Poetry, Lovecraft’s


Poetry, Lovecraft’s
   HPL wrote more than 250 poems from 1897 to 1936. The great majority of these were written in imitation of the occasional verse of Dryden and Pope, with extensive use of the heroic couplet. In 1914 HPL, responding to Maurice W.Moe’s urging to vary his metrical style, wrote: “Take the form away, and nothing remains. I have no real poetic ability, and all that saves my verse from utter worthlessness is the care which I bestow on its metrical construction” ( SL1.3–4). HPL’s devotion to verse may perhaps have been augmented by his mother, who reportedly considered him a “poet of the highest order” ( LR16). Accordingly, for at least the first seven years of his mature literary period (1914–21), HPL attempted to achieve mastery in verse.
   HPL’s surviving juvenile poetry consists largely of imitations or translations of Greek and Latin epics, although one specimen, “H.Lovecraft’s Attempted Journey betwixt Providence & Fall River…” (1901), is a delightful comic poem on a modern theme—his initial ride on an electric trolley. Other early work is marred by racist sentiments (“De Triumpho Naturae” [1905]; “New-England Fallen” [1912]; “On the Creation of Niggers” [1912]). His first published poem, “Providence in 2000 A.D.” ([Providence] Evening Bulletin,March 4, 1912), is a satire directed against Italian-American residents in his native city.
   HPL’s entry into amateur journalism in 1914 was triggered by his writing of several pungent satires in the Augustan mode published in the Argosy(1913–14). In the amateur press, he found ready venues for a great quantity of his verse. The poems fall roughly into a variety of nonexclusive categories: occasional verse, seasonal and topographical poems, poems on amateur affairs, political poems, satires, and (beginning in 1916) weird poetry. On the whole, only the last two categories reveal consistent competence. Some of the satires are themselves on political subjects (e.g., “To General Villa” [ Blarney Stone,November–December 1914]) or on amateur affairs (e.g., “On a Modern Lothario” [ Blarney-Stone,July–August 1914]). His first separately published work was the poem The Crime of Crimes (1915), on the sinking of the Lusitania
   HPL wrote poetry with great facility. He noted that the ten-line poem “On Receiving a Picture of Swans” took about ten minutes to compose ( SL1.13). “A Mississippi Autumn” ( Ole Miss’,December 1915) was signed “Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Metrical Mechanic.” HPL had no illusions as to the quality of much of his verse. In 1918, after making an exhaustive list of his published poems, he noted: “What a mess of mediocre & miserable junk. He hath sharp eyes indeed, who can discover any trace of merit in so worthless an array of bad verse” ( SL1.60).
   HPL’s weird verse does, however, deserve some special attention, if only because it comprises an interesting appendage to his weird fiction. “The Poe-et’s Nightmare” (1916) is one of the earliest expressions of his distinctive brand of cosmicism, speaking apocalyptically in blank verse: “Alone in space, I view’d a feeble fleck/Of silvern light, marking the narrow ken/Which mortals call the boundless universe.” Many other poems are metrical and stylistic imitations of Poe’s verse: “The Rutted Road” (1917); “Nemesis” (1917); “The Eidolon” (1918); “Despair” (1919); “The House” (1919); “The City” (1919). “Psychopompos: A Tale in Rhyme” (1917–18) is a long poem on the werewolf theme; HPL curiously included it in several lists of his prose tales. Later verse begins to show greater distinctiveness and originality, such as the pungent “The Cats” (1925) and the pensive “Primavera” (1925) and “The Wood” (1929). In late 1929, after several years in which he wrote relatively little verse, HPL experienced a remarkable outburst of poetic inspiration, producing “The Outpost,” “The Ancient Track,” the flawless sonnet “The Messenger,” and the sonnet cycle Fungi from Yuggoth (1929–30) in short order. After several more years of quiescence, HPL produced finely crafted sonnets to Virgil Finlay and Clark Ashton Smith in late 1936.
   Of the satires, “Gryphus in Asinum Mutatus” (1915) is an amusing take-off of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; “Ye Ballade of Patrick von Flynn” (1915) is a skewering of Irish-Americans’ support of Germany during World War I; “The Isaacsonio-Mortoniad” (1915) is a long and piquant send-up of Charles D.Isaacson and James F.Morton, who had attacked HPL in the amateur press; and “The Dead Bookworm” (1917) and “On the Death of a Rhyming Critic” (1917) are delightful parodies of himself. In a letter to Alfred Galpin (August 21, 1918) HPL wrote several satires of love poetry, as he had done earlier with “Laeta; a Lament” (1915). “Amissa Minerva” (1919) is a sharp attack on modern poetry, with several poets cited by name. HPL’s most unrestrained satire is “Medusa: A Portrait” (1921), a vicious lampoon of Ida C.Haughton, an amateur writer with whom HPL was feuding. But his greatest satire departs as completely as possible from the Augustan mode: “Waste Paper: A Poem of Profound Insignificance” (1922?), a parody of T.S.Eliot’s The Waste Land, written entirely in free verse. His satiric poetry was the theme of the first critical article on HPL’s verse, Rheinhart Kleiner’s “A Note on Howard P.Lovecraft’s Verse” ( United Amateur,March 1919).
   Not much can be said of other aspects of HPL’s poetry. T.O.Mabbott remarked that “his poetry seems to me mostly written ‘with his left hand’” (“H.P. Lovecraft: An Appreciation” [1944], FDOC43), while Winfield Townley Scott delivered the most severe indictment, referring to the bulk of HPL’s verse as “eighteenth-century rubbish” (“Lovecraft as a Poet” [1945]), although speaking kindly of “The Messenger” and Fungi from Yuggoth. HPL’s poetry still receives relatively little critical scrutiny, although the Fungihas been analyzed from numerous perspectives. As HPL’s complete verse has now been gathered in The Ancient Track: Complete Poetical Works (2001), one may hope that this body of his work will now be the subject of further study.
   See Winfield Townley Scott, “Lovecraft as a Poet,” in Rhode Island on Lovecraft,ed. Donald M.Grant and Thomas P.Hadley (rev. ed. as “A Parenthesis on Lovecraft as Poet” in Scott’s Exiles and Fabrications[1961] and in FDOC;S.T. Joshi, “A Look at Lovecraft’s Fantastic Poetry,” Aklo,Summer 1991, pp. 20–30.

An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. .

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