrestrial eyes, each orb a sun; So beam'd the prospect on my wond'ring soul; A spangled curtain, rich with twinkling gems. Yet each a mighty universe of suns-- And all the universe in my view But a poor atom in infinity. "The 'recent writer' is Lovecraft himself." [LAB, 80-81] Lovecraft here foreshadows the multiversal cosmos of Olaf Stapledon's The Star Maker [London: Methuen, 1937]. Lovecraft then "discovered amateur journalism, which goes back over a century as an organized hobby. Many well-known persons, including Benjamin Franklin, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Thomas Edison, have in their youth printed magazines and journals of their own and their friends' authorship, for fun rather than for money. The hobby ... greatly expanded with the invention, in the late 1860s, of several makes of small, cheap printing presses. Amateur publishers began exchanging their publications, as science fiction fans did from the 1930s on. A National Amateur Press Association was founded in 1870-71 but in 1874 expired for lack of interest. A second club of the same name was founded in 1876 and steadily grew." [LAB, 83] Lovecraft had "been showering amateur papers with essays and Baroque poems. Since non-paying publications always have trouble in filling their space with literate material, the amateur publishers were delighted to print the poems [of Lovecraft], although Lovecraft himself began to have doubts about them. These poems included eulogies of his new friends in amateur journalism.... His poems found ready acceptance because, while the longer ones are the best insomnia cures I know of, they still looked good by comparison with the competition. One has no idea of the quantity of bad poetry that has been written until one has gone through the files of the amatuer periodicals." [LAB, 85-86] This plethora of hideously bad amateur "zine" poetry is a key reason for the disdain for ALL poetry that many modern Science Fiction & Fantasy editors maintain (including Omni, and the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, thus perversely continuing the self-perpetuated market and economic exile of genre poetry to the semi-professional and amateur margins. L. Sprague de Camp admits [LAB, 86] that "when he got away from his periwigged models, Lovecraft displayed a pleasant wit" and cites "The Nymph's Reply to the Modern Business Man" [The Tryout, VI, 7, July 1920]. Lovecraft's verse appears often in The Providence Amateur and in his own zine, The Conservative. In The Providence Amateur [I.1, Jun 1915, pp.1ff; LAB 87-88] Lovecraft skewers his own poetry as follows: Gaze last on H. P. L., whose bookish speech But bores the auditors he tries to teach: Whose stiff heroics ev'ry ear annoy; Whose polysyllables our peace destroy. The stilted pedant now can do no worse, For he it is who writ this wretched verse. The very first issue of his zine The Conservative [April 1915, 210 copies] opens with a long poem ridiculing spelling reform, a pet peeve of his, which put him squarely in opposition to George Bernard Shaw, among others. Lovecraft is absolutely NOT politically correct today, with explicit pseudo-Nazi rhetoric about Teutonic and Aryan superiority, his defense of the Klu Klux Klan as portrayed in D. W. Griffith's flawed 1914 masterpiece of cinema The Birth of a Nation, and blatantly anti-negro doggerel such as "De Triumpho Naturae" [LAB, 94] and "On the Creation of Niggers" [LAB, 95]. Sometimes Lovecraft's love for "the magic of forgotten days" rings true, as in his incomplete translation from the Latin of Olaus Wormius, in "Regnar Lodbrug's Epicedium (An 8th Century Funeral Song), The Acolyte, II, 3, Summer 1944 [LAB, 100]: With our swords we have contended! When the Vistula we enter'd With our ships in battle order We unto the hall of Woden Sent the bold Helsingian foeman. Then our sword-points bit in fury; All the billows turn'd to life-blood Earth with streaming gore was crimson'd; Reeking sword with ringing note Shields divided; armor smote. As we have discussed in chapters on Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and especially section 9.1 of Lord Dunsany, the poetry of the Lovecraft School was not merely pre-modern, but deliberately and relentlessly anti-modern. Lovecraft's essay "Metrical Regularity" was a blast against free verse at the very time that free verse was steamrolling over fixed forms: "Most amusing of all the claims of the radicals is the assertion that true poetic fervour can never be confined to regular metre; that the wild-eyed, long-haired rider of Pegasus must inflict upon a suffering public in unaltered form the vague conceptions which flit in noble chaos through his exalted soul." [The Conservative, I, 2 (July 