A Selection of Shorter Poems
by Robinson Jeffers
“I've changed my ways a little, I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream, and you, if you dream a moment,
You see me there.” ― Robinson Jeffers
Robinson Jeffers was born on January 10, 1887. One of his most famous poems and one of my favorites is "Rock and Hawk" and it was used as the title for a selection of his shorter poems edited by the poet Robert Haas in 1987. The collection spans Jeffers' output of poems from the twenties through the sixties. The themes that spurred his seeking mind include nature as in these lines from "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
But he also was influenced by his reading of Nietzsche as evidenced by these thoughts in "Roan Stallion":
"Humanity is the start of
the race: I say
Humanity is the mold to break away from, the crust to break
through, the coal to break into fire,
The atom to be split."
The Jeffers that I like the most has a transcendental quality that reminds one of Thoreau or Emerson, but imbues nature with a modern patina that make its spiritual quality seem new. Many of the poems also suggest the beauty, the solitude, and the grandeur of the home Jeffers made in Carmel. While his musings can sometimes be dark and brooding; “One existence, one music, one organism, one life, one God: star-fire and rock-strength, the sea's cold flow, And man's dark soul.” His poems taken as a whole reflect the mind of a truly great American poet.
Rock and Hawk
Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.
This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,
Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.
I think here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,
But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final
Life with calm death; the falcon's
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive
Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.
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