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Robinson Jeffers

American Poet



Narrated by David Drummond

Download mp3 file: Selected Poems

This file is 4 MB; running time is 17 minutes
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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; these 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 greatest 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.


The clapping blackness of the wings of pointed cormorants,

the great indolent planes

Of autumn pelicans nine or a dozen strung shorelong,
But chiefly the gulls, the cloud-caligraphers of windy spirals

before a storm,

Cruise north and south over the sea-rocks and over
That bluish enormous opal; very lately these alone, these and the


And westering lights of heaven, crossed it; but then
A hull with standing canvas crept about Point Lobos . . . now

all day long the steamers

Smudge the opal's rim; often a seaplane troubles
The sea-wind with its throbbing heart. These will increase, the

others diminish, and later
These will diminish; our Pacific has pastured
The Mediterranean torch and passed it west across the fountains

of the morning;

And the following desolation that feeds on Crete
Feed here; the clapping blackness of the wings of pointed cor-
morants, the great sails
Of autumn pelicans, the gray sea-going gulls,
Alone will streak the enormous opal, the earth have peace like the

broad water, our blood's
Unrest have doubled to Asia and be peopling
Europe again, or dropping colonies at the morning star: what

moody traveler

Wanders back here, watches the sea-fowl circle
The old sea-granite and cemented granite with one regard, and

greets my ghost,
One temper with the granite, bulking about here*


The days shorten, the south blows wide for showers now,

The south wind shouts to the rivers,

The rivers open their mouths and the salt salmon

Race up into the freshet.

In Christmas month against the smoulder and menace

Of a long angry sundown,

Red ash of the dark solstice, you see the anglers,

Pitiful, cruel, primeval,

Like the priests of the people that built Stonehenge,

Dark silent forms, performing

Remote solemnities in the red shallows

Of the river's mouth at the year's turn,

Drawing landward their live bullion, the bloody mouths

And scales full of the sunset

Twitch on the rocks, no more to wander at will

The wild Pacific pasture nor wanton and spawning

Race up into fresh water.


At the equinox when the earth was veiled in a late rain, wreathed

with wet poppies, waiting spring,
The ocean swelled for a far storm and beat its boundary, the

ground-swell shook the beds of granite.

I gazing at the boundaries of granite and spray, the established

sea-marks, felt behind me
Mountain and plain, the immense breadth of the continent, before

me the mass and doubled stretch of water.

I said: You yoke the Aleutian seal-rocks with the lava and coral

sowings that flower the south,
Over your flood the life that sought the sunrise faces ours that has

followed the evening star.

The long migrations meet across you and it is nothing to you, you

have forgotten us, mother.
You were much younger when we crawled out of the womb and

lay in the sun's eye on the tideline.

It was long and long ago, we have grown proud since then and

you have grown bitter; life retains
Your mobile soft unquiet strength; and envies hardness, the

insolent quietness of stone.

The tides are in our veins, we still mirror the stars, life is your

child, but there is in me
Older and harder than life and more impartial, the eye that

watched before there was an ocean.

That watched you fill your beds out of the condensation of thin

vapor and watched you change them,
That saw you soft and violent wear your boundaries down, eat

rock, shift places with the continents.

Mother, though my song's measure is like your surf-beat's ancient

rhythm I never learned it of you.
Before there was any water there were tides of fire, both our

tones flow from the older fountain.


The ebb slips from the rock, the sunken
Tide-rocks lift streaming shoulders
Out of the slack, the slow west
Sombering its torch; a ship's light
Shows faintly, far out,
Over the weight of the prone ocean
On the low cloud.