1915), p.4], [LAB, 101]. In particular, Lovecraft united his anti-modernity with his political incorrectness in an ad hominem attack on Walt Whitman, a double sinner who represented both free verse and free love [LAB, 102]: Behold great Whitman, whose licentious line Delights the rake, and warms the souls of swine. Whose fever'd fancy shuns the measured pace, And copies Ovid's filth without his grace... This is a lost opportunity in American poetry. Whitman, like Lovecraft, championed the cosmic view as well as the historical, as I have abundently demonstrated in the essay "Walt Whitman: Science Fiction Poet" [Space & Time, in press]. What extraordinary visions could have flowed from a detente between the two, but (without an intermediary of diplomatic genius) the clash of prejudice would have prevented that. Metre was not the only battleground. The third issue of The Conservative [I, 3 Oct 1915), p.5] [LAB, 103] included Lovecraft's article "The Allowable Rhyme" -- suggesting that the rules of versification were even stricter now than when Alexander Pope could rhyme "shy" with "company" and "join" with "line." L. Sprague de Camp points out the hollowness of Lovecraft's position [LAB, 104-105]. "Despite growing disillusion with his Baroque verse, Lovecraft continued to grind it out. He excused his poems on the ground that they were the best he could do: Some of my creaking couplets have this day appeared in 'The Pinfeather' .... When I view them with my critical eye, I find difficulty in abstaining from that severity which I usually deplore in reviewers. One might wonder why I try to dabble in numbers [counted syllables] when I can produce no better results than this, but I suppose a strain of native perversity [i.e. Poe's 'Imp of the Perverse'] is responsible for such futile pursuit of the Nine [muses]. I am certainly a relic of the 18th century both in prose and in verse. My taste in poetry is really defective, for I love nothing better than the resounding couplets of Dryden and Pope.... Impromptu verse, or 'poetry' to order, is only easy when approached in the coolly prosaic spirit. Given something to say, a metrical mechanic like myself can easily hammer the matter into technically correct verse.... [Lovecraft letter to E. H. Cole, 23 Nov 1914] "To prove his point, Lovecraft took ten minutes to reel off a ten-line poem, 'On Receiving a Picture of Swans,' inspired by a post card, followed by another of thirty-two lines, 'To Charlie of the Comics,' a tribute to Charlie Chaplin's early films: You trip and stumble o'er the sheet That holds your lifelike image. You shuffle your prodigious feet Through love-scene, chase or scrimmage.... "The fourth issue of The Conservative and the four issues of Volume II contain more material by Lovecraft's colleagues and less by himself than before, because other amateurs had begun to send him poems, essays, and stories to print. Lovecraft ... assailed modern art, T. S. Eliot's poetry [as did Lord Dunsany to the end of his days], and the idea of a writers' union." [LAB, 105]." Lovecraft tapered off on his neo-Wagnerianism. "After his outburst in the first Conservative, however, Lovecraft published only one more Aryanist blast. This was 'The Teuton's Battle Song', in The United Amateur [XV, 7 (Feb 1916), pp.85ff][LAB, 106-7]: The mighty Woden laughs upon his throne, And once more claims his children as his own. The voice of Thor resounds again on high, While arm'd Valkyries ride from out the sky: The Gods of Asgard all their pow'rs release To rouse the dullard from his dream of peace.... One wonders what might have been the effect of Lovecraft's being published in pre-Nazi Germany, but such para-historic imaginings lead towards Science Fiction such as Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream [New York: Avon, 1972] in which Hitler wins the 1954 Hugo for Lords of the Swastika. But let me emphasize that for all his Judeophobia and racist rants, Lovecraft was not a Nazi. L. Sprague de Camp chronicles Lovecraft's friendships with other neo-Classical poets, such as Albert Cole [LAB, 100-101] and (most affectionately) Sam Loveman [LAB 109-10]. Lovecraft wrote to R. Kleiner [8 Nov 1917][LAB, 110]: "Loveman has become reinstated in the United [Amateur Press Association] through me. Jew or not, I am rather proud to be his sponsor.... His poetical gifts are of the highest order .... a glorious pagan--and a Jew by race." Retreating from Aryanism, Lovecraft maintained a life-long Anglophilia. An example ('Brittania Victoria') is quoted by de Camp [LAB, 120] in the context of Lovecraft's prolific zine publication. "After his rejection by the Army [for psychosomatic illnesses], Lovecraft found that he did, indeed, have something to live for: his amateur journalism. He took this hobby seriously, for it gave him a chance to exercise his literary bent in a genteel, non-commercial way. "From 1915 to 1925, he had over a hundred essays and articles published in amateur periodicals, including his own Conservative.... [including a 'Temperance Song' during the Prohibition craze].... When someone suggested that he seek commercial outlets for his writings, Lovecraft was aristocratically shocked. What, a gentleman ask money for the products of his creative art? 