The Racism of H.P. Lovecraft

From time to time I’ve posted bits of poetry on this blog by H.P. Lovecraft, an author of fantasy, horror and science fiction stories that I discovered as a teenager and which made a big and lasting impression on me.

I never thought Lovecraft was a great writer, actually. At times his prose style is truly excruciating. But he was clearly a person with a remarkable imagination and he did write some genuinely frightening stories. He also had a big influence on many subsequent horror writers and film-makers.

It was only in later life that I started to read collections of his poetry, which is also uneven in quality but among which there are many gems. They’ve proved quite popular when I’ve posted them on here too, perhaps because quite a few of the followers of this blog also know Lovecraft’s stories.

But last night I came across this revolting poem, which reveals a side of H.P. Lovecraft’s character of which I was previously unaware.  Its charming title is On the Creation of Niggers:

When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

I don’t think any further comment is necessary.

9 Responses to “The Racism of H.P. Lovecraft”

  1. There is always the issue whether one can/should/must appreciate the art if one doesn’t appreciate the sentiments of the artist.

    I’ve always like the songs Paul Simon did with Art Garfunkel. (Even though Simon wrote all of the S&G stuff, I don’t like his solo stuff nearly as much.) I recently read about his participation as a juror in some sort of musical competition in 1972 or thereabouts, sort of like an ancient version of Pop Idol, but with contestants from various countries. He said before the contest that, as a Jew, he couldn’t give any points to Germany because of the Nazi past. Already one can question whether such a competition is the best place for political statements. (Simon later got a lot of criticism when working on Graceland because he worked with South African musicians while sanctions were in place. Very misplaced, in my view, and later corrected by some of the critics—especially considering that he was working with the oppressed, not with the oppressors.) Already one can question whether such a blanket judgement is OK, as opposed to, say, giving points to a participant who was a Nazi himself. But the German representative was 15, born long after the war. This Simon did know in advance. Children’s children’s children anyone? What he didn’t know then (I don’t know if he knows it now) was that the German contestant was Marianne Rosenberg, later a famous Schlager singer (think Englebert Humperdinck (the English singer, not the German composer) with worse music). She is Roma (her sister used to be the head of the Roma Council in Germany) and her father survived a concentration camp. Simon: 0 points. What a jerk. The irony is, he thus makes himself guilty of the same sort of racism he intended to criticize.

  2. It’s always sad to discover things like this. Kipling is another of those well known authors who writing I admire…and then a horribly racist/imperialist phrase appears, and I wince and cringe and sigh. Writing of a different time is sadly written by men of that time.

  3. phillipaellis1968 Says:

    I know the piece quite well, and Lovecraft’s racism in his poems extends to other, less striking examples. And yes, Lovecraft was a racist in a racist age.

    This reminds me of how every human has flaws, flaws which may, in today’s climate may be unsupportable. Lovecraft’s racism is one example.

  4. […] Lovecraft (known to his friends as “H.P.”), I was dismayed to discover some time ago a poem which revealed his obnoxiously racist attitudes. I always find it difficult knowing what to do when someone whose artistic work you admire turns […]

  5. I’d like to remind readers that I do not allow racist or abusive messages of any other kind to be published on this blog.

    • Seemann Says:

      Well, H.P. Lovecraft didn’t need anyone to tell him what to think and what to do. As well he didn’t sell himeself to nobody who’d force him into a shape that’d never belong to him. So, as a faithful reader of Lovecraft masterpieces, I suggest you to ignore him and his literature at all, so you can do yourself and us all a favor.

  6. Clayton Osmer Says:

    Dude… he was 20 in Jim Crow America. Racism wasn’t exactly a choice back then. It was taught in schools as “proper order”.

    And, more importantly, Lovecraft seems to have recanted this mentality later in his career. To this I cite “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” (1926). In this story, much later in his life, having learned for himself those certain sociological truths that we all learn in adulthood… he writes about a black family living in the lead character’s familiar home, and has nothing but good things to say about said family. Obviously his views had changed once he shrugged off his Jim Crow-born “education” and lived a while as his own man.

    He still really hated the Irish though. He was a very xenophobic and disturbed man. But not as racist as people would think reading this little joke poem he wrote in his 20’s. We all grow out of the mistakes that our previous generations teach us… and Howard was no exception.

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