Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.
Today we’re looking at Duane Rimel’s “Dreams of Yith,” first published in the July 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan. Spoilers ahead.
“High in the ebon skies on scaly wings / Dread bat-like beasts soar past those towers gray…”
A poem cycle in ten stanzas, numbered as parts I-X. Below are my best attempts to make concise sense of them. I guess the whole lot are dreams the narrator had, after the fashion of lucid dreamers like Randolph Carter, only rather less lucid, I find.
I – In distant Yith, this shadow from an ancient star-world seeks a hairy dweller in the cave where slimy Sotho lies (not much else happening in Yith?) When night winds (aka the shadow?) find the place, they’re out of there because Sotho’s face is not human-normative.
II – The dreamer goes on about sun valleys and misty chaos and aeons-enduring ice, and the valleys, I guess, would like it to be warmer. Meanwhile he’s trying to glimpse a madness that’s going to climb out of age-old tombs and push angles back – unsealing the lid! (No, I don’t know which lid.)
III. – A really polluted stream (“putrefaction writing [sic] black”) flows by the dead city of crumbling spires. The spires glow through hov’ring mists that can’t dream-GPS a way into the city, which they’d want to do because beyond Yith’s silver gates is the secret that would bring the city folk back, and anyway, the polluted stream keeps running to dry sea-beds.
IV – So rounded turrets rise through cloud-veiled aeons the Old Ones knew, being Old. There are also tablets worn out by tentacle-fingering and clammy obscene walls that writhe and crumble yet are built anew. On the turrets or tablets or obscene walls or all three is carved a figure with eyes that sway on fungoid stems.
V – Um, there’s a place of ancient, waiting blight featuring high-rearing walls of sheerest opal, meaning they’re thin as a veil, or maybe that the walls are sheer, that is, really steep? Anyway, an immortal guard tramps by sobbing. I presume because there’s this huge, bloated eyeless head rolling on (the guard’s?) path. Eww. I’d sob, too.
VI – Twisted talons of archaean birth cast dancing nightmare shadows on slimy pillars in dim halls of poison mosses. Someone or something’s laughing with mad mirth. Sane eyes can’t see here, though, because the light’s black and streams from ebony skies. Just saying.
VII. – Queer mountains hold back hordes from mouldy graves who complain to a hidden lord about how long it’s taken for a time-worn key to come save them. A watcher lives on the queer mountains, keeping an eye on hoary caves ripe for invasion. Nevertheless, dreamers may someday find elfin-painted paths of gray. Elfin-painted? [Fits with being queer – RE]
VIII. – Some guys (in wildest vision, mind) have seen beyond unclean spires and unpeopled streets to a scarlet path down which queer beings (to go with the mountains?) squirm and hasten in the night. Got it, or maybe not…
IX – Now we get bat-like beasts that peer into towers at the things sprawling inside. Fair enough, except the bat-things cast shadows that make the dwellers below lift dim eyes for a second before letting their “lidded blubs” close once more. Your guess is as good as mine. Anyhow, the dim-eyed, lidded-blub dudes are waiting for Sotho to unlatch the door.
X – Though troubled visions obscure the secret ways into the realm of sleep, narrator senses a dim path that will get him to his rendezvous in Yith where Sotho plays (plays… what? Abominable pipes? Poker? MMORPGs?) What ho! There’s a glowing turret, and our dreamer’s hauling butt toward it, for the key is his!
What’s Cyclopean: Eyes swaying on fungoid stems! Twisted talons of archaean birth! Ebon skies full of scaly wings!
The Degenerate Dutch: Rimel’s poem doesn’t exactly contain identifiable people, which is one way to avoid the racism fairy.
Mythos Making: The place-name Yith will soon get snagged for “Shadow Out of Time,” even if little else from the poem seems relevant to the World’s Scariest Librarians. But with all the talk of gates and keys, “Sotho” might be short for a certain elder god.
Libronomicon: “A stream of putrefaction writing black” implies some sort of record, if not exactly in book form. Unless that’s supposed to be “writhing,” of course.
