Tuesday, April 22, 2008

H.P. Lovecraft: Celephais

Well, here's another great story from one of the old masters. What's there to say about Mr H.P. Lovecraft that's not been already said? Just read and enjoy:
In a dream Kuranes saw the city in the valley, and the seacoast beyond, andthe snowy peak overlooking the sea, and the gaily painted galleys that sail outof the harbour toward distant regions where the sea meets the sky. In a dream itwas also that he came by his name of Kuranes, for when awake he was called byanother name. Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was thelast of his family, and alone among the indifferent millions of London, so therewere not many to speak to him and to remind him who he had been. His money andlands were gone, and he did not care for the ways of the people about him, butpreferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at bythose to whom he showed it, so that after a time he kept his writings tohimself, and finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world abouthim, the more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futileto try to describe them on paper. Kuranes was not modern, and did not think likeothers who wrote. Whilst they strove to strip from life its embroidered robes ofmyth and to show in naked ugliness the foul thing that is reality, Kuranessought for beauty alone. When truth and experience failed to reveal it, hesought it in fancy and illusion, and found it on his very doorstep, amid thenebulous memories of childhood tales and dreams. There are not many persons who know what wonders are opened to them in thestories and visions of their youth; for when as children we listen and dream, wethink but half-formed thoughts, and when as men we try to remember, we aredulled and prosaic with the poison of life. But some of us awake in the nightwith strange phantasms of enchanted hills and gardens, of fountains that sing inthe sun, of golden cliffs overhanging murmuring seas, of plains that stretchdown to sleeping cities of bronze and stone, and of shadowy companies of heroesthat ride caparisoned white horses along the edges of thick forests; and then weknow that we have looked back through the ivory gates into that world of wonderwhich was ours before we were wise and unhappy. Kuranes came very suddenly upon his old world of childhood. He had beendreaming of the house where he had been born; the great stone house covered withivy, where thirteen generations of his ancestors had lived, and where he hadhoped to die. It was moonlight, and he had stolen out into the fragrant summernight, through the gardens, down the terraces, past the great oaks of the park,and along the long white road to the village. The village seemed very old, eatenaway at the edge like the moon which had commenced to wane, and Kuranes wonderedwhether the peaked roofs of the small houses hid sleep or death. In the streetswere spears of long grass, and the window-panes on either side broken or ifimilystaring. Kuranes had not lingered, but had plodded on as though summoned towardsome goal. He dared not disobey the summons for fear it might prove an illusionlike the urges and aspirations of waking life, which do not lead to any goal.Then he had been drawn down a lane that led off from the village street towardthe channel cliffs, and had come to the end of things—to the precipice and theabyss where all the village and all the world fell abruptly into the unechoingemptiness of infinity, and where even the sky ahead was empty and unit by thecrumbling moon and the peering stars. Faith had urged him on, over the precipiceand into the gulf, where he had floated down, down, down; past dark, shapeless,undreamed dreams, faintly glowing spheres that may have been partly dreameddreams, and laughing winged things that seemed to mock the dreamers of all theworlds. Then a rift seemed to open in the darkness before him, and he saw thecity of the valley, glistening radiantly far, far below, with a background ofsea and sky, and a snowcapped mountain near the shore. Kuranes had awakened the very moment he beheld the city, yet he knew fromhis brief glance that it was none other than Celephais, in the Valley ofOoth-Nargai beyond the Tanarian Hills where his spirit had dwelt all theeternity of an hour one summer afternoon very long ago, when he had slipt awayfrom his nurse and let the warm sea-breeze lull him to sleep as he watched theclouds from the cliff near the village. He had protested then, when they hadfound him, waked him, and carried him home, for just as he was aroused he hadbeen about to sail in a golden galley for those alluring regions where the seameets the sky. And now he was equally resentful of awaking, for