This is an uneasy poem for those of us who like to think of ourselves as humane liberals. We may be aware that a lot of the earth’s problems are caused by overpopulation, but we don’t want anyone to actually die – just go a bit easy on the procreation thing, eh guys? Robinson Jeffers made no pretence of being a humane liberal and seems to be foreseeing, with some relish, a more decisive solution to our problems, though the exact nature of the storm that the future is preparing for us is not specified. Take your pick…
Some lucky day each November great waves awake and are drawn
Like smoking mountains bright from the west
And come and cover the cliff with white violent cleanness: then suddenly
The old granite forgets half a year’s filth:
The orange-peel, eggshells, papers, pieces of clothing, the clots
Of dung in corners of the rock, and used
Sheaths that make light love safe in the evenings: all the droppings of the summer
Idlers washed off in a winter ecstasy:
I think this cumbered continent envies its cliff then. . . . But all seasons
The earth, in her childlike prophetic sleep,
Keeps dreaming of the bath of a storm that prepares up the long coast
Of the future to scour more than her sea-lines:
The cities gone down, the people fewer and the hawks more numerous,
The rivers mouth to source pure; when the two-footed
Mammal, being someways one of the nobler animals, regains
The dignity of room, the value of rareness.
Apologies for lateness this week; just got back from holiday. Too tired after long drive to muster up anything approaching a perspicacious preamble, but am trusting that this fine piece by the American poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) will speak for itself anyway.
Hurt Hawks (ii)
I’d sooner, except for the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail
Had nothing left him but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under the talons when he moved.
We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
Implacable arrogance. I gave him the lead gift in the twilight.
What fell was relaxed
Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.
If you should look for this place after a handful of lifetimes:
Perhaps of my planted forest a few
May stand yet, dark-leaved Australians or the coast cypress, haggard
With storm-drift, but fire and the axe are devils.
Look for the foundations of sea-worn granite, my fingers had the art
To make stone love stone, you will find some remnant.
But if you should look in your idleness after ten thousand years:
It is the granite knoll on the granite
And lava tongue in the midst of the bay, by the mouth of the Carmel
River-valley, these four will remain
In the change of names. You will know it by the wild sea-fragrance of wind
Though the ocean may have climbed or retired a little;
You will know it by the valley inland that our sun and our moon were born from
Before the poles changed; and Orion in December
Evenings was strung in the throat of the valley like a lamp-lighted bridge.
Come in the morning you will see white gulls
Weaving a dance over blue water, the wane of the moon
Their dance-companion, a ghost walking
By daylight, but wider and whiter than any bird in the world.
My ghost you needn’t look for; it is probably
Here, but a dark one, deep in the granite, not dancing on wind
With the mad wings and the day moon.
A beautiful temporal perspective, haunting in its vision of what goes and what stays. Maybe one small flaw: the choice of epithet ‘mad’ in the last line doesn’t seem quite right to me, but perhaps I am missing something.