'I write to please myself only,' he said, 'and if a few of my friends enjoy my effusions I feel well repaid....' In July, 1917, the UAPA [United Amateur Press Association] (or rather, the Cole-Hoffman faction thereof) held its convention in Chicago. There they elected Lovecraft, who had served as one of their vice-presidents, to the presidency. Lovecraft was not there; in fact, he had never yet attended a convention." [LAB 121]. He held similar offices in the future, but hated the administrative burden and fannish politics. "Now Lovecraft began to experiment with other kinds of writing. He did not completely cease his wooden Georgian couplets; one of his last major efforts was a ten-page narrative poem, 'Psychopompos', which he composed in 1917-1918. It is a conventional werewolf tale, beginning [LAB, 122]: In old Auvergne, when schools were poor and few, And peasants fancy'd what they scarcely knew When lords and gentry shunn'd their monarch's throne For solitary castles of their own, There dwelt a man of rank, whose fortress stood In the hush'd twilight of a hoary wood. "Nevertheless he came to esteem his own work in this genre less and less. As he listed his seventy-seven poems published up to April, 1918, he commented: 'What a mess of mediocre and miserable junk.' [Weird Tales, XXX, 3 (Sep 1937), p.341; Fungi from Yuggoth (1971), p.95][LAB, 122]. "This disillusionment finally stimulated him to get away from eighteenth-century conventions. Kleiner encouraged him to try light verse. One result was the mildly amusing 'The Poet of Passion' [The Tryout, III, 7 (Jun 1917), pseudonymously as "Lewis Theobald, Jun."; HPL, Selected Poetry (Second Series), p.15] C. W. Smith misprinted the word 'amorous' as 'armours.' The false rhyme of lines 2 & 4 is probably another misprint." [LAB, 123]: Pray observe the soft poet with amorous quill Waste full half a sheet on vague inspiration. Do not fancy him drunk or imagine him ill If he wails by the hour of his heart's desolations: 'tis but part of his trade To go mad o'er a maid On whose beautiful face his eyes ne'er hath laid-- And the fond ardent passion that loudly resounds, May tomorrow in Grub Street bring two or three pounds. "This gibe at love poetry would come with better grace from one who had shown normal sexual interests. Since, up to then, Lovecraft had never been in love, the poem looks like a rationalization of his own shortcomings -- in other words, a case of sour grapes. "A few years later, however, he published an unmistakable (if faintly humorous) love poem of his own. It appeared in The Tryout for January, 1920, under a pseudonym [L. Theobald, Jun.], 'To Phyllis'." [LAB, 123] de Camp quotes the verse, and speculates on whether there was a genuine female object of affection, perhaps "his fellow-amateur and ghost[writ]ing client Winifred Virginia Jackson. "In trying to escape from his eighteenth-century poetic prison, Lovecraft also wrote a number of verses in imitation of Poe. The only nineteenth-century poets for whom he had any use were Poe and Swinburne, and Poe he esteemed the more highly. The other great Victorean poets, like Longfellow and Tennyson, left him cold" [LAB, 124]. Again, a pair of lost opportunities. As I have recounted in "The Atom it is Adam: Science and Science Fiction in The Columbia History of American Poetry", Longfellow had numerous parallels with Lovecraft. Longfellow (as profiled by Dana Gioia) was not only the most popular American poet who ever lived, but shared with Lovecraft an antique preference for "clarity, grace, musicality, masterful versification, and memorability", was the creator of the archetypal image of poet-as-professor, suffered in posthumous reputation (along with Whittier) most from Modernism's revision of American poetry, was immensely prolific and uneven, and was "too good and too original to go away -- like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. They still command a reader's attention and linger in the memory." Tennyson certainly embraced the antiquity beloved of Lovecraft, and peered far into the future, as in Locksley Hall. "One of [Lovecraft's] pastiches on Poe was 'Nemesis' [The Tryout, VI, 1 (Jan 1920)], beginning: Through