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Ira A. Cole and Howard Phillips Lovecraft:
A Brief Friendship

------=-O-=------

By R. Alain Everts

In the fateful year 1914, the late Amateur Press enthusiast, Eddie Daas recruited his most celebrated (both within and without Amateur Journalism) and most extraordinary amateur author and budding man of letters, the 23 year old Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
     Although Howard did not start to contribute regularly and did not commence the editing of his own journal The Conservative until the following year, HPL did begin his life-long correspondence with several Amateurs who did remain his close friends for many years—first, Rheinhart Kleiner (1892–1949) of Brooklyn, who in turn introduced HPL via correspondence to Maurice Winter Moe (1882–1940), then a teacher in Wisconsin, and who in turn introduced HPL to a former cowboy and uneducated plainsman, the man HPL described as “a strange and brilliant character—an utterly illiterate ranchman and ex-cowboy of Western Kansas who possesses a streak of brilliant poetic genius.”
     This strange individual was Ira A. Cole, the first in a long line of unsung poets that the lucubratory Lovecraft was to patronize—through teaching them grammar, enlarging their vocabulary and revising their poetic phrases. However, Ira A. Cole was the most amazing and most excellent of these poets, and between the beginning of 1915 until late 1918, when Moe replaced the absent Cole with his genius protégé, Alfred M. Galpin, Cole made up one-fourth of the first of several literary coteries so dear to HPL’s heart—the famed Kleicomolo with its round-robin epistles.
     Ira Albert Cole was born on the last day of August, 1883 in Rush County, Kansas, in a small one-roomed cabin. This period of the West was truly Wild and cowboys were very much in existence—indeed, Cole was born four years after Jesse James (whom his mother knew well) was killed, two years before the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and four years later, the infamous Doc Holliday died of T.B. in Colorado. From the Cole homestead, the young Ira recalls that he could not even see their closest neighbour—simply the vast and endless expanse of the beautiful plains that became so much a part of the young boy’s poetic soul. Ira went rarely to school, perhaps only one or two months a year during winter. His first mentor was Nature, and for the small boy Nature was his whole world. At the age of four, his uncle taught him to herd the family cattle; and at age seven, Ira was herding the cattle by himself, astride a horse. At age 14, the large youth watched over the cattle by himself the whole year around. Since his childhood, Ira was precocious when it came to writing and making up stories, and while still quite young, he had composed a short adventure tale of three chapters entitled Trip Across The Tropics.
     During his adolescence, Ira worked hard and often as a cowboy ranging the plains of the mid-West. He took a large herd of cattle from Kansas to Texas and about 1903, he purchased a farm at Bazine, Kansas. Two years later, he married a well-educated young girl of 16 from the East, named Myra Burnett. Ira and Myra Cole became very well-known in Ajay, both of them writers who contributed frequently, and both corresponded with Lovecraft. Myra was a poet, writer and a talented musician, and in order to find an outlet for their common interests, they had joined, about 1912, the Amateur Press Association. Ira became friendly with several Amateur writers, among them Prof. Moe who wrote to Howard Lovecraft about the talents of this plainsman and farmer.
     Howard P. Lovecraft became Ira Cole’s mentor and his maitre. He taught Cole how to write poetry correctly, and he sent Cole many books on poetry and English grammar—books inscribed to Ira Cole, “Congenial Cole“—“The Plainsman.” The friendship between the two began well, and the exchange of Kleicomolo letters proceeded at a furious pace. Cole wrote to Moe, Moe to Kleiner, Kleiner to HPL, and HPL to Cole—then, Cole would keep the letter he had previously composed, add a new one, and shoot off three unread sections plus the recipient’s old quarter to Moe.
     HPL truly admired Cole’s poetic genius and his facile ability to compose his poetry. Throughout most of Cole’s poems, one can see the influence of HPL, who encouraged Cole to compose fantastic and imaginary pieces. Especially in the epic “Atlantis” the reader can see clearly that the style and the archaic vocabulary belong to Howard. Howard liked not only the phantasy pieces “The Gnome’s Wedding” and “A Dream of the Golden Age” (which appeared in the second issue of HPL’s own journal The Conservative in July, 1915), but also admired Cole’s poems “To Burns”, “To Shakespeare” and also his praise “To Lord Byron.”
