I came to Marblehead in the twilight, and gazed long upon its hoary magick. I threaded the tortuous, precipitous streets, some of which an horse can scarce climb, and in which two wagons cannot pass. I talked with old men and revell’d in old scenes, and climb’d pantingly over the crusted cliffs of snow to the windswept height where cold winds blew over desolate roofs and evil birds hovered over a bleak, deserted, frozen tarn. And atop all was the peak; Old Burying Hill, where the dark headstones clawed up thro’ the virgin snow like the decay’d fingernails of some gigantick corpse.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes his discovery of Marblehead, Massachusetts, an ancient seaport so well preserved that it seems to defy the passage of time.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 11 Jan. 1923. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 112-4.
The past is real—it is all there is. The present is only a trivial and momentary boundary-line—whilst the future, though wholly determinate, is too essentially unknown and landmarkless to possess any hold upon our sense of concrete aesthetic imagery. It is, too, liable to involve shifts and contrasts repugnant to our emotions and fancy; since we cannot study it as a unified whole and become accustomed to its internal variations as we can study and grow accustomed to the vary’d past. There is nothing in the future to tie one’s loyalties and affections to—it can mean nothing to us, because it involves noe of those mnemonic association-links upon which the illusion of meaning is based. So I, for one, prefer Old New England and Old Virginia to the unknown mechanised barbarism that stretches out ahead of us—as meaningless and alien to men of our heritage and memories as the cultures of China or Abyssinia or ancient Carthage or the planet Saturn.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend James F. Morton, Lovecraft defends his attachment to the past and his dismissal of the future.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To James F. Morton.” 19 Oct. 1929. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 31-5.
Time, space, and natural law hold for me suggestions of intolerable bondage, and I can form no picture of emotional satisfaction which does not involve their defeat—especially the defeat of time, so that one may merge oneself with the whole historic stream and be wholly emancipated from the transient and the ephemeral.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend and fellow writer August Derleth, Lovecraft describes the sense of oppression he feels when contemplating the limitations imposed on humanity by natural law.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To August Derleth.” 21 Nov. 1930. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 220-2.
It so happens that I am unable to take pleasure or interest in anything but a mental re-creation of other & better days—for in sooth, I see no possibility of ever encountering a really congenial milieu or living among civilised people with old Yankee historic memories again—so in order to avoid the madness which leads to violence & suicide I must cling to the few shreds of old days & old ways which are left to me. Therefore no one need expect me to discard the ponderous furniture & paintings & clocks & books which help to keep 454 always in my dreams. When they go, I shall go, for they are all that make it possible for me to open my eyes in the morning or look forward to another day of consciousness without screaming in sheer desperation & pounding the walls & floor in a frenzied clamour to be waked up out of the nightmare of “reality” & my own room in Providence. Yes—such sensitivenesses of temperament are very inconvenient when one has no money—but it’s easier to criticise than to cure them. When a poor fool possessing them allows himself to get exiled & sidetracked through temporarily false perspective & ignorance of the world, the only thing to do is let him cling to his pathetic scraps as long as he can hold them. They are life for him.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Lillian Delora Clark, Lovecraft describes his attachment to the past.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 8 Aug. 1925. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 167-9.
For know you, that your gold and marble city of wonder is only the sum of what you have seen and loved in youth. It is the glory of Boston’s hillside roofs and western windows aflame with sunset; of the flower-fragrant Common and the great dome on the hill and the tangle of gables and chimneys in the violet valley where the many-bridged Charles flows drowsily […] This loveliness, moulded, crystallised, and polished by years of memory and dreaming, is your terraced wonder of elusive sunsets; and to find that marble parapet with curious urns and carven rail, and descend at last those endless balustrade steps to the city of broad squares and prismatic fountains, you need only to turn back to the thoughts and visions of your wistful boyhood.
DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the novella The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Randolph Carter learns that the fantastic city he has been searching for in his dreams is, in reality, the Boston of his childhood.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 2004, pp. 155-251.
