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Robinson Jeffers Poems(all posted on the Web)


Vulture

I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-feathers
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, "My dear bird, we are wasting time here.
These old bones will still work; they are not for you." But how beautiful he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the sea-light over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him.
To be eaten by that beak and become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes--
What a sublime end of one's body, what an enskyment; what a life after death.

Hurt Hawks

1

The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.

2

I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his 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 eyes 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.

Passenger Pigeons

Slowly the passenger pigeons increased, then suddenly their numbers
Became enormous, they would flatten ten miles of forest
When they flew down to roost, and the cloud of their rising
Eclipsed the dawns. They became too many, they are all dead
Not one remains.
                                 And the American bison: their hordes
Would hide a prairie from horizon to horizon, great heads and storm-cloud shoulders, a torrent of life -
How many are left? For a time, for a few years, their bones
Turned the dark prairies white.
                                 You, Death, you watch for these things.
These explosions of life: they are your food.
They make your feasts.
                              .But turn your great rolling eyes
             away from humanity
Those grossly craving black eyes. It is true we increase.
A man from Britain landing in Gaul when Rome
            ..had fallen
He journeyed fourteen days inland through that beautiful
Rich land, the orchards and rivers and the looted villas: he reports he saw
No living man. But now we fill the gaps.
In spite of wars, famines and pestilences we are quite suddenly
Three billion people: our bones, ours too, would make
Wide prairies white, a beautiful snow of unburied bones:
Bones that have twitched and quivered in the nights of love,
Bones that have shaken with laughter and hung slack
            in sorrow, coward bones
Worn out with trembling, strong bones broken on the rack,
            bones broken in battle,
Broad bones gnarled with hard labor, and the little bones
         ..of sweet young children, and the white empty skulls,
Little carved ivory wine-jugs that used to contain
Passion and thought and love and insane delirium, where now
Not even worms live
                                 .Respect humanity, Death, these
                  shameless black eyes of yours,
It is not necessary to take all at once - besides that,
                  you cannot do it, we are too powerful,
We are men, not pigeons; you may take the old, the useless
                  .and helpless, the cancer-bitten and the tender young,
But the human race has still history to make. For look - look now
At our achievements: we have bridled the cloud-leaper lightning,
         a lion whipped by a man, to carry our messages
And work our will, we have snatched the thunderbolt
Out of God's hands. Ha? That was little and last year -
         .for now we have taken
The primal powers, creation and annihilation; we make
         .new elements, such as God never saw,
We can explode atoms and annul the fragments, nothing left
         ..but pure energy, we shall use it
In peace and war - "Very clever," he answered in his thin piping voice,
Cruel and a eunuch.
                              ..Roll those idiot black eyes of yours
On the field-beats, not on intelligent man,
We are not in your order. You watched the dinosaurs
Grow into horror: they had been little elves in the ditches
         .and presently became enormous with leaping flanks
And tearing teeth, plated with armor, nothing could
         .stand against them, nothing but you,
Death, and they died. You watched the sabre-tooth tigers
Develop those huge fangs, unnecessary as our sciences,
         and presently they died. You have their bones
In the oil-pits and layer rock, you will not have ours.
         .With pain and wonder and labor we have bought intelligence.
We have minds like the tusks of those forgotten tigers,
.          .hypertrophied and terrible,
We have counted the stars and half-understood them,
         ..we have watched the farther galaxies fleeing away
         .from us, wild herds
Of panic horses - or a trick of distance deceived by the prism -
         ..we outfly falcons and eagles and meteors,
Faster than sound, higher than the nourishing air;
            we have enormous privilege, we do not fear you,
We have invented the jet-plane and the death-bomb
            and the cross of Christ - "Oh," he said, "surely
You'll live forever" - grinning like a skull, covering his mouth
         with his hand - "What could exterminate you?"

THE ANSWER

Then what is the answer?—Not to be deluded by dreams,
To know that great civilizations have broken down into
violence, and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose
the least ugly faction; the evils are essential.
To keep one’s own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted
and not wish for evil; and not be duped
By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will
not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear the whole remains beautiful.
A severed hand is an ugly thing,
and man dissevered from the earth and stars
and his history—for contemplation or in fact—
often appears atrociously ugly.
Integrity is wholeness, the great beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things,
the divine beauty of the universe.
Love that, not man apart from that,
or else you will share man’s pitiful
confusions, or drown in despair when his days darken.


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