Saturn (Smith)

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Saturn  (1912) 
by Clark Ashton Smith
1912.

Now were the Titans gathered round their king
In a waste region slipping toward the verge
Of drear extremities that clasp the world—
A land half-moulded by the hasty gods,
Grotesque, misfeatured, blackly gnarled with stone,
And left beneath the bright scorn of the stars;
Or worn and marred from conflict with the deep,
Conterminate, of Chaos. Here they stood,
Old Saturn midmost, like a central peak
Among the lesser mounts that guard its base.
Defeat, that gloamed within each countenance
Like the first tinge of death, upon a sun
Gathering like some dusk vapor, found them cold,
Heavy of limb, and halting as with weight
Of threatened worlds and trembling firmaments.
A wind cried round them like a trumpet-voice
Of phantom hosts—hurried, importunate,
And intermittent with a tightening fear.
Far off the sunset sprang, and the hard clouds,
Molten among the peaks, seemd furnaces
In which to make the fetters of the world.

Seared by the lightning of the younger gods,
They saw, beyond the grim and crouching hills,
Those levins thrust like spears into the heart
Of swollen clouds, or cleaving the dark sky
Like swords colossal. Then, as the Titans watched,
The night rose like a black, enormous mist
Around them wherein naught was visible
Save the sharp levin leaping in the north;
And no sound came except of seas remote
That seemed like Chaos ravening past the verge
Of all the world, fed with the crumbling coasts
Of Matter.

Till the moon, discovering
that harsh swart wilderness of sand and stone
Tissued and twisted in chaotic weld,
Lit with illusory fire each Titan's form,
They sate in silence, mute as stranded orbs—
The wrack of Time, upcast on ruinous coasts,
And in the slow withdrawal of the tide
Unvexed awhile. Small solace could they take
From that wan radiance glistering frostily
Upon the desert seized in iron silence,
Like a false triumph over contestless Fates,
Or a mirage of life in wastes of death.
Yet were they moved to speak, and Saturn's voice,
Seeming the soul of that tremendous land
Set free in sound, startled the haughty stars:

"O Titans, gods, sustainers of the world,
Is this the end ? Must Earth go down to Chaos,
Lacking our strength, beneath the unpractised sway
Of godlings vain, precipitate with youth,
Who think, unrecking of disastrous chance,
To bind their will as reins upon the sun,
Or stand as columns to the ponderous heavens ?
Must we behold with eyes of impotence
That universal wrack, even though it whelm
These our usurpers in impartial doom
Beneath the shards and fragments of the world ?
Were it not preferable to return,
And, meeting them in fight unswervable,
Drag down the earth, ourselves, and these our foes,
One sacrifice unto the gods of Chaos ?
Why should we stay, and live the tragedy
Of power that survives its use?"

Now spake
Enceladus, when that the echoings
Of Saturn's voice had fled remote, and seemed
Dead thunders caught and flung from star to star:
"Wouldst hurl thy kingdom down the nightward gulf
Like to a stone a curious child might cast
To test the fall of some dark precipice?
Patience and caution should we take as mail,
Not rashness for a weapon—too keen sword
That cuts the strainèd knot of destiny,
Never to be tied again. Were it not best
To watch the slow procedure of the days,
That we may grasp a time more opportune
When desperation is not all our strength
Nor the foe newly filled with victory ?
Then may we hope to conquer back thy realm
For thee, not for the gods of nothingness ?"

He ceased, and after him no lesser god
Gave voice upon the shaken silences,
None venturing to risk comparison,
Inevitable then, of eloquence
With his; but, like the ambiguity
Of signal stars and lesser overcast
And merged in one confusion by the moon,
Silence possessed that throng, till Saturn rose.
Around his form the light intensified,
And strengthened with addition wild and strange,
Investing him as with a ghostly robe
And gathering like a crown about his brow.
His sword, whereon the shadows lay like rust,
He took, and dipping it within the moon
Made clean its length of blade and from it cast
Swift flickerings at the stars. And then his voice
Came like a torrent, and from out his eyes
Streamed wilder power that mingled with the sound.

And his resurgent power, in glance and word,
Poured through the Titans' souls and was become
The fountains of their own, and at his flame
Their fires relumined twice-rebellious rose,
Leaping against the stronghold of the stars.
And now they came where sleep,
Where, red upon the forefront of the north,
Arcturus was a beacon to the winds.
And with the flickering winds, that lightly struck
The desert dust, then sprang again in air,
They passed athwart the foreland of the north.
Against their march they saw the shrunken waste,
A rivelled region like a world grown old
Whose sterile breast knew not the lips of life
In all its epoch; or a world that was
The nurse of infant Death, ere he became
Too large, too strong for its restraining arms,
And towered athwart the suns.

And there they crossed
Metallic slopes that rang like monstrous shields
Under their tread, and dully clanging plains
Like body-mail of greater, vaster gods.
Where hills made gibbous shadows in the moon,
They heard the eldritch laughters of the wind,
Seeming the mirth of doom; and 'neath their gaze
Gaunt valleys deepened like an old despair.
Yet strode they on through the moon's fantasies,
Bold with resolve, across a land like doubt.