he had found hisfabulous city after forty weary years. But three nights afterward Kuranes came again to Celephais. As before, hedreamed first of the village that was asleep or dead, and of the abyss downwhich one must float silently; then the rift appeared again, and he beheld theglittering minarets of the city, and saw the graceful galleys riding at anchorin the blue harbour, and watched the gingko trees of Mount Man swaying in thesea-breeze. But this time he was not snatched away, and like a winged beingsettled gradually over a grassy hillside till finally his feet rested gently onthe turf. He had indeed come back to the Valley of Ooth-Nargai and the splendidcity of Celephais. Down the hill amid scented grasses and brilliant flowers walked Kuranes,over the bubbling Naraxa on the small wooden bridge where he had carved his nameso many years ago, and through the whispering grove to the great stone bridge bythe city gate. All was as of old, nor were the marble walls discoloured, nor thepolished bronze statues upon them tarnished. And Kuranes saw that he need nottremble lest the things he knew be vanished; for even the sentries on theramparts were the same, and still as young as he remembered them. When heentered the city, past the bronze gates and over the onyx pavements, themerchants and camel-drivers greeted him as if he had never been away; and it Wasthe same at the turquoise temple of Nath-Horthath, where the orchid-wreathedpriests told him that there is no time in Ooth-Nargai, but only perpetual youth.Then Kuranes walked through the Street of Pillars to the seaward wall, wheregathered the traders and sailors, and strange men from the regions where the seameets the sky. There he stayed long, gazing out over the bright harbour wherethe ripples sparkled beneath an unknown sun, and where rode lightly the galleysfrom far places over the water. And he gazed also upon Mount Man rising regallyfrom the shore, its lower slopes green with swaying trees and its white summittouching the sky. More than ever Kuranes wished to sail in a galley to the far places of whichhe had heard so many strange tales, and he sought again the captain who hadagreed to carry him so long ago. He found the man, Athib, sitting on the samechest of spice he had sat upon before, and Athib seemed not to realize that anytime had passed. Then the two rowed to a galley in the harbour, and givingorders to the oarmen, commenced to sail out into the billowy Cerenarian Sea thatleads to the sky. For several days they glided undulatingly over the water, tillfinally they came to the horizon, where the sea meets the sky. Here the galleypaused not at all, but floated easily in the blue of the sky among fleecy cloudstinted with rose. And far beneath the keel Kuranes could see strange lands andrivers and cities of surpassing beauty, spread indolently in the sunshine whichseemed never to lessen or disappear. At length Athib told him that their journeywas near its end, and that they would soon enter the harbour of Serannian, thepink marble city of the clouds, which is built on that ethereal coast where thewest wind flows into the sky; but as the highest of the city’s carven towerscame into sight there was a sound somewhere in space, and Kuranes awaked in hisLondon garret. For many months after that Kuranes sought the marvellous city of Celephaisand its sky-bound galleys in vain; and though his dreams carried him to manygorgeous and unheard-of places, no one whom he met could tell him how to findOoth-Nargai beyond the Tanarian Hills. One night he went flying over darkmountains where there were faint, lone campfires at great distances apart, andstrange, shaggy herds with tinkling bells on the leaders, and in the wildestpart of this hilly country, so remote that few men could ever have seen it, hefound a hideously ancient wall or causeway of stone zigzagging along the ridgesand valleys; too gigantic ever to have risen by human hands, and of such alength that neither end of it could be seen. Beyond that wall in the grey dawnhe came to a land of quaint gardens and cherry trees, and when the sun rose hebeheld such beauty of red and white flowers, green foliage and lawns, whitepaths, diamond brooks, blue lakelets, carven bridges, and red-roofed pagodas,that he for a moment forgot Celephais in sheer delight. But he remembered itagain when he walked down a white path toward a red-roofed pagoda, and wouldhave questioned the people of this land about it, had he not found that therewere no people there, but only birds and bees and butterflies. On another nightKuranes walked up a damp stone spiral stairway endlessly, and came to a towerwindow overlooking a mighty plain and river lit by the full moon; and in