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An Artist

Robinson Jeffers 1887 (Allegheny) – 1962 (Carmel-by-the-Sea)

That sculptor we knew, the passionate-eyed son of a quarryman,
Who astonished Rome and Paris in his meteor youth, and then
was gone, at his high tide of triumphs,
Without reason or good-bye; I have seen him again lately, after
twenty years, but not in Europe.

In desert hills I rode a horse slack-kneed with thirst. Down a
steep slope a dancing swarm
Of yellow butterflies over a shining rock made me hope water.
We slid down to the place,
The spring was bitter but the horse drank. I imagined wearings
of an old path from that wet rock
Ran down the canyon; I followed, soon they were lost, I came
to a stone valley in which it seemed
No man nor his mount had ever ventured, you wondered
whether even a vulture'd ever spread sail there.
There were stones of strange form under a cleft in the far hill;
I tethered the horse to a rock
And scrambled over. A heap like a stone torrent, a moraine,
But monstrously formed limbs of broken carving appeared in
the rock-fall, enormous breasts, defaced heads
Of giants, the eyes calm through the brute veils of fracture. It
was natural then to climb higher and go in
Up the cleft gate. The canyon was a sheer-walled crack winding
at the entrance, but around its bend
The walls grew dreadful with stone giants, presences growing
out of the rigid precipice, that strove
In dream between stone and life, intense to cast their chaos . . .
or to enter and return . . . stone-fleshed, nerve-stretched
Great bodies ever more beautiful and more heavy with pain,
they seemed leading to some unbearable
Consummation of the ecstasy . . . but there, troll among
Titans, the bearded master of the place accosted me
In a cold anger, a mallet in his hand, filthy and ragged. There
was no kindness in that man's mind,
But after he had driven me down to the entrance he spoke a
little.

The merciless sun had found the slot now
To hide in, and lit for the wick of that stone lamp-bowl a sky
almost, I thought, abominably beautiful;
While our lost artist we used to admire: for now I knew him:
spoke of his passion.

He said, 'Marble?
White marble is fit to model a snow-mountain: let man be
modest. Nor bronze: I am bound to have my tool
In my material, no irrelevances. I found this pit of dark-gray
freestone, fine-grained, and tough enough
To make sketches that under any weathering will last my lifetime…

The town is eight miles off, I can fetch food and no one follows
me home. I have water and a cave
Here; and no possible lack of material. I need, therefore, nothing.
As to companions, I make them.
And models? They are seldom wanted; I know a Basque shepherd
I sometimes use; and a woman of the town.
What more? Sympathy? Praise? I have never desired them and
also I have never deserved them. I will not show you
More than the spalls you saw by accident.

What I see is the enormous
beauty of things, but what I attempt
Is nothing to that. I am helpless toward that.
It is only to form in stone the mould of some ideal humanity
that might be worthy to be
Under that lightning. Animalcules that God (if he were given
to laughter) might omit to laugh at.
Those children of my hands are tortured, because they feel,'
he said, 'the storm of the outer magnificence.
They are giants in agony. They have seen from my eyes
The man-destroying beauty of the dawns over their notch
yonder, and all the obliterating stars.
But in their eyes they have peace. I have lived a little and I
think
Peace marrying pain alone can breed that excellence in the
luckless race, might make it decent
To exist at all on the star-lit stone breast.

I hope,' he said, 'that
when I grow old and the chisel drops,
I may crawl out on a ledge of the rock and die like a wolf.'

These
fragments are all I can remember,
These in the flare of the desert evening. Having been driven
so brutally forth I never returned;
Yet I respect him enough to keep his name and the place secret.
I hope that some other traveller
May stumble on that ravine of Titans after their maker has
died. While he lives, let him alone.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:42 min read
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Robinson Jeffers

John Robinson Jeffers was an American poet, known for his work about the central California coast. more…

All Robinson Jeffers poems | Robinson Jeffers Books

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