Madness Takes Its Toll: “Sane eyes may never see” what waits in Yith under the ice.
I started this new-to-me poem with both hope and consternation. Hope because the Yith are my favorite of Lovecraft’s creations, and any chance of glimpsing a feeding trumpet or archival footnote is a happy chance. Consternation because “The Shadow Out of Time” was written starting in November 1934, and “Dreams of Yith” was published in July 1934. Was I about to learn that my Lovecraftian fave was not original to Lovecraft at all? Would I see hints of inspiration or collaboration? Would I find a seeming paradox, reconcilable only through Yithian time travel?
I was disappointed and somewhat relieved, then, to discover a serviceable cosmic horror sonnet cycle that has little in common with the Great Race except their name. Lovecraft, along with Smith and Barlow, helped Rimel revise the cycle. What they got from that experience remains a mystery, at least for me. Obviously it must have sparked something in Lovecraft’s brain, though the internet has little to say about the connection.
Attempting to judge the actual sonnet cycle, without reference to my desire for gorgeous nostalgic descriptions of the Yithian homeworld, it’s pretty decent poetry. It’s full of standard yet resonant cosmic horror fare: long-buried cities that aren’t quite dead, creepy things waiting to wake, fungus and aeons and losses of sanity. The language makes all the difference—I’ve read about dozens of time-lost civilizations, but tell me about the “valleys of the sun” brooding beneath the ice, and I immediately think of the glacier stealing inexorably over what was once a tropical paradise. And I want to know what it is that broods, that waits for the “brighter, warmer clime.”
Lots of things are brooding, apparently. Fungous, queer, squirmy things. Things in hordes. Things awaiting a key to unlock a gate. And Sotho, the only named entity in the poem. Gates… keys… Yog-Sothoth, suddenly grown enamored of nicknames? This makes me particularly curious about the unnamed narrator, who’s gotten hold of the key in question. In spite of some similarities, I somehow don’t think this is the key to the Dreamlands that Randolph Carter sought so long and so mopily.
…although a few bits here do remind me of the end of “Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”—and its overlap with “At the Mountains of Madness.” The image of a watcher and guardian, waiting among sanity-destroying peaks for some even more dread thing to awaken. And of course, there’s that ice. In spite of the title, if I had to draw a line of inspiration, it would be between Rimel’s vivid images and the frozen city of the Elder Things.
A few strange word choices and scansion failures stand out oddly amid the otherwise well-formed sonnets—oddly enough that I wonder if they aren’t products of the notoriously poorly transcribed Megapack series. If anyone has either Chaosium’s Yith Cycle anthology or a miraculously preserved issue of Fantasy Fan, please do let me know if “lidded blubs close heavily once more” in your version. It seems unlikely, but in a cosmos full of gugs and gla’aki, you never know.
Supposedly Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert Barlow, all helped Duane Rimel out with this poem. Supposedly Lovecraft admired it. Therefore, supposedly, “Dreams of Yith” is not a doggerel-blot upon the face of our Poetry Month celebration. Okay, so it all scans pretty well, which doggerel generally doesn’t. But apart from the decent scansion, I’m afraid this poem cycle falls flatter than a Cthulhu-stomped cultist for me.
Howard, really? Did he who penned the Fungi from Yuggoth have a hand in this?
Hey, I think this is the first Lovecraft and Crew reread I didn’t like, at least a little. That makes it 138 thumbs up or neutral to one thumbs down. I can’t complain, apart from the mini-rant above. Maybe below, too. We’ll see.
The poetic model Rimel chose is ottava rima, an eight-line stanza with the rhyming scheme abababcc. In the English adaptation of this Italian form, each line has ten syllables, five iambic feet. Ottava rima strikes me as truncated sonnet, the opening octave without the closing quatrain, but shaved down to six lines to allow for the ta-da of a rhyming couplet at the end. However, ottava rima does seem more suitable to a long poem than sonnet after sonnet – Byron used it to good effect in his mock-epic Don Juan.
