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Robinson Jeffers Poems

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Pelicans

Four pelicans went over the house,
Sculled their worn oars over the courtyard: I saw that ungainliness
Magnifies the idea of strength.
A lifting gale of sea-gulls followed them; slim yachts of the element,
Natural growths of the sky, no wonder
Light wings to leave sea; but those grave weights toil, and are powerful,
And the wings torn with old storms remember
The cone that the oldest redwood dropped from, the tilting of continents,
The dinosaur's day, the life of new sea-lines.
The omnisecular spirit keeps the old with the new also.
Nothing at all has suffered erasure.
There is life not of our time. He calls ungainly bodies
As beautiful as the grace of horses.
He is weary of nothing; he watches airplanes, he watches pelicans.


Cassandra

The mad girl with the staring eyes and long white fingers
Hooked in the stones of the wall,
The storm-wrack hair and screeching mouth: does it matter, Cassandra,
Whether the people believe
Your bitter fountain? Truly men hate the truth, they'd liefer
Meet a tiger on the road.
Therefore the poets honey their truth with lying; but religion—
Vendors and political men
Pour from the barrel, new lies on the old, and are praised for kind
Wisdom. Poor **** be wise.
No: you'll still mumble in a corner a crust of truth, to men
And gods disgusting—you and I, Cassandra.


Wise Men In Their Bad Hours

Wise men in their bad hours have envied
The little people making merry like grasshoppers
In spots of sunlight, hardly thinking
Backward but never forward, and if they somehow
Take hold upon the future they do it
Half asleep, with the tools of generation
Foolishly reduplicating
Folly in thirty-year periods; the eat and laugh too,
Groan against labors, wars and partings,
Dance, talk, dress and undress; wise men have pretended
The summer insects enviable;
One must indulge the wise in moments of mockery.
Strength and desire possess the future,
The breed of the grasshopper shrills, "What does the future
Matter, we shall be dead?" Ah, grasshoppers,
Death's a fierce meadowlark: but to die having made
Something more equal to the centuries
Than muscle and bone, is mostly to shed weakness.
The mountains are dead stone, the people
Admire or hate their stature, their insolent quietness,
The mountains are not softened nor troubled
And a few dead men's thoughts have the same temper.


We Are Those People


I have abhorred the wars and despised the liars, laughed at the frightened
And forecast victory; never one moment's doubt.
But now not far, over the backs of some crawling years, the next
Great war's column of dust and fire writhes
Up the sides of the sky: it becomes clear that we too may suffer
What others have, the brutal horror of defeat—
Or if not in the next, then in the next—therefore watch Germany
And read the future. We wish, of course, that our women
Would die like biting rats in the cellars, our men like wolves on the mountain:
It will not be so. Our men will curse, cringe, obey;
Our women uncover themselves to the grinning victors for bits of chocolate.


The Bed By The Window

I chose the bed downstairs by the sea-window for a good death-bed
When we built the house, it is ready waiting,
Unused unless by some guest in a twelvemonth, who hardly suspects
Its latter purpose. I often regard it,
With neither dislike nor desire; rather with both, so equalled
That they kill each other and a crystalline interest
Remains alone. We are safe to finish what we have to finish;
And then it will sound rather like music
When the patient daemon behind the screen of sea-rock and sky
Thumps with his staff, and calls thrice: "Come, Jeffers."


Natural Music

The old voice of the ocean, the bird-chatter of little rivers,
(Winter has given them gold for silver
To stain their water and bladed green for brown to line their banks)
From different throats intone one language.
So I believe if we were strong enough to listen without
Divisions of desire and terror
To the storm of the sick nations, the rage of the hunger smitten cities,
Those voices also would be found
Clean as a child's; or like some girl's breathing who dances alone
By the ocean-shore, dreaming of lovers.


