This past Sunday was the birthday of the poet Robinson Jeffers, whose work I've been avidly re-reading over the last month or so in preparation for a forthcoming discussion with the group 3 Poems By. I'd been meaning to post this poem, which I think succinctly hits a number of Jeffers's major themes and still manages to be an excellent poem for all that.
Love the Wild Swan
“I hate my verses, every line, every word.
Oh pale and brittle pencils ever to try
One grass-blade’s curve, or the throat of one bird
That clings to twig, ruffled against white sky.
Oh cracked and twilight mirrors ever to catch
One color, one glinting flash, of the splendor of things.
Unlucky hunter, Oh bullets of wax,
The lion beauty, the wild-swan wings, the storm of the wings.”
—This wild swan of a world is no hunter’s game.
Better bullets than yours would miss the white breast,
Better mirrors than yours would crack in the flame.
Does it matter whether you hate your...self? At least
Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can
Hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.Robinson Jeffers
In his general disdain for man and love of the natural world, Jeffers has been caught up in accusations of misanthropy. I see him almost as an instinctive Buddhist; it is the realization of our place in the world that is the essence of what he is after, not the wholesale writing off of mankind. In addition, like so many artists, he is pigeonholed and, like so many artists, he grew and changed in his vision and interpretation of what was around him.
What cannot be denied is his passion. He put it all on the line for his beliefs and he didn't back down. He went from being one of the most popular and esteemed poets in America to being much reviled, and, finally, into near obscurity. Of recent times, his environmental themes have been taken up by the movement but one can't help but think this would not afford him any real amount of pleasure. The process of selectivity required to produce such a legacy ignores a great deal of what he was about. Initially, he was known for his epic book-length works, as in the era of the above Time magazine article, but currently it is his short work that he is most remembered for.
Ultimately, his beliefs were broad enough to contain all the beauty and all the terror that is nature, that is our existence. Think stern but loving parent. Think tough love.
The next broadside I'd like to feature from the Lilliput series is Spiral by the poet Christien Gholson. Since this short 4 part poem can't really be excerpted, here it is in its entirety (minus the tactile dimension, the colorful paper, and the nifty Bosch spot illustrations). If you'd like a copy to hold of your very own, it is available for a measly dollar or an even more thrifty SASE.
The missing will return.
The train horn scythes the sky in half,
leaves a door for them
to leap through.
They swing down the sickle moon,
ride the back of a grey and white humped-back mosquito
through a sickly sweet over-ripe
The dead will return.
They poke their heads up from the sea,
eyeing the shoreline,
moon burning their scales
From a train window
I saw the glistening roll of their backs
across the black surface
of the bay.
The frenzied legs of a mosquito-catcher
jangle across the lampshade,
across the center panel of a Bosch print,
settle at the foot of St. Anthony.
Every flame is searching for an altar.
At the furthest edge of the night
a wall of white noise hides the first word.
Bones in red dust on a mesa-flat
begin their journey back.
Where the bones used to be,
a solitary seed-husk blown in circles.Christien Gholson
And the final word to Master Issa, reminding us why it is important not to do certain things we are supposed to do:
that grass over there
won't be cut...
translated by David G. Lanoue