     However, in late 1918, Cole had to leave Kansas for Colorado, and he broke off his relations with the literary circle. Lovecraft reported in a letter to the young Frank Belknap Long that Cole’s “imagination was the most weird and active I have ever seen in any human being. But in the end that very streak of overdeveloped imagination and emotionalism was his aesthetic undoing. Worked upon by a hectic and freakish ‘Pentecostal’ revivalist, he ‘got religion’ and became an absolutely impossible fanatic in his eccentric sect. He even reached the hallucination stage—he fancied strange voices spoke gospel messages through his tongue—in languages he did not understand.”
     Ira had indeed become a Pentecostal preacher, God had touched him, and he did indeed speak in tongues—but HPL did not know the whole story, for Cole was certainly not a fanatic, impossible or otherwise. From time to time, Cole and Lovecraft did exchange letters, but for the most part, Cole lost a great part of his interest in creating, and found that his true work lay with the Lord. In 1921, another Amateur Journalist, and correspondent of Lovecraft, the Reverend Eugene Basil Kuntz (1865–1944), paid a visit, at the behest of Howard, to one of the religious meetings presided over by Cole. No doubt the staid and orthodox German-born Kuntz was horrified and outraged by the tent gathering and the xenoglossia of the participants, and forthwith reported the worst to Lovecraft—who judged Cole an “impossible fanatic” and ceased corresponding with him completely. To the young Belknap Long the following year, HPL stated that Cole was “quite dead to Amateur Journalism—but what a meteor he was in his heyday.” Sad to say, HPL never did know exactly what a brilliant meteor Cole had become. For since the end of their friendship, Cole has written eleven novels (by dictating them and having them typed out professionally) all of which are yet unpublished save one—Ibe of Atlan (1948), and about 50 further poems that show still the hand of the master.
     The following long poem, “Atlantis”, revised and dedicated to the memory of HPL at my request when I visited Cole by chance on the very day of his 85th birthday, he had originally composed as a praise for his friend Howard. Cole composed it in 1918, but he never showed it to Lovecraft and it has remained unpublished for over half a century:

—: ATLANTIS :—
— Dedicated to Howard Phillips Lovecraft —

To one who sits by broad Atlantic’s shore,
E’er weaving wondrous songs of ancient lore,
And seeing each morn with Nature-loving eyes
Some god upon the sun kissed billows rise,
To Lovecraft, gentlest of the poet train,
My feeble Muse would wake this falt’ring strain.
     Son of the Muse didst ever hear men tell
Of a city olden buried neath the swell
Of that broad ocean rolling evermore
In endless billows by thy chamber door?
Didst ever hear some sage, or read some tale,
That did the beauty of that land bewail
In song or rhymed verse, or e’en the lay
Of some lone bard who sad at close of day,
With nought but his sweet lute for recompense
In plaintive accents, loit’ring by the fence
That bounds the Baron’s palatial domain,
To gain an evening’s shelter sing the strain.
Or slumb’ring soft beneath the pallid ray
Of some far wand’ring star whose distant way
Through heaven’s deepning void, ere breaks the dawn,
Leads thy fair soul in tranquil dreaming on
As down some living aisle of golden light,
To feel the rustle of the winged flight
Of radiant dreams, creatures of thine own
Imaginings from Fancy’s garden flown,
That singing to the music of thy soul
Didst lead thee forth to that enlightning goal
Whence flows all wisdom and all pulsing song—
The throne Mnemosyne’ s nymphs have graced so long.
To list the plaintive melody thy heart
In raptureous unison with thy art
Didst sing, and singing to thy vision drew
Fair pictures in the far off mystic blue,
Wherever ocean’s soft and pursed lips,
The maiden love of low arched heaven sips.