The Silent Shepherds

What's the best life for a man?
—Never to have been born, sings the choros, and the next best
Is to die young. I saw the Sybil at Cumae
Hung in her cage over the public street—
What do you want, Sybil? I want to die.
Apothanein Thelo. Apothanein Thelo. Apothanein Thelo.
You have got your wish. But I meant life, not death.
What's the best life for a man? To ride in the wind. To ride
    horses and herd cattle
In solitary places above the ocean on the beautiful mountain,
    and come home hungry in the evening
And eat and sleep. He will live in the wild wind and quick rain,
    he will not ruin his eyes with reading,
Nor think too much.
                         However, we must have philosophers.
I will have shepherds for my philosophers,
Tall dreary men lying on the hills all night
Watching the stars, let their dogs watch the sheep. And I'll have
    lunatics
For my poets, strolling from farm to farm, wild liars distorting
The country news into supernaturalism—
For all men to such minds are devils or gods—and that increases
Man's dignity, man's importance, necessary lies
Best told by fools.
                           I will have no lawyers nor constables
Each man guard his own goods: there will be manslaughter,
But no more wars, no more mass-sacrifice. Nor I'll have no doctors,
Except old women gathering herbs on the mountain,
Let each have her sack of opium to ease the death-pains.


That would be a good world, free and out-doors.
But the vast hungry spirit of the time
Cries to his chosen that there is nothing good
Except discovery, experiment and experience and discovery: To look
    truth in the eyes,
To strip truth naked, let our dogs do our living for us
But man discover.
                           It is a fine ambition,
But the wrong tools. Science and mathematics
Run parallel to reality, they symbolize it, they squint at it,
They never touch it: consider what an explosion
Would rock the bones of men into little white fragments and unsky
    the world
If any mind for a moment touch truth.


Shiva

There is a hawk that is picking the birds out of our sky,
She killed the pigeons of peace and security,
She has taken honesty and confidence from nations and men,
She is hunting the lonely heron of liberty.
She loads the arts with nonsense, she is very cunning
Science with dreams and the state with powers to catch them at last.
Nothing will escape her at last, flying nor running.
This is the hawk that picks out the star's eyes.
This is the only hunter that will ever catch the wild swan;
The prey she will take last is the wild white swan of the beauty of things.
Then she will be alone, pure destruction, achieved and supreme,
Empty darkness under the death-tent wings.
She will build a nest of the swan's bones and hatch  a new brood,
Hang new heavens with new birds, all be renewed.


Sign-Post

Civilized, crying: how to be human again; this will tell you how.
Turn outward, love things, not men, turn right away from humanity,
Let that doll lie. Consider if you like how the lilies grow,
Lean on the silent rock until you feel its divinity
Make your veins cold; look at the silent stars, let your eyes
Climb the great ladder out of the pit of yourself and man.
Things are so beautiful, your love will follow your eyes;
Things are the God; you will love God and not in vain,
For what we love, we grow to it, we share its nature. At length
You will look back along the star's rays and see that even
The poor doll humanity has a place under heaven.
Its qualities repair their mosaic around you, the chips of strength
And sickness; but now you are free, even to be human,
But born of the rock and the air, not of a woman.


Contrast

The world has many seas, Mediterranean, Atlantic, but
       here is the shore of the one ocean.
And here the heavy future hangs like a cloud; the
       enormous scene; the enormous games preparing
Weigh on the water and strain the rock; the stage is
       here, the play is conceived; the players are
       not found.

I saw on the Sierras, up the Kaweah valley above the
       Moro rock, the mountain redwoods
Like red towers on the slopes of snow; about their
       bases grew a bushery of Christmas green,
Firs and pines to be monuments for pilgrimage
In Europe; I remembered the Swiss forests, the dark
       robes of Pilatus, no trunk like these there;
But these are underwood; they are only a shrubbery
       about the boles of the trees.

                    Our people are clever and masterful;
They have powers in the mass, they accomplish marvels.
       It is possible Time will make them before it
       annuls them, but at present
There is not one memorable person, there is not one
       mind to stand with the trees, one life with
       the mountains.





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