I am perfectly confident that I could never adequately convey to any other human being the precise reasons why I continue to refrain from suicide—the reasons, that is, why I still find existence enough of a compensation to atone for its dominantly burthensome quality. These reasons are strongly linked with architecture, scenery, and lighting and atmospheric effects, and take the form of vague impressions of adventurous expectancy coupled with elusive memory—impressions that certain vistas, particularly those associated with sunsets, are avenues of approach to spheres or conditions of wholly undefined delights and freedoms which I have known in the past and have a slender possibility of knowing again in the future. Just what those delights and freedoms are, or even what they approximately resemble, I could not concretely imagine to save my life; save that they seem to concern some ethereal quality of indefinite expansion and mobility, and of a heightened perception which shall make all forms and combinations of beauty simultaneously visible to me, and realisable by me. I might add, though, that they invariably imply a total defeat of the laws of time, space, matter, and energy—or rather, an individual independence of these laws on my part, whereby I can sail through the varied universes of space-time as an invisible vapour might …… upsetting none of them, yet superior to their limitations and local forms of material organisation. The commonest form of my imaginative aspiration—that is, the commonest definable form—is a motion backward in time, or a discovery that time is merely an illusion and that the past is simply a lost mode of vision which I have a chance of recovering.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend August Derleth, Lovecraft claims that a desire to experience certain sensations, including the feeling of traveling backwards through time, constitutes his chief reason for living.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To August Derleth.” 1930. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 231-4.
My Providence! What airy hosts
Turn still thy gilded vanes;
What winds of elf that with grey ghosts
People thine ancient lanes!
The chimes of evening as of old
Above thy valleys sound,
While thy stern fathers ‘neath the mould
Make blest thy sacred ground.
Thou dream’st beside the waters there,
Unchang’d by cruel years;
A spirit from an age more fair
That shines behind our tears.
Thy twinkling lights each night I see,
Tho’ time and space divide;
For thou art of the soul of me,
And always at my side!
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Providence,” Lovecraft describes his lifelong attachment to Providence, a place which he felt transcended time.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Providence.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 303-5.
It had been old when Babylon was new;
None knows how long it slept beneath that mound,
Where in the end our questing shovels found
Its granite blocks and brought it back to view.
There were vast pavements and foundation-walls,
And crumbling slabs and statues, carved to shew
Fantastic beings of some long ago
Past anything the world of man recalls.
And then we saw those stone steps leading down
Through a choked gate of graven dolomite
To some black haven of eternal night
Where elder signs and primal secrets frown.
We cleared a path—but raced in mad retreat
When from below we heard those clumping feet.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “The Dweller,” Lovecraft describes the excavation of an ancient city, in which a monstrous entity, long forgotten, still dwells.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Dweller.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 92-3.
The day had come again, when as a child
I saw—just once—that hollow of old oaks,
Grey with a ground-mist that enfolds and chokes
The slinking shapes which madness has defiled.
It was the same—a herbage rank and wild
Clings round an altar whose carved sign invokes
That Nameless One to whom a thousand smokes
Rose, aeons gone, from unclean towers up-piled.
I saw the body spread on that dank stone,
And knew those things which feasted were not men;
I knew this strange, grey world was not my own,
But Yuggoth, past the starry voids—and then
The body shrieked at me with a dead cry,
And all too late I knew that it was I!
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Recognition,” Lovecraft describes his speaker’s sense of horror when, in a dreamlike state, he sees himself sacrificed and consumed by ghouls.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Recognition.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 82.
There is in certain ancient things a trace
Of some dim essence—more than form or weight;
A tenuous aether, indeterminate,
Yet linked with all the laws of time and space.
A faint, veiled sign of continuities
That outward eyes can never quite descry;
Of locked dimensions harbouring years gone by,
And out of reach except for hidden keys.
It moves me most when slanting sunbeams glow
On old farm buildings set against a hill,
And paint with life the shapes which linger still
From centuries less a dream than this we know.
In that strange light I feel I am not far
From the fixt mass whose sides the ages are.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Continuity,” Lovecraft justifies his antiquarianism by claiming that certain scenes, such as a sunlit farm on a hill, transcend their modern settings and retain spiritual ties with the past.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Continuity.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 94-5.