the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber, Past the wan-mooned abysses of night, I have lived o'er my lives without number, I have sounded all things with my sight; As I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright. "Despite a good swinging rhythm, 'Nemesis' (probably inspired by Poe's 'Ulalume') is not only painfully derivative but also uses the galloping anapestic metre. This is fine for Browning's 'Boot, saddle, to horse, and away!' but unsuited to Lovecraft's sombre subject." To me, the alliterative "ghoul-guarded gateways" sounds more like Robert E. Howard than Poe. "Lovecraft did better with 'Despair' [ll 1-8, Fungi from Yuggoth (1971) p.80] [LAB, 39]: O'er the midnight moorlands crying, Through the cypress forests sighing, In the night-wind madly flying, Hellish forms with streaming hair; In the barren branches creaking, By the stagnant swamp-pools speaking, Past the shore-cliffs ever shrieking; Damn'd demons of despair. "In his increasing freedom from poetic restrictions, he even brought himself to try some Poe-esque blank verse, entitled 'Nanthicana' [The Vagrant, Spring 1917, pseudonymously as "Albert Frederick Willie"] [LAB, 124]: It was in the pale garden of Zais; The mist-shrouded gardens of Zais, Where blossoms the white nephalot, The redolent herald of midnight. There slumber the still lakes of crystal, And streamlets that flow without murm'ring; Smooth streamlets from caverns of Kathos Where broodeth calm spirits of twilight. "The narrator tells how there he loved 'the garlanded, white Nathicana; The slender, black-hair'd Nathicana'; until 'the cursed season of Dzannin' came and turned everything red, driving the narrator mad. Losing his maiden, he is now brewing A draught that will banish the redness; The horrible coma call'd living. Soon, soon, if I fail not in brewing, The redness and madness will vanish, And deep in the worm-peopled darkness Will rot the base chains that have bound me.... "This effort (some of which echoes Poe's For Annie [and some of The Masque of the Red Death]) suffers from the same faults as 'Nemesis', but at least Lovecraft was trying something new. Anything was better than the leaden Georgian couplets on which he had wasted so much of his youth. In any event, Lovecraft soon stopped writing original poetry. For nearly a decade, he produced hardly any verse at all." [LAB, 124-5] "Through 1918, Lovecraft jogged along. His astronomical column in the Providence Evening News ended in May. He read Fenimore Cooper and reread Nathaniel Hawthorne's stories.... And he sold a poem, 'The Marshes of Ipswich', to The National Magazine; this is the first money he is known to have made in his life." [LAB, 127] Lord Dunsany came to have more and more influence on Lovecraft. According to de Camp, quite plausibly, it not just a matter of Dunsany's exquisite style as a writer ("unexcelled in the sorcery of crystalline singing prose, and supreme in the creation of a gorgeous and languorous world of iridescently exotic vision" said HPL), but his style as a man that impressed Lovecraft: "Tempermental, vigorous, versatile, sporting, and poetically sensitive ... an Anglo-Irish peer, writer, soldier, poet, sportsman, and world traveller -- the kind of lord ... roaming the world, hunting foxes in the British Isles and wild goats in the Sahara, winning the chess and pistol championships of Ireland, serving as a British officer in the Boer and First World Wars, associating with William Butler Yeats and the Abbey Theatre in the Irish renaissance, and making an abortive entry into politics, Dunsany also wrote sixty-odd books of stories, plays, poetry, and autobiography -- mostly with a quill pen." [LAB, 140]. "Lovecraft wrote a sixty-four [for the number of squares on a chessboard?] line poem, 'To Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Eighteenth Baron Dunsany.' Composed in his worst eighteenth-century style, it appeared in C. W. Smith's The Tryout [LAB, 141]: As when the sun above a dusky wold Springs into sight, and turns the gloom to gold, Lights with his magic beams the dew-deck'd bow'rs, And wakes to life the gay responsive flow'rs; So now o'er realms where dark'ning dulness lies, In solar state see shining PLUNKETT rise!.... Dunsany (and wife) appreciated the effort, and Lovecraft exploded into production of at least seventeen Dunsanian stories during 1917-1921. Then, through his friend Loveman, Lovecraft learned of Clark Ashton Smith (who was a pen pal of Loveman). We have dealt elsewhere with the wonderful poetry of Clark Ashton Smith, in retrospect the great poet of the Lovecraft School, of whose poetry de Camp says "weird-fantastic or love poetry ... vivid, stirring, evocative, colorful in a lush fin-de-siecle