The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft, edited by S. T. Joshi (2001)
Pity poor HPL with his antiquarian sympathies and love for ancient allusion; where these combine in his poetry the results are less than favorable.
The Ancient Track contains about 500 poems (large and small, along with some fragments) that have been culled from amateur publications, letters, manuscripts, and what have you, and is divided into ten sections: Juvenalia, Fantasy and Horror, Occasional Verse, Satire, Seasonal and Topigraphical, Amateur Affairs, Politics and Society, Personal, Alfredo: A Tragedy, and Fragments. The poems include the contents of the four previous main collections of Lovecraft's verse: Collected Poems (1963), A Winter Wish (1977), Saturnalia and Other Poems (1984), and Medusa and Other Poems (1986), as well as The Crime of Crimes, a poem about the sinking of the Lusitania and the first work by Lovecraft to achieve a separate publication.
Certainly some of Lovecraft's fantastic poetry, such as his sonnet cycle, Fungi from Yoggoth, will stand the test of time. Much of his other (and much lesser) poetry was produced for various amateur publications early in his involvement with amateur journalism. From The Tryout in July, 1919, a 54-line effort called Myrrha and Strephon begins:
While zephys aesitival among the blooms
Of Vulpes' tinted margin idly play
And from far austral meads the strange perfumes
Of lands unknown exert exotic sway,
Upon the bank, beneath a willow's shade,
Pensive each moon relines a beauteous maid.
This according to Joshi's notes, is a poem on his friend and fellow amateur journalist Alfred Galpin, who was about to enter college. This sort of overblown and forced poetry leaves me cold.
Many of his poems consisted of effusive praise about his friends and colleagues and their literary achievements -- most of which must have been written with a distinctly uncritical eye: "Prais'd be the power that keeps the fire/And lining murmur of your lyre," "Wit, learning, art, were hers in amplitude," and "let none dispute her place, but let her shine/Impartial o'er the Graces and the Nine!" Too much of this guff and the reader may go into diabetic shock.
Some have claimed that Lovecraft was a racist, and his supposed prejudice against other peoples is amply portrayed in some of his early poetry (and, indeed, some later). A number of poems bemoan the "mongrelization" of the country, with jabs at the Irish, Jews, Blacks, and others. These give what I hope is a false impression of the man. Those who knew him never discerned prejudice in his person, and much of his bias could be laid to the common and unthinking thought of his time. I have to admit, though, that some of his doggerel is very off-putting.
Despite the above, there is much to glean from this volume. There is a sly and depricating humor that infuses many of the poems that were written for the amusement of his friends and were incorporated in his letters and cards. The progression of his thoughts and feelings over time are clearly shown, along with his contradictary personal philosophy. At the very worst, Lovecraft emerges as a person trapped within his persona, unable to break free.
The Ancient Track provides a look at Lovecraft and his foray into amateur journalism, -- but at its core -- is of interest only to Lovecraft completists. His legacy is better left to the handful of brilliant stories he produced, his influence on later generations, and the voluminous (and often brilliant) letters that he wrote.