Over the dark mountain, over the dark pinewood,
Down the long dark valley along the shrunken river,
Returns the splendor without rays, the shining of shadow,
Peace-bnnger, the matrix of all shining and quieter of shining.
Where the shore widens on the bay she opens dark wings
And the ocean accepts her glory. O soul worshipful of her
You like the ocean have grave depths where she dwells always,
And the film of waves above that takes the sun takes also
Her, with more love. The sun-lovers have a blond favorite,
A father of lights and noises, wars, weeping and laughter,
Hot labor, lust and delight and the other blemishes. Quietness
Flows from her deeper fountain, and he will die, and she is

Far off from here the slender

Flocks of the mountain forest

Move among stems like towers

Of the old redwoods to the stream,

No twig crackling; dip shy

Wild muzzles into the mountain water

Among the dark ferns.

O passionately at peace you being secure will pardon

The blasphemies of glowworms, the lamp in my tower, the


Of cities, the cressets of the planets, the pride of the stars.
This August night in a rift of cloud Antares reddens,
The great one, the ancient torch, a lord among lost children,
The earth's orbit doubled would not girdle his greatness, one fire
Globed, out of grasp of the mind enormous; but to you O Night
What? Not a spark? What flicker of a spark in the faint far

Of a lost fire dying in the desert, dim coals of a sand-pit the

Wandered from at dawn . . . Ah singing prayer to what gulfs


Suddenly are you more lost? To us the near-hand mountain
Be a measure of height, the tide-worn cliff at the sea-gate a

measure of continuance.

The tide, moving the night's

Vastness with lonely voices,

Turns, the deep dark-shining

Pacific leans on the land,

Feeling his cold strength

To the outmost margins: you Night will resume

The stars in your time.

O passionately at peace when will that tide draw shoreward?
Truly the spouting fountains of light, Antares, Arcturus,
Tire of their flow, they sing one song but they think silence.
The striding winter giant Orion shines, and dreams darkness.
And life, the flicker of men and moths and the wolf on the hill,
Though furious for continuance, passionately feeding, passionately
Remaking itself upon its mates, remembers deep inward
The calm mother, the quietness of the womb and the egg,
The primal and the latter silences: dear Night it is memory
Prophesies, prophecy that remembers, the charm of the dark.
And I and my people, we are willing to love the four-score years
Heartily; but as a sailor loves the sea, when the helm is for harbor.

Have men's minds changed,

Or the rock hidden in the deep of the waters of the soul

Broken the surface. A few centuries

Gone by, was none dared not to people

The darkness beyond the stars with harps and habitations.

But now, dear is the truth. Life is grown sweeter and lonelier,

And death is no evil.


Though the little clouds ran southward still, the quiet autumnal

Cool of the late September evening

Seemed promising rain, rain, the change of the year, the angel

Of the sad forest. A heron flew over

With that remote ridiculous cry, "Quawk," the cry

That seems to make silence more silent. A dozen

Flops of the wing, a drooping glide, at the end of the glide

The cry, and a dozen flops of the wing.

I watched him pass on the autumn-colored sky; beyond him

Jupiter shone for evening star.

The sea's voice worked into my mood, I thought "No matter

What happens to men . . . the world's well made though."


Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara

The vault of rock is painted with hands,

A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of men's palms, no


No other picture. There's no one to say
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art; but over the division of years these careful
Signs-manual are now like a sealed message
Saying: "Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws.

All hail

You people with the cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty, and

come down
And be supplanted; for you also are human."



In the purple light, heavy with redwood, the slopes drop seaward,
Headlong convexities of forest, drawn in together to the steep ravine. Below, on the sea-cliff,
A lonely clearing; a little field of corn by the streamside; a roof under spared trees. Then the ocean
Like a great stone someone has cut to a sharp edge and polished to shining. Beyond it, the fountain
And furnace of incredible light flowing up from the sunk sun. In the little clearing a woman
Is punishing a horse; she had tied the halter to a sapling at the edge of the wood, but when the great whip
Clung to the flanks the creature kicked so hard she feared he would snap the halter; she called from the house
The young man her son; who fetched a chain tie-rope, they working together
Noosed the small rusty links round the horse’s tongue
And tied him by the swollen tongue to the tree.
Seen from this height they are shrunk to insect size,
Out of all human relation. You cannot distinguish
The blood dripping from where the chain is fastened,
The beast shuddering; but the thrust neck and the legs
Far apart. You can see the whip fall on the flanks ...
The gesture of the arm. You cannot see the face of the woman.
The enormous light beats up out of the west across the cloud-bars of the trade-wind. The ocean
Darkens, the high clouds brighten, the hills darken together. Unbridled and unbelievable beauty
Covers the evening world ... not covers, grows apparent out of it, as Venus down there grows out
From the lit sky. What said the prophet? “I create good: and I create evil: I am the Lord.”


