Monday, October 1, 2018

The Fungi from Yuggoth

Here are the two poems by H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) published in the February/March 1931 issue of Weird Tales and set to music (perhaps even performed) by Harold S. Farnese (1890-1945) (1):

XXIII. Mirage

I do not know if ever it existed--
That lost world floating dimly on Time's stream--
And yet I see it often, violet-misted,
And shimmering at the back of some vague dream.
There were strange towers and curious lapping rivers,
Labyrinths of wonder, and low vaults of light,
And bough-crossed skies of flame, like that which quivers
Wistfully just before a winter's night.

Great moors led off to sedgy shores unpeopled,
Where vast birds wheeled, while on a windswept hill
There was a village, ancient and white-steepled,
With evening chimes for which I listen still.
I do not know what land it is--or dare
Ask when or why I was, or will be, there.

XXVII. The Elder Pharos [2]

From Leng, where rocky peaks climb bleak and bare
Under cold stars obscure to human sight,
There shoots at dusk a single beam of light
Whose far blue rays make shepherds whine in prayer.
They say (though none has been there) that it comes
Out of a pharos in a tower of stone,
Where the last Elder One lives on alone,
Talking to Chaos with the beat of drums. [3]

The Thing, they whisper, wears a silken mask
Of yellow, whose queer folds appear to hide
A face not of this earth, though none dares ask
Just what those features are, which bulge inside.
Many, in man’s first youth, sought out that glow,
But what they found, no one will ever know. [4]

From the URL H.P. at this link.

(1) I'm settling on 1890 as the year of Farnese's birth, as I think it's a more likely birth year for him than 1891.
(2) The word pharos refers to a lighthouse.
(3) Note the phrase "Talking to Chaos with the beat of drums." Is that an allusion to Azathoth, whom Lovecraft described as existing "outside the ordered universe" and as an "amorphous blight of nethermost confusion," also as one who "gnaws . . . amidst . . . [the] maddening beating of vile drums"? (From The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.) There are drums also backing Guy Bevier Williams' chant at the beginning of White Zombie. It seems to me that drums in Lovecraft, along with pipes and flutes, signify primitivism and/or decadence in music and, by extension, in a society or culture. Cultists in his stories invariably play these primitive or pagan instruments.
(3) Note here the reference to "The Thing [which] wears a silken mask/Of yellow . . . ." That makes me think immediately of Robert W. Chambers' King in Yellow, from a generation before. Lovecraft made reference to the same figure in "Celephaïs" (1920) and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926, 1943).
(4) One of the newspaper items I cited previously in this series alluded to Farnese's performance (with Jascha Gegna, in late 1932) of two "oriental" pieces composed by Farnese. Although "Mirage" seems to describe a vision of a more Western or European landscape ("steepled" village), "The Elder Pharos" has a subtle, though not unambiguous, Oriental setting: the Plateau of Leng is placed, in one Lovecraft story at least, in Central Asia, while the color yellow, though also used to connote insanity, is associated with the Orient. (It's why pencils are yellow, but think of "the yellow peril" as well.)

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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