way, superimaginative, and technically polished. "But public taste ever changes unpredictably, so that there is really no such thing as progress in the arts. In recent decades, American poetry, under the influence of Eliot, Pound [ironically, Ezra Pound was Longfellow's grandnephew], and others, has gone off in a direction quite different from Smith's. Most of Smith's poetry is in fixed forms like the sonnet, whereas nearly all contemporary American poetry (so-called) is in free verse. "The advantage of this formless 'verse' is that it is easy. It is lazy man's poetry, or poetry in rough draft. Anybody, even a child or a computer can do it, and in fact have done it. This makes it popular, since in today's climate of superegalitarianism -- when an orangutan in the Topeka zoo wins a prize in a painting contest -- it is thought that, if a task cannot be done by everyone, it ought not to be done at all. To do or admire that which requires outstanding talent, arduous effort, and austere self-discipline is elitism, and that is considered a very wicked thing." [LAB, 173-4] The School of Lovecraft differed from Whitman in the extreme in this respect, openly choosing elitism over the democratic. Be that as it may, Lovecraft and Smith began a lifelong correspondence, and had significant mutual influence. Lovecraft and Long wrote a hoax Poe poem, 'To Zara', purportedly in the possession of a 125-year-old Maine hermit [LAB, 175]: I look'd upon the yesternight Beneath the drops of yellow light That fell from out of a poppy moon Like notes of some far opiate tune.... Lovecraft also ghostwrote/edited the "execrable verse" of Bush for eight lines per dollar. [LAB, 175]. The magazine Weird Tales came into being exactly at he right time for Lovecraft. "Of the eleven issues of Weird Tales from October, 1923, to February, 1925, Lovecraft appeared in nine, once with a poem and the other eight times with stories" [LAB, 179]. "An old lady in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Tolridge, persuaded Lovecraft to revise her masses of mediocre verse.... In verse, he conceded to Miss Tolridge that 'my own poetic possibilities were wrecked' by excessive imitation of 'Mr. Pope, Dr. Young, Mr. Thompson, Mr. Addison, Mr. Tickell, Mr. Parnell, Dr. Goldsmith, Dr. Johnson, & so on. My verse lost every vestige of originality & sincerity, its only care being to reproduce the typical forms & sentiments of the Georgian scene amidst which it was supposed to be produced.... there are my 'Poe" pieces & my 'Dunsany' pieces -- but alas -- where are my Lovecraft pieces? .... In all these verses you will note with ironic amusement that I freely use all the archaisms, inversions, & poeticisms against which I so constantly warn others! This is because I do not try at all to be a poet in any serious sense. My verse is simply antiquarianism and nothing more.'" [8 Mar 1929][LAB 304-5]. Fully self-aware of the limits he had placed upon himself, "in verse, Lovecraft's talent briefly blazed up. At last he began to get away from Addison, Dryden, and Poe as models. In 1925, he composed a graceful light jingle of eleven quatrains, 'A Year Off' [Beyond the Wall of Sleep, p.401][LAB, 315-6]: Had I a year to idle through, With cash to waste and no restriction, I'd plan a programme to outdo The wildest feats of travel fiction. On steamship guides I'd slake my thirst, And railway maps would make me wiser-- America consider'd first To please the local advertiser. "He tells of all the places to which he would plan journeys: Beyond, the Pullman rates I'd get For Kiao-chau and Yokohama, Arranging passage through Thibet To dally with the Dalai Lama.... "He tried to break out of his eighteenth-century poetic mold. 'In the few metrical attempts I make, I try like hell to get rid of this tendency [to use stock phraseology] -- which, as you probably know, I once had in a very acute form owing to my lifelong predeliction for 18th-century style.'"[HPL to August Derleth, 15 Dec 1929][LAB 316] L. Sprague de Camp writes that 'in the late 1920s, the poet Edwin Arlington Robinson rose to fame. His Sonnets, 1889-1927 appeared in 1928, and there is reason to believe that Lovecraft was influenced by Robinson." [LAB 316] But Lovecraft expert S. T. Joshi differs. In Joshi's fine "Introduction" to H. P. Lovecraft: The Fantastic Poetry, ed. S. T. Joshi, West Warwick RI: Necronomicon Press, 2nd Revised Printing March 1993, Joshi writes "Now that the supposed influence of Edwin Arlington Robinson, suggested independently by Winfield Townley Scott and Edmund Wilson, has been exploded, the matter [of the late 1929 surge of Lovecraft's poetry] does not seem attributable to merely literary influences. David E. Schultz has put forward Lovecraft's extensive