Played Out

I may be as thoroughly played out as Blackwood now appears to be. I don’t know—and there’s nothing to do but experiment .… and keep as clear as possible of external criticisms and rebuffs. That’s why I don’t submit the Doorstep to Wright. For the present, then, I am a reader and appreciator rather than a writer. God knows I want a job—but I want it to be anything—elevator man, pickaxe artist, night-watchman, stevedore, what the hell—except writing. Anything except a parody on the only thing in life that means anything to me.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his fellow writer E. Hoffmann Price, Lovecraft expresses his dissatisfaction with his own writing.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To E. Hoffmann Price.” 15 Aug. 1934. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and James Turner, vol. 5, Arkham House, 1976, pp. 17-20.

Life is Hideous

Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species—if separate species we be—for its reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world. If we knew what we are, we should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did; and Arthur Jermyn soaked himself in oil and set fire to his clothing one night. No one placed the charred fragments in an urn or set a memorial to him who had been; for certain papers and certain boxed object were found, which made men wish to forget. Some who knew him do not admit that he ever existed.


DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (1920), Lovecraft claims that recent scientific discoveries, specifically those related to human evolution, reduce the elevated status of the human race to an intolerable level.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 14-23.

The Indifferentist Laughs

The indifferentist laughs as much at irresponsible calamity-howlers and temperamental melancholiacs as he does at smirking idealists and unctuous woodrowilsonians. For example—nothing makes me more amused than the hypersensitive people who consider life as essentially an agony instead of merely a cursed bore, punctuated by occasional agony and still rarer pleasure. Life is rather depressing because pain and ennui outweigh pleasure; but the pleasure exists, none the less, and can be enjoyed now and then while it lasts. And too—many can build up a crustacean insensitiveness against the subtler forms of pain, so that many lucky individuals have their pain-quota measurably reduced. Uniform melancholy is as illogical as uniform cheer.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft describes himself as an indifferentist, a stoic realist rather than an optimist or pessimist.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To James F. Morton.” 30 Oct. 1929. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 229-31.

Skies That Now Are Dark Were Beaming

O’er the midnight moorlands crying,
Thro’ 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 daemons of despair.

Once, I think I half remember,
Ere the grey skies of November
Quench’d my youth’s aspiring ember,
Liv’d there such a thing as bliss;
Skies that now are dark were beaming,
Gold and azure, splendid seeming
Till I learn’d it all was dreaming—
Deadly drowsiness of Dis.

But the stream of Time, swift flowing,
Brings the torment of half-knowing—
Dimly rushing, blindly going
Past the never-trodden lea;
And the voyager, repining,
Sees the grisly death-fires shining,
Hears the wicked petrel’s whining
As he helpless drifts to sea.


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Despair,” which was written shortly after his mother’s nervous breakdown, Lovecraft uses weird imagery to symbolize his feelings of hopelessness.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Despair.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 61-2.

Polaris

Into the north window of my chamber glows the Pole Star with uncanny light. All through the long hellish hours of blackness it shines there. And in the autumn of the year, when the winds from the north curse and whine, and the red-leaved trees of the swamp mutter things to one another in the small hours of the morning under the horned waning moon, I sit by the casement and watch that star. Down from the heights reels the glittering Cassiopeia as the hours wear on, while Charles’ Wain lumbers up from behind the vapour-soaked swamp trees that sway in the night-wind. Just before dawn Arcturus winks ruddily from above the cemetery on the low hillock, and Coma Berenices shimmers weirdly afar off in the mysterious east; but still the Pole Star leers down from the same place in the black vault, winking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives to convey some strange message, yet recalls nothing save that it once had a message to convey. Sometimes, when it is cloudy, I can sleep.

Well do I remember the night of the great Aurora, when over the swamp played the shocking coruscations of the daemon-light. After the beams came clouds, and then I slept.

And it was under a horned waning moon that I saw the city for the first time. Still and somnolent did it lie, on a strange plateau in a hollow betwixt strange peaks. Of ghastly marble were its walls and its towers, its columns, domes, and pavements. In the marble streets were marble pillars, the upper parts of which were carven into the images of grave bearded men. The air was warm and stirred not. And overhead, scarce ten degrees from the zenith, glowed that watching Pole Star. Long did I gaze on the city, but the day came not. When the red Aldebaran, which blinked low in the sky but never set, had crawled a quarter of the way around the horizon, I saw light and motion in the houses and the streets. Forms strangely robed, but at once noble and familiar, walked abroad, and under the horned waning moon men talked wisdom in a tongue which I understood, though it was unlike any language I had ever known. And when the red Aldebaran had crawled more than half way around the horizon, there were again darkness and silence.

When I awaked, I was not as I had been. Upon my memory was graven the vision of the city, and within my soul had arisen another and vaguer recollection, of whose nature I was not then certain. Thereafter, on the cloudy nights when I could sleep, I saw the city often; sometimes under that horned waning moon, and sometimes under the hot yellow rays of a sun which did not set, but which wheeled low around the horizon. And on the clear nights the Pole Star leered as never before.

Gradually I came to wonder what might be my place in that city on the strange plateau betwixt strange peaks. At first content to view the scene as an all-observant uncorporeal presence, I now desired to define my relation to it, and to speak my mind amongst the grave men who conversed each day in the public squares. I said to myself, “This is no dream, for by what means can I prove the greater reality of that other life in the house of stone and brick south of the sinister swamp and the cemetery on the low hillock, where the Pole Star peers into my north window each night?”

