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The Thirst of Satan: Poems of Fantasy and Terror

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George Sterling is an unjustly forgotten American poet. The pupil of Ambrose Bierce and the mentor of Clark Ashton Smith, Sterling achieved early fame with such "cosmic" poems as The Testimony of the Suns and "A Wine of Wizardry." But these two works are just the most celebrated of many poems of fantasy and terror written by Sterling over a career that spanned three decade George Sterling is an unjustly forgotten American poet. The pupil of Ambrose Bierce and the mentor of Clark Ashton Smith, Sterling achieved early fame with such "cosmic" poems as The Testimony of the Suns and "A Wine of Wizardry." But these two works are just the most celebrated of many poems of fantasy and terror written by Sterling over a career that spanned three decades. A master of the sonnet, Sterling generated such masterworks as "The Black Vulture," "Three Sonnets on Oblivion," and "The Muse of the Incommunicable." Sterling's poems range from the ethereality of "To a Girl Dancing" to the grim sadism of "The Lords of Pain" to the bracing atheism of "To Science." This volume, the first selection of Sterling's verse in more than thirty years, will demonstrate why Sterling was so revered by Bierce, Theodore Dreiser, H. L. Mencken, and especially Clark Ashton Smith, who in his own fantastic verse sought to build upon the foundations Sterling laid. (back cover copy)


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George Sterling is an unjustly forgotten American poet. The pupil of Ambrose Bierce and the mentor of Clark Ashton Smith, Sterling achieved early fame with such "cosmic" poems as The Testimony of the Suns and "A Wine of Wizardry." But these two works are just the most celebrated of many poems of fantasy and terror written by Sterling over a career that spanned three decade George Sterling is an unjustly forgotten American poet. The pupil of Ambrose Bierce and the mentor of Clark Ashton Smith, Sterling achieved early fame with such "cosmic" poems as The Testimony of the Suns and "A Wine of Wizardry." But these two works are just the most celebrated of many poems of fantasy and terror written by Sterling over a career that spanned three decades. A master of the sonnet, Sterling generated such masterworks as "The Black Vulture," "Three Sonnets on Oblivion," and "The Muse of the Incommunicable." Sterling's poems range from the ethereality of "To a Girl Dancing" to the grim sadism of "The Lords of Pain" to the bracing atheism of "To Science." This volume, the first selection of Sterling's verse in more than thirty years, will demonstrate why Sterling was so revered by Bierce, Theodore Dreiser, H. L. Mencken, and especially Clark Ashton Smith, who in his own fantastic verse sought to build upon the foundations Sterling laid. (back cover copy)