And waking then hast to thy window flown
To make that blissful dreaming all thy own,
Else in the too real dawning of the day
Thy soul’s bright myth might wing itself away?
And hast thou loitered long thy casement by,
In sorrow, but to see those shadows fly
As from the mighty flood of ocean rose,
In fiery splendor, where the planet bows
To meet the ether kiss of radiant space
The god of day? And hast thou hid thy face
Like other bards, and wept to see thy dream
Fade vanishing adown the golden stream
Where flows the ceaseless shadows of the years,
Forever lost as are so many tears,
And mourned that that fair land a myth should be
Whose very shade escaped by waking thee?
     Oh my beloved friend in thy pure heart
Let not base envy at my singing start,
If then my rhyming seemeth to be fair,
For I would sing a rhyme that few would dare
The virgin whiteness of a page to mar
By its recording. But we mortals are
By Nature’s wondrous spirit so devised
That each one by the other is despised
Unless by happy chance our actions prove
The gods would lift us from the common groove;
And then our fellows of a kindred mind
Full oft with our frail efforts error find,
And finding, in a fit of fiendish glee,
Expose our weakness to the whole country.
But thou dost know, my learned and gifted friend,
No Muse of mine with thine might well contend.
My only claim herein to greatness lies—
The gods did not my humble birth despise—
But granted me a vision fair to see
Which I in turn will humbly show to thee,
If thou wilt deign my feeble song to bless,
By no comparison in loveliness
With that which thy pure soul has sung so long.
I am persuaded thou thy Muse wouldst wrong
In such a vain attempt, and not to try
But just to let its rustic beauty lie,
If then indeed there aught of beauty be,
Would seem the fairer course to thou and me.
     Full oft in youth’s young day thou hast I ween
Been tempted by the gay and glit’tring sheen
Of bright hallucinations, subtly wrought
By thy too eager inspiration. Naught
Thy sober reason said had any weight,
And all day long in blissful dreams thou sate,
In doubt thy wondrous heritage to test
Yet longing that sweet offering to wrest
From the purloining hand of harpy Fate,
Ere Time’s unalterable voice relate
Thy soul’s demise. And yet the sinking sun
Hast found thy self-appointed task undone,
Because thy doubting intellect did drag
From Custom’s crucible so much of slag
Thou could’st not then fair Nature’s course pursue
And follow her sweet shades the morning through,
But e’en must to Convention’s dismal Baal
Make sacrifice of all those beings frail
Your poet’s soul in dreams was parent too,
Although too late such course you well might rue.
I, too, oh bard, have felt the blighting curse
Of those false precepts on my humble verse.
Full oft when my loosed soul in song would rise
Convention’s spectre fierce the lash applies,
And grov’ling, down my wounded Muse doth sink
The cup of degradation vile to drink.
For in this age the humblest bard must sing
To her accompaniment or the sting
Of public ridicule his lay will doom,
And voiceless through the deep and fetid gloom
Of yet un-numbered years it e’en must go
Adown the shores of time ere it may know
The full sweet echo of its vibrant voice.
But still to me it seems the better choice
When I to thee would sing to tune my lute
With that soft chord which has so long been mute,
And singing wake the plaintive melody
Contemporaneous bards may well decry.
For what the profit, friend, were I to gain
The world’s loud praise and cause thy spirit pain?
Then let the world today no notice take
While at the fount of song our thirst we slake.
For yet in some fair mossy mountain glen
When Time hath swept aside the race of men
Whose craven voices now the Muse assail
Shall some fair minstrel our lot bewail
To sobbing multitudes, then shall we know
The rapture that the laurel’s fragrant bow
To ancient bards imparted, and our ghosts
From far off western isles, with happy hosts
Of Nature’s disembodied spirit folk
On that fair throng a blessing shall invoke...