This coast crying out for tragedy like all beautiful places,
(The quiet ones ask for quieter suffering: but here the granite cliff the gaunt cypresses crown
Demands what victim? The dykes of red lava and black what Titan? The hills like pointed flames
Beyond Soberanes, the terrible peaks of the bare hills under the sun, what immolation?)
This coast crying out for tragedy like all beautiful places: and like the passionate spirit of humanity
Pain for its bread: God’s, many victims’, the painful deaths, the horrible transfigurements: I said in my heart,
“Better invent than suffer: imagine victims
Lest your own flesh be chosen the agonist, or you
Martyr some creature to the beauty of the place.” And I said,
“Burn sacrifices once a year to magic
Horror away from the house, this little house here
You have built over the ocean with your own hands
Beside the standing boulders: for what are we,
The beast that walks upright, with speaking lips
And little hair, to think we should always be fed,
Sheltered, intact, and self-controlled? We sooner more liable
Than the other animals. Pain and terror, the insanities of desire; not accidents but essential,
And crowd up from the core”: I imagined victims for those wolves, I made them phantoms to follow,
They have hunted the phantoms and missed the house. It is not good to forget over what gulfs the spirit
Of the beauty of humanity, the petal of a lost flower blown seaward by the night-wind, floats to its quietness.


Boulders blunted like an old bear’s teeth break up from the headland; below them
All the soil is thick with shells, the tide-rock feasts of a dead people.
There the granite flanks are scarred with ancient fire, the ghosts of the tribe
Crouch in the nights beside the ghost of a fire, they try to remember the sunlight,
Light has died out of their skies. These have paid something for the future
Luck of the country, while we living keep old griefs in memory: though God’s
Envy is not a likely fountain of ruin, to forget evils calls down
Sudden reminders from the cloud: remembered deaths be our redeemers;
Imagined victims our salvation: white as the half moon at midnight
Someone flamelike passed me, saying, “I am Tamar Cauldwell, I have my desire,”
Then the voice of the sea returned, when she had gone by, the stars to their towers.
... Beautiful country burn again, Point Pinos down to the Sur Rivers
Burn as before with bitter wonders, land and ocean and the Carmel water.


He brays humanity in a mortar to bring the savor
From the bruised root: a man having bad dreams, who invents victims, is only the ape of that God.
He washes it out with tears and many waters, calcines it with fire in the red crucible,
Deforms it, makes it horrible to itself: the spirit flies out and stands naked, he sees the spirit,
He takes it in the naked ecstasy; it breaks in his hand, the atom is broken, the power that massed it
Cries to the power that moves the stars, “I have come home to myself, behold me.
I bruised myself in the flint mortar and burnt me
In the red shell, I tortured myself, I flew forth,
Stood naked of myself and broke me in fragments,
And here am I moving the stars that are me.”
I have seen these ways of God: I know of no reason
For fire and change and torture and the old returnings.
He being sufficient might be still. I think they admit no reason; they are the ways of my love.
Unmeasured power, incredible passion, enormous craft: no thought apparent but burns darkly
Smothered with its own smoke in the human brain-vault: no thought outside: a certain measure in phenomena:
The fountains of the boiling stars, the flowers on the foreland, the ever-returning roses of dawn.

More information about Robinson Jeffers from Wikipedia

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