Patrick von Flynn

Now all at once a magic seem’d to creep into me bones—
Me whisky-mellow’d Oirish voice burst forth in Prussian tones!
Oi felt a sthrange sinsation, and in fancy seem’d to see
Instad of dear ould Shannon’s banks, the gently rippling Spree—
No, not the Spree ye think Oi mane, but that which softly flows
Through glorious Deutschland’s grassy leas, where warr an’ kultur grows.
Ochone! Ochone! Where am Oi now? What conflict am Oi in?
Do Oi belong in Dublin town or back in Ould Berlin?
A week ago me son was borrn; his christ’nin’s not far off;
Oi wonther will I call him Mike, or Friedrich Wilhelm Hoff?
’Tis hard indade fer one loike me to know jist where he’s at;
Oi wonder if me name is Hans or if it shtill is Pat?

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Ye Ballade of Patrick von Flynn,” Lovecraft mocks Irish-Americans who, with Ireland’s interests in mind, supported Germany rather than England in World War I.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Ye Ballade of Patrick von Flynn.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 215-7.

Universal Pandemonium

I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed, worshipping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite. I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows to draw down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind—of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium.

DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “Dagon” (1917), the narrator expresses his fear that humanity will be overwhelmed by the “nameless things” he has discovered living beneath the sea.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Dagon.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 1-6.

Fair (?) Hecatissa

Young Strephon for his Chloë sigh’d
In accents warm but vain;
Th’ Hibernian nymph his suit deny’d,
Nor melted at his pain.

But one day from an Eastern scene
Fair (?) Hecatissa came;
She ey’d the swain with fav’ring mien,
And felt the Paphian flame.

No answ’ring flame the youth display’d;
He scorn’d her doubtful charms,
And still implor’d th’ Hibernian maid
To seek his outstretch’d arms.

Thus Strephon, both unlov’d and lov’d,
Both pleading and refusing,
Plann’d, that to passion might be mov’d
The maiden of his choosing.

With seeming scorn he ceas’d his sighs,
And careless turn’d away;
Then courted with dissembling eyes
The maid from Boston Bay.

The willing fair (?) his wooing heard;
With bliss his suit receiv’d;
Bright Chloë, list’ning, notes each word,
With jealous longing griev’d.

DESCRIPTION: In his poem “A Pastoral Tragedy of Appleton, Wisconsin,” Lovecraft affectionately mocks the romantic entanglements of his friend Alfred Galpin.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “A Pastoral Tragedy of Appleton, Wisconsin.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 131-2.

An Aesthete Devoted to Harmony

So far as I am concerned—I am an aesthete devoted to harmony, and to the extraction of the maximum possible pleasure from life. I find by experience that my chief pleasure is in symbolic identification with the landscape and tradition-stream to which I belong—hence I follow the honour expected of a descendant of English gentlemen. It is pride and beauty-sense, plus the automatic instincts of generations trained in certain conduct-patterns, which determine my conduct from day to day. But this is not ethics, because the same compulsions and preferences apply, with me, to things wholly outside the ethical zone. For example, I never cheat or steal. Also, I never wear a top-hat with a sack coat or munch bananas in public on the streets, because a gentleman does not do those things either. I would as soon do the one as the other sort of thing—it is all a matter of harmony and good taste—whereas the ethical or “righteous” man would be horrified by dishonesty yet tolerant of coarse personal ways.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Woodburn Harris, Lovecraft describes aesthetics, rather than morality, as the guiding influence in his life.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Woodburn Harris.” 25 Feb. 1929. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 226-9.

The True Function of Phantasy

As against romanticism I am solidly a realist—even though realising the dangerously narrow margin separating romanticism from certain forms of phantasy. My conception of phantasy, as a genuine art-form, is an extension rather than a negation of reality. Ordinary tales about a castle ghost or old-fashioned werewolf are merely so much junk. The true function of phantasy is to give the imagination a ground for limitless expansion, and to satisfy aesthetically the sincere and burning curiosity and sense of awe which a sensitive minority of mankind feel toward the alluring and provocative abysses of unplumbed space and unguessed entity which press in upon the known world from unknown infinites and in unknown relationships of time, space, matter, force, dimensionality, and consciousness. This curiosity and sense of awe, I believe, are quite basic amongst the sensitive minority in question; and I see no reason to think that they will decline in the future—for as you point out, the frontier of the unknown can never do more than scratch the surface of eternally unknowable infinity. But the truly sensitive will never be more than a minority, because most persons—even those of the keenest possible intellect and aesthetic ability—simply have not the psychological equipment or adjustment to feel that way. I have taken some pains to sound various persons as to their capacity to feel profoundly regarding the cosmos and the disturbing and fascinating quality of the extra-terrestrial and perpetually unknown; and my results reveal a surprisingly small quota. In literature we can easily see the cosmic quality in Poe, Maturin, Dunsany, de la Mare, and Blackwood, but I profoundly suspect the cosmicism of Bierce, James, and even Machen. It is not every macabre writer who feels poignantly and almost intolerably the pressure of cryptic and unbounded outer space.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft claims that the true purpose of weird fiction is to awaken a sense of curiosity and awe in its readers.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 17 Oct. 1930. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 210-13.

The Hoax-Weaver

The more I consider weird fiction, the more I am convinced that a solidly realistic framework is needed in order to build up a preparation for the unreal element. The one supreme defect of cheap weird fiction is an absurd taking-for-granted of fantastic prodigies, and a sketchy delineation of such things before any background of convincingness is laid down. When a story fails to emphasise, by contrast with reality, the utter strangeness and abnormality of the wonder it depicts, it likewise fails to make those wonders seem like anything more than aimless puerility. Only normal things can be convincingly related in a casual way. Whatever an abnormal thing may be, its foremost quality must always be that of abnormality itself; so that in delineating it one must put prime stress on its departure from the natural order, and see that the characters of the narrative react to it with adequate emotions. My own rule is that no weird story can truly produce terror unless it is devised with all the care and verisimilitude of an actual hoax. The author must forget all about “short story technique”, and build up a stark, simple account, full of homely corroborative details, just as if he were actually trying to “put across” a deception in real life—a deception clever enough to make adults believe it. My own attitude in writing is always that of the hoax-weaver. One part of my mind tries to concoct something realistic and coherent enough to fool the rest of my mind and make me swallow the marvel as the late Camille Flammarion used to swallow the ghost and revenant yarns unloaded on him by fakers and neurotics. For the time being I try to forget formal literature, and simply devise a lie as carefully as a crooked witness prepares a line of testimony with cross-examining lawyers in his mind. I take the place of the lawyers now and then—finding motivations with a greater care for probability. Not that I succeed especially well, but that I think I have the basic method calculated to give maximum results if expertly used. This ideal became a conscious one with me about the “Cthulhu” period, and is perhaps best exemplified in “The Colour Out of Space”.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft claims that, in order to be convincing, a weird tale must be as carefully constructed as a hoax.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 17 Oct. 1930. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 210-13.

The Perfection of the Hideous

Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.

DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “The Picture in the House” (1920), Lovecraft claims that rural New England can be far more frightening than the castles and catacombs of Gothic literature.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Picture in the House.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 34-42.