     But I would sing, oh friend, not of our verse
Nor yet of that base crowd with thoughts adverse
To all of beauty that therein doth lie,
But let me rather wake in prophesy
Great thoughts, the fruit of my much dreaming, so
Should generations yet unborn but know
The secret of their birth, a pathway bright
From hidden things, shall lead them to the light
Of that eternal and unending morn
Whose matins yet doth linger in the horn
Futurity’s snail-creeping gods stand guard
Above. The clouds of morning softly barred
The eastern heaven’s rosy-lighted main,
The breath of summer toying with the vane
But lightly stirred their folds. Behind the wave
Of ocean’s waste their fairy pennons gave,
To one who lingered on the pebbly shore,
Bright visions and the happy days of yore,
Ere yet the seed of avarice had grown
From Adam’s planting, and been earthward blown
On which the sons of his doomed race should feed
To their great sorrow; and the deadly weed
Of discontent the Earth had over-run,
Seemed yet in those bright shades begun.
Long, long he loitered there and softly dreamed—
So long the timid mew about him screamed,
Nor guessed him thing of life but ever flew
In shortning circles then, and nearer drew,
And nearer; still his deep eye seaward gazed
As though some mighty scene his senses dazed
By its great beauty, and his raptured mind
Was loath in other sights repose to find.
Approaching then I heard him softly sigh
As if some deep set sorrow burning low,
Like hidden fires lost beneath the snow
Of aged mountains, though well hid away,
Yet on his soul’s vast vitals still did prey.
I paused before him there, and strangely cowed
By his wild god-like beauty, humbly bowed
And questioned what the grief might be so strange
In that fair picture thus to disarrange
One’s inner feeling. Slow his sad eye turned,
As if to hide the pain that in him burned.
“Friend!” All the morning stillness wildly broke
To palpitating music as he spoke.
“Wouldst thou behold a wonder, look afar
Where yon unrisen sun’s bright ringlets are,
And tell me what thou seest.” Quick I looked.
So beautiful the scene my spirit brooked
In exclamation no delaying, and
In exultation wild, I raised my hand
From its bright radiance my face to shield
While backward my dazed being slowly reeled,
As if unable to behold the sight
That rose in wondrous beauty to delight
The vision. Far, where Ocean’s mighty flood
In white-capped waves against pale heaven stood,
There rose, from out the lap of morning wide,
In mighty volume, rolling o’er the tide
To meet the fleeting shadows of the dawn,
A pageant grand of wondrous cloud shapes, drawn
By plunging creatures of the rolling deep—
A goblin rout such as cometh in our sleep
From out the mystic land of phantasy—
When Shades that guard our too deep sleeping flee,
But clothed in so bright panoply I ween
By mortal eye no fairer sight was seen.
Awe struck, I stood my mystic comrade by
And watched the shining vapors drawing nigh
Nor sensed the slightest thought of craven fear,
But deep within my heart a welling cheer
As one who drinketh deep of aged wine
Which long in some old castle’s vaulted mine
Hath lain, to steal from graybeard Time away
That soft delight ’gainst which the pious pray,
Flowed pulsing forth, and starting in wild song
I plunged into the flood to meet the throng
And plunging felt not Ocean’s briny kiss
But upward borne my spirit seemed in bliss
To greet the Neride train, whose foremost car,
Like some old monarch’s chariot of war,
With foaming dolphin steeds had now drawn near.
     We may not measure life by hour or year,
Oh friend, with any actuality,
For Time is but a shade that seems to be
And not the vibrant force we reckon it.
Eternity will roll when time has quit
And yet of life we shall not then have proved
By its accomplishments it e’er had moved
A sovereign thing endowed with liberty
Through that dim shadow of infinity.
We sleep and what of time! If we dream not
I am persuaded it has moved no jot.
Insensate time! And dost thou ever sleep?
Oh fie! And were wast thou when I did leap
To meet the vanguard of that sea-born dream?
Perchance in thy slow-flowing turbid stream,
By ever changing cycles slowly made,
Some interstice my soul’s ambitious shade
Engulfed, and while thy ceaseless flood moved on,
With that fair spirit train into the dawn
Of vast futurity its shadow rode.