One night as I listened to the discourse in the large square containing many statues, I felt a change; and perceived that I had at last a bodily form. Nor was I a stranger in the streets of Olathoë, which lies on the plateau of Sarkis, betwixt the peaks Noton and Kadiphonek. It was my friend Alos who spoke, and his speech was one that pleased my soul, for it was the speech of a true man and patriot. That night had the news come of Daikos’ fall, and of the advance of the Inutos; squat, hellish, yellow fiends who five years ago had appeared out of the unknown west to ravage the confines of our kingdom, and finally to besiege our towns. Having taken the fortified places at the foot of the mountains, their way now lay open to the plateau, unless every citizen could resist with the strength of ten men. For the squat creatures were mighty in the arts of war, and knew not the scruples of honour which held back our tall, grey-eyed men of Lomar from ruthless conquest.

Alos, my friend, was commander of all the forces on the plateau, and in him lay the last hope of our country. On this occasion he spoke of the perils to be faced, and exhorted the men of Olathoë, bravest of the Lomarians, to sustain the traditions of their ancestors, who when forced to move southward from Zobna before the advance of the great ice-sheet (even as our descendants must some day flee from the land of Lomar), valiantly and victoriously swept aside the hairy, long-armed, cannibal Gnophkehs that stood in their way. To me Alos denied a warrior’s part, for I was feeble and given to strange faintings when subjected to stress and hardships. But my eyes were the keenest in the city, despite the long hours I gave each day to the study of the Pnakotic manuscripts and the wisdom of the Zobnarian Fathers; so my friend, desiring not to doom me to inaction, rewarded me with that duty which was second to nothing in importance. To the watch-tower of Thapnen he sent me, there to serve as the eyes of our army. Should the Inutos attempt to gain the citadel by the narrow pass behind the peak Noton, and thereby surprise the garrison, I was to give the signal of fire which would warn the waiting soldiers and save the town from immediate disaster.

Alone I mounted the tower, for every man of stout body was needed in the passes below. My brain was sore dazed with excitement and fatigue, for I had not slept in many days; yet was my purpose firm, for I loved my native land of Lomar, and the marble city of Olathoë that lies betwixt the peaks of Noton and Kadiphonek.

But as I stood in the tower’s topmost chamber, I beheld the horned waning moon, red and sinister, quivering through the vapours that hovered over the distant valley of Banof. And through an opening in the roof glittered the pale Pole Star, fluttering as if alive, and leering like a fiend and tempter. Methought its spirit whispered evil counsel, soothing me to traitorous somnolence with a damnable rhythmical promise which it repeated over and over:

“Slumber, watcher, till the spheres
Six and twenty thousand years
Have revolv’d, and I return
To the spot where now I burn.
Other stars anon shall rise
To the axis of the skies;
Stars that soothe and stars that bless
With a sweet forgetfulness:
Only when my round is o’er
Shall the past disturb thy door.”

Vainly did I struggle with my drowsiness, seeking to connect these strange words with some lore of the skies which I had learnt from the Pnakotic manuscripts. My head, heavy and reeling, drooped to my breast, and when next I looked up it was in a dream; with the Pole Star grinning at me through a window from over the horrible swaying trees of a dream-swamp. And I am still dreaming.

In my shame and despair I sometimes scream frantically, begging the dream-creatures around me to waken me ere the Inutos steal up the pass behind the peak Noton and take the citadel by surprise; but these creatures are daemons, for they laugh at me and tell me I am not dreaming. They mock me whilst I sleep, and whilst the squat yellow foe may be creeping silently upon us. I have failed in my duty and betrayed the marble city of Olathoë; I have proven false to Alos, my friend and commander. But still these shadows of my dream deride me. They say there is no land of Lomar, save in my nocturnal imaginings; that in those realms where the Pole Star shines high and red Aldebaran crawls low around the horizon, there has been naught save ice and snow for thousands of years, and never a man save squat yellow creatures, blighted by the cold, whom they call “Esquimaux”.

And as I writhe in my guilty agony, frantic to save the city whose peril every moment grows, and vainly striving to shake off this unnatural dream of a house of stone and brick south of a sinister swamp and a cemetery on a low hillock; the Pole Star, evil and monstrous, leers down from the black vault, winking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives to convey some strange message, yet recalls nothing save that it once had a message to convey.


DESCRIPTION: In his short story “Polaris,” Lovecraft describes how his protagonist, having been lulled to sleep by the Pole Star, fails to warn the land of Lomar of an impending invasion.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Polaris.” The Dreams in the Witch House And Other Weird Stories. Penguin Books, 2004, pp. 1-4.

Relief from the Burden of Life

There is much relief from the burden of life to be derived from many sources. To the man of high animal spirits, there is the mere pleasure of being alive; the Joi de vivre, as our Gallick friends term it. To the credulous there is religion and its paradisal dreams. To the moralist, there is a certain satisfaction in right conduct. To the scientist there is the joy in pursuing truth which nearly counteracts the depressing revelations of truth. To the person of cultivated taste, there are the fine arts. To the man of humour, there is the sardonic delight of spying out pretensions and incongruities of life. To the poet there is the ability and privilege to fashion a little Arcadia in his fancy, wherein he may withdraw from the sordid reality of mankind at large. In short, the world abounds with simple delusions which we may call “happiness”, if we be but able to entertain them.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to the Kleicomolo, Lovecraft claims that, though happiness is a delusion, people can still enjoy the pleasures that life has to offer.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner, Ira A. Cole, and Maurice W. Moe.” Oct. 1916. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 25-9.