In Undreamable Abysses

Leaping, floating, flying down those endless stairs through the dark house; racing mindlessly out into the narrow, steep, and ancient street of steps and tottering houses; clattering down steps and over cobbles to the lower streets and the putrid canyon-walled river; panting across the great dark bridge to the broader, healthier streets and boulevards we know; all these are terrible impressions that linger with me. And I recall that there was no wind, and that the moon was out, and that all the lights of the city twinkled.

Despite my most careful searches and investigations, I have never since been able to find the Rue d’Auseil. But I am not wholly sorry; either for this or for the loss in undreamable abysses of the closely written sheets which alone could have explained the music of Erich Zann.


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Music of Erich Zann” (1921), the narrator describes his flight from the Rue d’Auseil, a street that, since then, he has never been able to find.  

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Music of Erich Zann.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 45-52.

 

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A Daemoniac Ecstasy of Bloodthirstiness

As Slater grew older, it appeared, his matutinal aberrations had gradually increased in frequency and violence; till about a month before his arrival at the institution had occurred the shocking tragedy which caused his arrest by the authorities. One day near noon, after a profound sleep begun in a whiskey debauch at about five of the previous afternoon, the man had roused himself most suddenly; with ululations so horrible and unearthly that they brought several neighbours to his cabin—a filthy sty where he dwelt with a family as indescribable as himself. Rushing out into the snow, he had flung his arms aloft and commenced a series of leaps directly upward in the air; the while shouting his determination to reach some ‘big, big cabin with brightness in the roof and walls and floor, and the loud queer music far away’. As two men of moderate size sought to restrain him, he had struggled with maniacal force and fury, screaming of his desire and need to find and kill a certain ‘thing that shines and shakes and laughs’. At length, after temporarily felling one of his detainers with a sudden blow, he had flung himself upon the other in a daemoniac ecstasy of bloodthirstiness, shrieking fiendishly that he would ‘jump high in the air and burn his way through anything that stopped him’. Family and neighbours had now fled in a panic, and when the more courageous of them returned, Slater was gone, leaving behind an unrecognisable pulp-like thing that had been a living man but an hour before. None of the mountaineers had dared to pursue him, and it is likely that they would have welcomed his death from the cold; but when several mornings later they heard his screams from a distant ravine, they realised that he had somehow managed to survive, and that his removal in one way or another would be necessary. Then had followed an armed searching party, whose purpose (whatever it may have been originally) became that of a sheriff’s posse after one of the seldom popular state troopers had by accident observed, then questioned, and finally joined the seekers.


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919), the narrator describes Joe Slater’s mental breakdown and the manhunt that followed.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 11-20.

Come Hither, My Lads

Come hither, my lads, with your tankards of ale,
And drink to the present before it shall fail;
Pile each on your platter a mountain of beef,
For ’tis eating and drinking that bring us relief:
So fill up your glass,
For life will soon pass;
When you’re dead ye’ll ne’er drink to your king or your lass!


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Tomb” (1917), Jervas Dudley recites the eighteenth-century drinking song that he sang in front of his family at breakfast.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Tomb.” The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2001, pp. 1-10.

 

 

A Frank and Conscious Unintelligibility

The ultimate position of Dunsany in literature depends largely on the future course of literature itself. Our age is one of curious transition and divergence, with an increasing separation of art from the past and from all common life as well. Modern science has, in the end, proved an enemy to art and pleasure; for by revealing to us the whole sordid and prosaic basis of our thoughts, motives, and acts, it has stripped the world of glamour, wonder, and all those illusions of heroism, nobility, and sacrifice which used to sound so impressive when romantically treated. Indeed, it is not too much to say that psychological discovery, and chemical, physical, and physiological research have largely destroyed the element of emotion among informed and sophisticated people by resolving it into its component parts—intellectual idea and animal impulse. The so-called “soul” with all its hectic and mawkish attributes of sentimentality, veneration, earntestness, devotion, and the like, has perished on analysis. Nietzsche brought a transvaluation of values, but Remy de Gourmont has brought a wholesale destruction of all values. We know now what a futile, aimless, and disconnected welter of mirages and hypocrisies life is; and from the first shock of that knowledge has sprung the bizarre, tasteless, defiant, and chaotic literature of that terrible newer generation which so shocks our grandmothers—the aesthetic generation fo T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Ben Hecht, Aldous Huxley, James Branch Cabell, and all the rest. These writers, knowing that life has no real pattern, either rave, or mock, or join in the cosmic chaos by exploiting a frank and conscious unintelligibility and confusion of values. To them it savours of the vulgar to adopt a pattern—for today only servants, churchgoers, and tired business men read things which mean anything or acknowledge any values.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Lord Dunsany and His Work,” Lovecraft speculates that scientific discovery and psychological research altered the way in which intellectuals viewed life and thus engendered Modernism, which rejects traditional art forms.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Lord Dunsany and His Work.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 56-62.

 

Home Again

At Break-Neck Hill Road we diverg’d to the eastward and travers’d the winding roads thro’ the exquisite sylvan stretches of Quinsnicket, or Lincoln-Woods, my favourite haunt on fine summer afternoons. It seem’d appropriate to return to my native scenes thro’ this lovely and typical part of them—and this avenue of approach set off very ably the occasional glimpses of the distant spires and domes of OLD PROVIDENCE which hilltop moments afforded. PROVIDENCE—my native land! No sensation at any stage of my travels equall’d that with which I was animated as we drew near the scene of my birth and lifelong memories. Pawtucket was a dingy interlude. Then the line of East Avenue and Hope Street—and the PROVIDENCE urban boundary at the end of Blackstone Boulevard, known to me for thirty years and more, and the scene of my choicest bicycle rides of boyhood! Again my three-corner’d hat was rais’d from the powder’d locks of my periwig. HOME! After that but a little space to Barnes Street, then a turn under shady trees, a square or two westward to where the road touches the brink of the antient hill and vanishes into the golden sunset sky betwixt old houses—and then Number Ten! My own hearthstone at last—and all the remember’d books and furniture of my youth! It was the eighteenth of May, and I had been abroad since the fourth of April! A marvellous, pleasing, and vary’d trip in all its parts, yet providing no sight more agreeable than Old Providence, or any moment so delightful as that of my return to my cherish’d doorstep.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Travels in the Provinces of America,” Lovecraft describes his sensations when, after a long trip abroad, he returned home to his beloved Providence.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Travels in the Provinces of America.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 4, Hippocampus Press, 2005, pp. 32-61.