work on Maurice W. Moe's never-published handbook, Doorways to Poetry.... Perhaps Lovecraft felt that horrific poetry would help to revive his fictional powers." [Joshi, p.9]. Joshi also notes as "the one other [besides Poe] detectable influence in Lovecraft's early fantastic poetry is, curiously, Sir Walter Scott, evidently the model for Lovecraft's entertaining ballad or 'tale in rhyme', 'Psychopompos (1918)." In any case, Lovecraft wrote a poem, 'The Messenger', circa November 1929 [quoted in LAB, 316] and a twelve-quatrain poem 'Brick Row" on 7 Dec 1929 in an effort to save some old brick warehouses from being razed. Then, in January 1930, Lovecraft wrote a remarkable series of weird sonnets, composing 33 of them in a single week. Weird Tales bought ten of them for $35, the Providence Journal bought five, and the rest appeared in amateur journals. L. Sprague de Camp admits that "in poetry, Lovecraft (who rightly called himself 'essentially a prose writer') was far surpassed by Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, and Clark Ashton Smith. Nonetheless, this cycle of sonnets was a real achievement.... Lovecraft called the series Fungi from Yuggoth, his name for a supposed trans-Neptunian planet in the Cthulhu Mythos stories. When Pluto was discovered in 1930, Lovecraft reminded his friends that, in a sense, he had predicted it. Fungi from Yuggoth showed that Lovecraft indeed possessed a modest poetic talent. But in poetry as in other departments of his life, he got started in the wrong direction and only late in the day perceived his error. After the Fungi, he wrote but little poetry." [LAB, 317-8] "Harold E. Farnese, dean of the Los Angeles Institute of Musical Art, wrote to Lovecraft proposing a joint project: a Cthulhuvian operetta in one act, called Fen River and laid on the planet Yuggoth. As a starter, Farnese had already set two of Lovecraft's Fungi from Yuggoth sonnets, 'Mirage' and 'The Elder Pharos', to music." After wrestling with the notion, Lovecraft unfortunately bowed out. Again, history might have been different, if only.... In 1934, Lovecraft "wrote a verse on the death of the kitten Sam Perkins, a favorite local feline" [LAB, 395-6]. Lovecraft assisted Robert Barlow to print Frank Belknap Long's collection of poems, The Goblin Tower, as a surprise for Long. Barlow planned to print Fungi from Yuggoth soon, but never got around to it, which is why they only saw print together in the 1971 Necronomicon Press edition. There is a bit more about poetry in de Camp's superb biography of Lovecraft, but scholarly study in this area is now focussed in S. T. Joshi's bibliography (including poetry), Kent State University Press, 1985; in "A Parenthesis on Lovecraft as Poet" (1945), reprinted in S.T. Joshi, ed., H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980, p.214; and in essays appearing in the specialized journals Crypt of Cthulhu and Lovecraft Studies. The reader is best advised to read Lovecraft's poems in Fungi from Yuggoth, ed. S. T. Joshi, West Warwick RI: Necronomicon Press, 1971; and in H. P. Lovecraft: The Fantastic Poetry, ed. S. T. Joshi, West Warwick RI: Necronomicon Press, 2nd Revised Printing, March 1993. My father, Samuel Herbert Post, when he ran McFadden-Bartell for Bernarr McFadden, became (to the best of my knowledge) the first person to publish a book of H. P. Lovecraft in paperback (although I've been told that there was a military paperback edition of Lovecraft during World War II). Lovecraft's work has certainly influenced my own, and that of my wife. As I read and reread these strange poems, I am filled with impressions, but have nothing as studied to recount as do de Camp, Joshi, Ralph Vaughan, David E. Schultz, Robert H. Waugh, and other experts. I cannot help but agree with Joshi that the "cosmicism" of Lovecraft comes not from literature, but from philosopy, and particularly from Lucretius. This brings us full circle, back to my sketch of the origins of Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry in the early history of Science Poetry, with Lucretius as a particularly brilliant supernova in the ancient sky. The light from the weird star of H. P. Lovecraft has been eclipsed by some of his own satellites (Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long), but is as pure in its way as any illuminations from Homer, Ovid, Horace, Dryden, Pope, Poe, Sir Walter Scott, and the other stars that shone in the genre galaxy before Howard Phillips Lovecraft, or any that shone thereafter. "The magic of forgotten days may still be found to rest." *** Jonathan Vos Post *** *** entirely composed & typed 11-12 August 1994 *** *** Pasadena, California ***

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