Sunday, June 05, 2011


I hadn't quite realized until recently, as I went through and cataloged my poetry while simultaneously reading Lord Dunsany's 'Gods of Pegana' just how much Dunsany's vocabulary has influenced my writing. It's perhaps more noticeable in work from a few years back than the most recent stuff, but it is most definitely there now as well.

There was a period when I tried to be 'modern' in the academic sense, when I wrote 'plain speech' poetry, but I guess that's not me. Nor anyone else, considering how well it went over. It's a good thing my roots hadn't dried up and died by the time I got back to them.

But it took some digging to find them. I discovered Dunsany somewhere around 1970, I suppose, having read Tolkien and progressed to the other great fantasy writers. I'm inclined to name Dunsany the best of them, though Eddison, Cabell, Lewis, or the Grandaddy of them all, William Morris, are all pretty darn good.

The Gods of Pegana and his other collections of short, witty, and often insightful stories are what I first discovered. The novels, including the truly excellent King of Elfland's Daughter, came later. Just for the heck of it, here's one of the stories from Pegana, which is out of copyright so I can do this!



There arises a river in Pegana that is neither a river of water nor yet a river of fire, and it flows through the skies and the Worlds to the Rim of the Worlds, a river of silence. Through all the Worlds are sounds, the noises of moving, and the echoes of voices and song; but upon the River is no sound ever heard, for there all echoes die.

The River arises out of the drumming of Skarl, and flows for ever between banks of thunder, until it comes to the waste beyond the Worlds, behind the farthest star, down to the Sea of Silence.

I lay in the desert beyond all cities and sounds, and above me flowed the River of Silence through the sky; and on the desert's edge night fought against the Sun, and suddenly conquered.

Then on the River I saw the dream-built ship of the god Yoharneth-Lahai, whose great prow lifted grey into the air above the River of Silence.

Her timbers were olden dreams dreamed long ago, and poets' fancies made her tall, straight masts, and her rigging was wrought out of the people's hopes.

Upon her deck were rowers with dream-made oars, and the rowers were the people of men's fancies, and princes of old story and people who had died, and people who had never been.

These swung forward and swung back to row Yoharneth-Lahai through the Worlds with never a sound of rowing. For ever on every wind float up to Pegana the hopes and the fancies of the people which have no home in the Worlds, and there Yoharneth-Lahai weaves them into dreams, to take them to the people again.

And every night in his dream-built ship Yoharneth-Lahai setteth forth, with all his dreams on board, to take again their old hopes back to the people and all forgotten fancies.

But ere the day comes back to her own again, and all the conquering armies of the dawn hurl their red lances in the face of the night, Yoharneth-Lahai leaves the sleeping Worlds, and rows back up the River of Silence, that flows from Pegana into the Sea of Silence that lies beyond the Worlds.

And the name of the River is Imrana the River of Silence. All they that be weary of the sound of cities and very tired of clamour creep down in the night-time to Yoharneth-Lahai's ship, and going aboard it, among the dreams and the fancies of old times, lie down upon the deck, and pass from sleeping to the River, while Mung, behind them, makes the sign of Mung because they would have it so.

And, lying there upon the deck among their own remembered fancies,and songs that were never sung, and they drift up Imrana ere the dawn, where the sound of the cities comes not, nor the voice of the thunder is heard, nor the midnight howl of Pain as he gnaws at the bodies of men, and far away and forgotten bleat the small sorrows that trouble all the Worlds.

But where the River flows through Pegana's gates, between the great twin constellations Yum and Gothum, where Yum stands sentinel upon the left and Gothum upon the right, there sits
Sirami, the lord of All Forgetting. And, when the ship draws near, Sirami looketh with his sapphire eyes into the faces and beyond them of those that were weary of cities, and as he gazes, as one that looketh before him remembering naught, he gently waves his hands. And amid the waving of Sirami's hands there fall from all that behold him all their memories, save certain things that may not be forgotten even beyond the Worlds.

It hath been said that when Skarl ceases to drum, and MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI awakes, and the gods of Pegana know that it is THE END, that then the gods will enter galleons of gold, and with dream-born rowers glide down Imrana (who knows whither or why?) till they come where the River enters the Silent Sea, and shall there be gods of nothing, where nothing is, and never a sound shall come. And far away upon the River's banks shall bay their old hound Time, that shall seek to rend his masters; while MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI shall think some other plan concerning gods and worlds.


Almost as much prose poems as stories, these early tales of Lord Dunsany (his actual family name was Plunkett but if you could use your ancestral title and style yourself Lord Dunsany instead, wouldn't you?) certainly influenced Tolkien's tales that grew into the Silmarillion. They also had a pretty deep impact on a young American writer named Lovecraft -- less evident in his later, better known horror stories, but still there. Very obvious in early work, such as The Dream Quest of Unknow Kadeth.

But I was talking of vocabulary, by which I mean not only words and turns of phrase but also a vocabulary of ideas, of metaphors. All of the elements that make up our 'style' (or lack thereof). Oh, I'm quite aware there are literally thousand of such influences for anyone who writes seriously, for we've almost certainly read seriously as well! A few are bound to stand out.

Such as Robert Frost, whom I quite consciously emulated early on. That's a good way to end up writing lots of boring blank verse unless you are, of course, Robert Frost. And even he didn't always manage it. Or Jorge Luis Borges, who made and makes a lot more sense to me than most modern poets and had much to do with me rediscovering the land of symbol and metaphor.

And even those we rather dislike...I never cared for Whitman. Still don't and I've gone to pains to avoid sounding/writing like him, i.e all that sentimentality wrapped in grandiosity. Sort of like a Tchaikovsky symphony.

My copies of Dunsany had been destroyed by flooding in '93 so it had been a while since I'd read Gods of Pegana. I suppose that's why I was a bit surprised when I noted the obvious influences on my own stuff. I just didn't realized I'd internalized quite so much of his philosophy. The style and wit, yes, I knew that -- that's a pretty obvious sort of thing.

Well, now I suppose I'll have to go out of my way to avoid sounding like Dunsany. I am going to be self-conscious about least for a while.

No comments: