Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Cassilda's Song

One of the strangest and most haunting tales of cosmic horror ever, I think, written, lies in and between the short stories of Robert W Chambers' 1895 collection, The King in Yellow. Inspired by Ambrose Bierce and itself one of the great inspirations for H P Lovecraft's unhallowed, polymorphously blasphemous Cthulhu Mythos - ahem! - its central pieces tell of a play which must not be read and cannot, we must hope, be performed. We know very little about the play itself, except that the first act is supposed to be treacherously innocent and banal, and the sugared bait for the unimaginable second.

Cassilda, Camilla, and the occulted and tattered King have been fictional acquaintances of mine since my early teens. One of the few scraps of the first act we possess is Cassilda's Song, of the - her? - lost city, Carcosa the sad and wonderful and damned. It has never entirely gone out of my head. This morning I had occasion to look up the words.

Then I discovered that YouTube is crawling with settings of her song to music - several available commercially, or performed in public concert. Most of these, alas, are shouty rocky metally things, appropriate to the elegiac and courtly tones of Cassilda in much the same way that Meat Loaf is an appropriate actor to play the part of Christina Rossetti. The Heaven If version, especially, seems so completely disconnected from the sense of the words, that the lyrics might easily be replaced by those of Sosban Fach or Abide with Me or You Sexy Thing without loss of effect. But I digress.

One of these interpretations is not like the others. This is the Stormclouds' version, from their concept album The King in Yellow. It is published by Rainfall Records and Books, a very eldritch-cosmic-abomination-friendly organization altogether. And I can imagine Cassilda singing this!

Cassilda's Song

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.

- Robert W Chambers, The King in Yellow

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