“The Cup-Bearer” (1951) by Lilith Lorraine

Lilith Lorraine, to whom I sent a copy of Out of Space and Time, writes that she will review the book in the January issue of her quarterly, The Raven. She is a kindred spirit, and highly appreciative, and I doubt if I’m likely to find a more favorable reviewer. Her poetry is splendid from what I have read of it.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 21 Nov 1943, Eccentric, Impractical Devils 341

Lilith Lorraine (Mary W. Wright) was a pulp fiction writer and poet contemporary with H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith and the rest of the Weird Tales circle, but her handful of professional sales were in science fiction magazines such as Wonder Stories, and she didn’t begin to correspond with folks like Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth until the 1950s, but she was active in science fiction fandom in the 1940s and 50s, supply poems for fanzines, books, magazines, etc. such as “The Acolytes” (1946). She also published her own poetry journals and issued collections of her work as well.

In Fall 1951, the fanzine Asmodeus published its second number, a special issue devoted to Clark Ashton Smith. Among the articles and poems was Lilith Lorraine’s poetic tribute to the Bard of Auburn:

The Cup-Bearer
(To Clark Ashton Smith)

The light of other worlds is in his eyes,
His voice is like a sunken temple chime,
And many a moon that sings before it dies
Has heard him in the catacombs of time

Such souls come only when the cycles close,
When the dark wine of ages mellowed long,
blends terribly the tiger and the rose,
Seraph and satyr, savagery and song.

Such souls come only when the dreamer wakes
Alone beneath a decomposing sky,
Before the dream dissolves in crystal flakes
To hold new lamps for gods to travel by.

And just before the old dream turns to dust,
He holds again the dark, delirious grail,
The lethean wine of loveliness and lust,
Of tenderness and terror; should he fail

The dream would vanish and the wavering world
Shorn of its wonder, shaken to the core
Back to the “Never-has-been” would be hurled. . . .
Sing with him softly, lest you sing no more.

As poetic tributes go, there is no doubt that Lilith Lorraine knew her subject well. “The Cup-Bearer” touches on many of the themes that are a hallmark of Smith’s poetry and fiction: satyrs (Nyctalops”), seraphs (“The Ghoul and the Seraph”), wine (“The Tears of Lilith”), dreams (“The Hashish-Eater”), memory (“Lethe”), necromancy and necrophilia (“Necromancy”), and strange distant stars (“Lament of the Stars”). It is a fitting tribute, because it is of a piece with Smith’s work, and complements it.

Lilith Lorraine must have liked “The Cup-Bearer” well enough, for she included it in Wine of Wonder (1952), her thin collection of poetry on themes of poetry and science fiction. She wasn’t the only one. Various editors provided lengthy endorsements on the inside cover flap, and on the back:

The summer lightning of fantasy, the storm-piercing levin of imagination, illume these superbly wrought poems. Lilith Lorraine remembers the ancient wonder and magic, but walks intrepidly the ways that modern science has opened into the manifold infinites.

From the mystic lyric beauty of Termopolis and Only the Black Swan Knows, she turns to such clarion-like annunciations of things to be as Master Mechanic and The Matriarchs. Notable, too, for its plangent irony, is Post-Atomic Plea for Euthanasia. A searching and claivoyant sensitivity is shown in the poems on paintings by Dalí and George Gross. Not too often has one art been interpreted so revealingly in terms of another as in these magnificent verse.

WINE OF WONDER can be recommended unreservedly both to poetry lovers and deotees of scientific fiction. Seldom if ever have the Muses of lyricism and science united their two fold afflatus to a result so distinguished.
—CLARK ASHTON SMITH, Author of [Out of] Space and Time, widely known poet and science fiction author.

Lilith Lorraine is fascinating as an author who outside the normal circle of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and co., only to at occasional interval swoop in within their orbits, bright as a comet…and then out again, forgotten until once more she comes around. Yet hers was a fascinating career, and she deserves to be remembered.

Lorraine bio

Biographical page, date unknown, from the August Derleth collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s