thesilent city that spread away from the river bank he thought he beheld somefeature or arrangement which he had known before. He would have descended andasked the way to OothNargai had not a fearsome aurora sputtered up from someremote place beyond the horizon, showing the ruin and antiquity of the city, andthe stagnation of the reedy river, and the death lying upon that land, as it hadlain since King Kynaratholis came home from his conquests to find the vengeanceof the gods. So Kuranes sought fruitlessly for the marvellous city of Celephais and itsgalleys that sail to Serannian in the sky, meanwhile seeing many wonders andonce barely escaping from the high-priest not to be described, which wears ayellow silken mask over its face and dwells all alone in a prehistoric stonemonastery in the cold desert plateau of Leng. In time he grew so impatient ofthe bleak intervals of day that he began buying drugs in order to increase hisperiods of sleep. Hasheesh helped a great deal, and once sent him to a part ofspace where form does not exist, but where glowing gases study the secrets ofexistence. And a violet-coloured gas told him that this part of space wasoutside what he had called infinity. The gas had not heard of planets andorganisms before, but identified Kuranes merely as one from the infinity wherematter, energy, and gravitation exist. Kuranes was now very anxious to return tominaret-studded Celephais, and increased his doses of drugs; but eventually hehad no more money left, and could buy no drugs. Then one summer day he wasturned out of his garret, and wandered aimlessly through the streets, driftingover a bridge to a place where the houses grew thinner and thinner. And it wasthere that fulfillment came, and he met the cortege of knights come fromCelephais to bear him thither forever. Handsome knights they were, astride roan horses and clad in shining armourwith tabards of cloth-of-gold curiously emblazoned. So numerous were they, thatKuranes almost mistook them for an army, but they were sent in his honour; sinceit was he who had created Ooth-Nargai in his dreams, on which account he was nowto be appointed its chief god for evermore. Then they gave Kuranes a horse andplaced him at the head of the cavalcade, and all rode majestically through thedowns of Surrey and onward toward the region where Kuranes and his ancestorswere born. It was very strange, but as the riders went on they seemed to gallopback through Time; for whenever they passed through a village in the twilightthey saw only such houses and villagers as Chaucer or men before him might haveseen, and sometimes they saw knights on horseback with small companies ofretainers. When it grew dark they travelled more swiftly, till soon they wereflying uncannily as if in the air. In the dim dawn they came upon the villagewhich Kuranes had seen alive in his childhood, and asleep or dead in his dreams.It was alive now, and early villagers curtsied as the horsemen clattered downthe street and turned off into the lane that ends in the abyss of dreams.Kuranes had previously entered that abyss only at night, and wondered what itwould look like by day; so he watched anxiously as the column approached itsbrink. Just as they galloped up the rising ground to the precipice a goldenglare came somewhere out of the west and hid all the landscape in effulgentdraperies. The abyss was a seething chaos of roseate and cerulean splendour, andinvisible voices sang exultantly as the knightly entourage plunged over the edgeand floated gracefully down past glittering clouds and silvery coruscations.Endlessly down the horsemen floated, their chargers pawing the aether as ifgalloping over golden sands; and then the luminous vapours spread apart toreveal a greater brightness, the brightness of the city Celephais, and the seacoast beyond, and the snowy peak overlooking the sea, and the gaily paintedgalleys that sail out of the harbour toward distant regions where the sea meetsthe sky. And Kuranes reigned thereafter over Ooth-Nargai and all the neighboringregions of dream, and held his court alternately in Celephais and in thecloud-fashioned Serannian. He reigns there still, and will reign happily forever, though below the cliffs at Innsmouth the channel tides played mockinglywith the body of a tramp who had stumbled through the half-deserted village atdawn; played mockingly, and cast it upon the rocks by ivy-covered Trevor Towers,where a notably fat and especially offensive millionaire brewer enjoys thepurchased atmosphere of extinct nobility.

For a short bio and lots of information about the author visit this link

Book Choice: H. P. Lovecraft: Tales (Library of America)

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