And now they passed among huge mountain-bulks,
Themselves like ambulant mountains, moving slow
'Mid fettered brethren, adding weight and gloom
To that mute conclave great against the stars.
Emerging thence the Titans marched where still
Their own portentous shadows went before
Like night that fled but shrunk not, dusking all
That desert way.

And now they came where steep,
The sleep of weary victory, had seized
The younger gods as captives, borne beyond
All flight of mounting battle-ecstasies
In that deep triumph of forgetfulness.
Upon that sleep the striding Titans broke,
Vague and immense at first like forming dreams
To those disturbèd gods, in mist of drowse
Purblind and doubtful yet, though soon they knew
Their erst-defeated foes, and rising stood
In silent ranks expectant, that appeared
To move, with shaking of astonished fires
That bristled forth deployed like awful plumes
Between the brightening desert and the sky.
Then, sudden as the waking from a dream,
The battle sprang, where striving deities
Moved brightly through the whirled and stricken air,
Sweeping it to a froth of fire; and all
That ancient, deep-established desert rocked,
Shaken as by an onset of the gulfs
Of gathered and impatient Chaos, while,
Above the place where central battle burned,
The moon and stars drew back in dazzlement,
Paling to more secluded distances.
Lo, where the moon's uncertain light had wrought
Disordered shadows and chimeras dim,
Hiding the hideous desert with mirage,
Or deepening it with gulfs and glooms of hell,
Mightier confusion, chaos absolute,
Was grown the one thing sure in sky or world.
Typhonian maelstrorns caught in fiery storms,
Torn by the sweep of Olympian weaponries—
Crescented blades that met with rounds of shields;
Grappling of shapes, seen through the riven blaze
An instant, then once more obscure and known
Only by giant heavings of that war
Of furious gods and rousèd elements—
Theses, round one swollen center, hung ensphered
Upon the blasted sand and molten rocks.

So huge that chaos, complicate within
With movements of gigantic legionry,
Where Jove and Saturn, thunder-crested, led
In onset never stayed so strong the strife
Of differing impulse, that decision found
No foothold, till that first confusion should
In ordered conflict re-arrange and stand
With its true forces known. This seemed remote
With that wide struggle pending terribly,
As if the spectrumed wings of Time had made
A truce with white Eternity, and both
Stood watching from afar.

Through drifts of haze
The broadening moon, made ominous with red,
Glared from the westering night. And now that war
Built for itself, far up, a cope of cloud
And drew it down, far off, upon all sides,
Impervious to the moon and sworded stars.
And by their own wild light the gods fought on
'Neath that stupendous concave like a sky
Filled and illumined with glare of shattered suns.
And cast by their own light, upon that sky
The gods' own shadows moved like shapen gloom,
Phantasmagoric, changed and amplified,
A shifting frieze that flickered dreadfully
In spectral battle indecisive. Then,
Swift as it had begun, the contest turned
And on the heaving Titans' massive front
It seemed that all the motion and the strength
Self-thwarting and confounded, of that strife,
Was flung in centered impact terrible,
with rush of all that fire, tempestuous-blown
As if before some wind of further space
Striking the earth. Lo, all the Titans' flame
Bent back upon themselves and they were hurled
In vaster disarray, with vanguard piled
On rear and center. Saturn could not stem
The loosened torrents of long-pent defeat;
He, with his hosts, was but as drift thereon,
Borne wildly down the whelmed and reeling world.

Hurling like slanted rain, the violet levin
Fell over that flight of Titans, and behind,
In striding menace, all-victorious Jove
Loomed like some craggy cloud with thunders crowned
And footed with the winds. In that defeat,
With Jove's pursuit deepened and manifold,
Few found escape unscathed, and some went down
Like senile suns that grapple with the dark,
And reel in flame tremendous, and are still.

Ebbing, the battle left those elder gods
Thrown back on iron shores of their despair,
A darker and a vaster Tartarus.
The victor gods, their storms and thunders spent,
Went dwindling northward like embattled clouds,
And, where the lingering haze of light dissolved,
The pallor of the dawn began to spread
On darkness purple like the pain of death.
Ringed with that desolation Saturn stood
Mute, and the Titans answered unto him
With brother silence. Motionless, they appeared
Some peristyle of topless columns great,
Alone enduring of a fallen fane
In wastes of an immenser world whence Life
And Faith have vanished, whose enshadowed orb
Verges oblivionward. And Twilight slow
Crept round those lofty shapes august and seemed
Such as might be the ghostly, muffed noon
Of mightier suns that totter down to death.

Then turned they, passing from that dismal place
Blasted anew with battle, ere the dawn,
Striding in flame athwart stupendous chasms
And wasteful plains, should overtake them there,
Bowed with too heavy a burden of defeat.
Slowly they turned, and passed upon the west
Where, like a weariness immovable
In menace huge, the plain its monstrous bulk,
The peaks its hydra heads, the whole world crouched
Against their march with the diminished stars.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1961, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.