As far as imagery goes, the cycle meanders through vague Dreamlands architectural and geographical tropes with truly dream-like incoherence of action. Okay, that a hairy dweller cohabits with slimy Sotho is kind of disgustingly cool to envision. Hairy Dweller’s going to get its fur spectacularly matted by the slime, while shed hair is going to stick to Sotho in random tufts, giving it an endearingly mangy appearance. The huge, eyeless, bloated head is also good. Too bad it rolls by just once, on errands forever nameless.
I read “Dreams of Yith” in The Second Cthulhu Mythos Megapack, and I’m not sure if a few anomalies are neologisms or typos. Take “the stream of putrefaction writing black.” Should that be “writhing black?” Or is the stream like putrid black ink twisting about so much that from above it looks like a line of alien script (“writing”)? Take the “lidded blubs” in Part IX. Should that be “lidded orbs,” that is, fancy eyes? The only definition I can find for “blubs” is “to cry or sob (as in blubber), archaic.” Gotta admit, “lidded blubs” sounds good. I’m picturing blubs as short, chubby protoplasmic extrusions that can be neatly tucked back into the primary mass of protoplasm and kept in place with scale-like “lids.”
The most obscure word in the piece ends line one of Part IV. I’m all, what’s a “visne” and how does it rhyme with “clean” and “obscene”? Could be Clark Ashton Smith contributed this medievalism. Visne is a variation on vicinage, which means not just vicinity but the vicinity in which a crime was committed—hence you chose jurors from this offended area. Or it could refer to the neighborhood jury itself. And it’s pronounced “veen,” which preserves the rhyme scheme. Ten points for expanding my vocabulary—next time I write about a medieval lawyer, I’ll throw it in the dialogue, as in, “Oh, come on, don’t tell me this visne can’t produce twelve jurors of suitable intelligence, um, on second thought…”
I’m just going to mention the elephantine unspeakable in these poetic rooms: Where the hell are the Yith we’re supposed to be dreaming about? Not one snarky, body-borrowing super-time-and-space-scholar-archivist in ten stanzas! If Rimel’s Yith is home to the cone-bodied Ones, he must visit it long after they’ve migrated on to Earth. Could be that Sotho drove them off. And who’s Sotho?
At first I figured it was some version of Yog-Sothoth. Then I read that Clark Ashton Smith may have contributed to the cycle, and that brought to mind Smith’s god, Ubbo-Sathla.” Ubbo’s supposed to be slimy, after the fashion of enormous protoplasmic deities. It also resides underground, on a frozen planet, possibly Earth. It has spawned all life and will one day reabsorb all life, and it guards stone tablets inscribed (perhaps) by the Elder Gods, just the sort of thing you’d expect to find “deeply worn and fingered clean by tentacles that dreamers seldom view.” If they know what’s good for them.
Excuse me while I go reread “Fungi from Yuggoth” and wallow in the creepy-delicious atmosphere I was hoping for in “Dreams of Yith,” but, alas, have found not.
If you want more gates, keys, and Things that are Gates and Keys, join us next week for Martha Wells’s “The Dark Gates.” You can find it in Gods of H.P. Lovecraft.
Ruthanna Emrys’s neo-Lovecraftian stories “The Litany of Earth” and “Those Who Watch” are available on Tor.com, along with the distinctly non-Lovecraftian “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” and “The Deepest Rift.” Winter Tide, a novel continuing Aphra Marsh’s story from “Litany,” is available from Macmillan’s Tor.com imprint. Ruthanna can frequently be found online on Twitter and Dreamwidth, and offline in a mysterious manor house with her large, chaotic household—mostly mammalian—outside Washington DC.
Anne M. Pillsworth’s short story. “The Madonna of the Abattoir” appears on Tor.com. Her young adult Mythos novel, Summoned, is available from Tor Teen along with sequel Fathomless. She lives in Edgewood, a Victorian trolley car suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, uncomfortably near Joseph Curwen’s underground laboratory.