Albeit, Time, today I feel thy goad
Of vanished years, thou canst not me condemn
For life beyond the tide we mortals stem
To gain the pensive pleasures of thy span
Of misery laden hours. Woe waits the man
Whose life bereft of dreams doth madly plunge
To meet oblivion in thy deep sponge,
Whose fatal pores drink ever up the tide
Of senseless souls, who seek life’s barque to guide
By thy unreal realities. Not so
That daring adventurer who would go,
As I, between thy carnalized links
To that fair shore whose heaven born beauty shrinks
To nothingness the fading fanes of thine.
     The lowly Algae its long tendrils twine
In wild luxuriance around a stone
Where far Sargasso’s tepid billows groan;
The eerie gull from crag to crag doth cry
Or o’er the white-capped waves in millions fly;
The slimey shrimp, the graceful fur-clad seal,
Or e’en the fabled braken softly steal
From out the humid wastes that guard it round,
And ever on its moss-grown slopes are found
Unnumbered bones, old ocean’s ghastly gift,
Spoil of wrecked mariners whose spirits drift
From care of their base bodies free
To far off shores of fair eternity.
’Twas there in that wild lonely sea-girt spot
When forth from ocean’s bosom upward shot
The god of day, and clutching fast the reins
Of his wild steeds, across fair heaven’s plains
His daily race began, alone I stood.
Alone and recking not the wind’s wild mood,
But wrapped in golden mists from ocean’s foam
That ever upward toward the heavens clome,
I looked afar the gruesome landscape o’er
In vain the Neride train to see once more.
But like the stars of morning they had flown
And only Ocean’s ceaseless far flung drone
Recalled the sweetness of that heaven-born song
With which the gorgeous pageant moved along.
Like one who wanders fitfully in sleep,
I turned from that dull shore unto the steep
Of craggy low hung hills and pausing there
Beside a sea-born eagle’s loathsome lair
Gan ponder on the inconsistencies
Of life. Already morning’s shadow flees
Ere yet the day his matins have begun,
And noonday’s panting stretch of race is run
While yet the grass with glistning dew is young,
Mid-afternoon with languid tone is rung
By drowsy vesper bell, and night’s deep shade
Falls softly o’er the soul but scarcely strayed
As yet from Life’s glittering threshold gay,
Then darkness settles down and ends the day.
And ends the day! Ah friend, and there’s the rub;
Dost ken that splendid moth was once a grub
That deemed his life complete and wove his tomb
In morning’s hour and faint into the gloom
Of seeming death retired, not knowing then
In summer’s sunshine he would reign again?
I wondered not the mist-born train had gone,
I asked not for my comrade of the dawn,
I only mused and musing seemed to hear
Soft bells, as when the dying of the year
Is tolled from ancient ice-encumbered tower;
Or when beneath some maiden’s lovely bower
The raptured lover in a wealth of lays
To her delighted ear his zither plays.
Then music sweet the languid air weighed down
And far the topmost peak’s encrusted crown
In tremb’ling light to my unquestioning gaze
Seemed wrapped. And forth from out that mystic blaze
There came, in snowy garments clad, a form
Of dazzling beauty and a mighty storm
Of lightnings, seemed to cleave a shining path
Adown the rugged rocks, and to a bath
Neath Ocean’s briny billows led the way.
Then hissing loud they plunged their crimson ray
Far, far beneath the seething foam, where she,
So like some fabled goddess, beckoned me.
And nothing doubting then I downward went,
As some bold voyager on conquest bent,
To view the wonders of that hidden world
By ancient chaos to those regions hurled
Whence breaks eternally old ocean’s pulse
O’er boundless fields of waving kelp and dulse.
     Oh, there be hills that never mortal trod,
And vales alone the blessed abode of God
And there be rivers by whose winding stream
The happy dead in sweet communion dream,
And radiant cities all unbuilt by hand
On fair far plains of heaven’s border land—
But there is only one Atlantis. Friend,
Through the pellucid waves with me descend
And thou shalt view the wonders that to me
Seemed only good for poet souls to see.....
 
 
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