42 review for The Thirst of Satan: Poems of Fantasy and Terror

  1. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    Well, I'll have to admit upfront that I'm not much of a poetry reader. Oh, I respect the art form immensely, but my brain seems to be wired for prose with the occasional ability to appreciate a poetic turn of phrase. Faced with a real poem, I find myself hesitant, unsure if the rhythm I'm applying is correct, if my internal voice's "attack" is right, etc. I love hearing poetry read, especially by the poet, but reading it on the page...I'll do it, and continue to do it, as I want to expose myself Well, I'll have to admit upfront that I'm not much of a poetry reader. Oh, I respect the art form immensely, but my brain seems to be wired for prose with the occasional ability to appreciate a poetic turn of phrase. Faced with a real poem, I find myself hesitant, unsure if the rhythm I'm applying is correct, if my internal voice's "attack" is right, etc. I love hearing poetry read, especially by the poet, but reading it on the page...I'll do it, and continue to do it, as I want to expose myself to a vast variety of things, but I probably do need a class or something. A recent coincidence found me listening to readings of a lot of Clark Ashton Smith, a writer whose style I'd previously, mostly, found overblown when I encountered him in varied "Lovecraft Circle" anthologies. Hearing his work *read*, I began to realize that he was writing with a poet's ear, not a prose writer's eye. In a related note, I'd always been a fan of Ambrose Bierce, whose hard-bitten war and terror stories always struck me as a more cynical Mark Twain (to reduce a complicated writer to a limiting comparison). So, in Mr. George Sterling, I find the bridge between Mr. Bierce (whose acolyte he was) and Mr. Smith (whose amateur work he praised). Sterling was a widely read poet at the time and, as S.T. Joshi remarks in the introduction, he would have found it odd to be considered a poet of "fantasy and terror" - so this book is really just a sampling of a small section of Sterling's work that encompasses subjects like: "cosmic" poems, weird and fantastic realms, philosophical music, monsters and creatures, romance and eroticism, dreams and fancies, tributes to friends and fellow writers and, finally, poems of horror. Sterling indulged his fancy for fantasy in many ways, but the work found here was merely part of a larger whole and these were written from, roughly, the start of the Twentieth Century to 1926 when he took his own life. Sterling's Cosmic poems (including his much-lauded - at the time - "The Testimony of the Suns") seem to be the first attempt by a poet to grapple with the larger implications of the Universe and man's place in it as unveiled by swiftly advancing science (No doubt H.P. Lovecraft was reading Sterling's work). "Testimony" (1902) paints an examination of the night sky with broad, epic strokes, as suns, constellations and galaxies clash and explode through the stanzas and names of stars are used as talismanic charms to tease poetic feeling from vast, blind processes. Sterling seems willing to also grapple with the grim likelihood that time, infinity and eternity make a mockery of man's ideas of self-importance. Elsewhere, as in another popular poem, "A Wine of Wizardry" (1907), he indulges his penchant for grand fantastic visions, including scenes of orientalist decadence and gruesome horror. Not all the poems here were to my taste - many seem bombastic and overblown to those raised in the modernist and later traditions, more like an overwrought relic of the previous century than the blossoming of something new. And yet.. quite a few of them are very powerful indeed. "The Evanescent" (1911) is a meditation on transience that ascends from a momentary breeze, through dew, grass, tress, mountains and on to mute Eternity. "To A Monk's Skull" (1925) muses on the trickeries of living a life. "The Thirst of Satan" (1914) features a dying earth drained like a sucked fruit and hurled into the sun by "a Shape" of shadow. The subject of the pensive "The Caravan" (1925) is that old favorite, the journey and not the goal. "Waste" (1922) paints a picture of savage, chaotic and destructive Nature that may lead rational Man to realize that he can hear "from pole to pole/an idiot Laughter roll" and the daring "To Science" (1919) makes clear Sterling's support of rationality and atheism in a world "still haunted by the monstrous ghost of God". "The Last Monster" (1913) traces a lineage of crude brutality to its triumphant practitioners "with engines of destruction left and right". "Witch Fire" (1919), "Song" (1922) and "The Young Witch" (1923) all feature fantastic elements treated in a delicate and fragile manner, sometimes contrasted with lumpen reality. "The Wiser Prophet" (1923) dreams a vision of an encroaching darkness and doom for man but chooses not to inform his fellows and "let the sun-duped throng/make merry with its harlots to the last" and "Farm of Fools" celebrates this same hedonistic drive without resorting to any incipient destruction to justify it. "The Oldest Book" (1925) features a magical text with blank pages that may be life itself. "My Swan Song", supposedly found among Sterling's paper after he drank the vial of cyanide he had always carried about for just that occasion, is a quite charming argument for the right to self-eradication. Even poems I wasn't fond of as a whole feature arresting images or interesting thoughts. So, in "Outward", the spherical moon looks down on the Earth and also outwards into the gulfs of space: "One gaze on Time, one on Eternity". "The mothlike worlds flit 'round the guttering sun" in "Ephemera". In "Disillusion" a boy who takes a star as a symbol of everything holy, beautiful and wise, grows to a man who, thanks to science and the telescope, discovers said star is only "a ball of gas!....Quadrillion miles away!". Lilth's kiss brings "scarlet trumpets pealing in the blood" in "That Walk In Darkness" and Love and Grief identify a midnight visitor from very different viewpoints in "The Stranger". "The Apothecary's" could be seen as a celebration of the wonders and dangers of drugs, "these genii of the vials, wreaking still / Their sorceries on human sense and will" and "The Passing of Bierce" celebrates the writer Sterling referred to as "Master" and tells us "Be sure he faced the Starless Sky / Unduped, unmurmuring, unafraid". The visionary qualities of these poems make them interesting to those willing to take the time and give them the space to bloom their strange flowers.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Myers

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mighty

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mika Oksanen

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shad Terry

  6. 5 out of 5

    K. A. Opperman

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dan Clore

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jon Scott

  9. 4 out of 5

    Wraith

  10. 5 out of 5

    Raymond

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

  12. 4 out of 5

    Endri

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rich

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sean

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brian

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jon Richards

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lanny

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fjolla

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bri Mooney

  20. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Leis

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stef

  22. 5 out of 5

    Geoffrey

  23. 4 out of 5

    Victor Cosby

  24. 4 out of 5

    M.J. Fiori

  25. 5 out of 5

    Arinn Dembo

  26. 4 out of 5

    Pelikan

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tim Goebel

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ron

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rosie

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  31. 5 out of 5

    jelly

  32. 5 out of 5

    Abbey

  33. 5 out of 5

    Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

  34. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Sepultura

  35. 4 out of 5

    Meliae Sybella

  36. 4 out of 5

    Mina Shaikh

  37. 4 out of 5

    Tristan Alpuerto

  38. 4 out of 5

    Rubab

  39. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  40. 5 out of 5

    Cambria

  41. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

  42. 4 out of 5

    Peter

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