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

On the small marble-paved platform
On the turret on the head of the tower,
Watching the night deepen.
I feel the rock-edge of the continent
Reel eastward with me below the broad stars.
I lean on the broad worn stones of the parapet top
And the stones and my hands that touch them reel eastward.
The inland mountains go down and new lights
Glow over the sinking east rim of the earth.
The dark ocean comes up,
And reddens the western stars with its fog-breath
And hides them with its mounded darkness.

The earth was the world and man was its measure, but our minds
have looked
Through the little mock-dome of heaven the telescope-slotted
observatory eyeball, there space and multitude came in
And the earth is a particle of dust by a sand-grain sun, lost in a
nameless cove of the shores of a continent.
Galaxy on galaxy, innumerable swirls of innumerable stars, endured
as it were forever and humanity
Came into being, its two or three million years are a moment, in
a moment it will certainly cease out from being
And galaxy on galaxy endure after that as it were forever . . .
But man is conscious,
He brings the world to focus in a feeling brain,
In a net of nerves catches the splendor of things,
Breaks the somnambulism of nature . . . His distinction perhaps,
Hardly his advantage. To slaver for contemptible pleasures
And scream with pain, are hardly an advantage.
Consciousness? The learned astronomer
Analyzing the light of most remote star-swirls
Has found them-or a trick of distance deludes his prism-
All at incredible speeds fleeing outward from ours.
I thought, no doubt they are fleeing the contagion
Of consciousness that infects this corner of space.

For often I have heard the hard rocks I handled
Groan, because lichen and time and water dissolve them,
And they have to travel down the strange falling scale
Of soil and plants and the flesh of beasts to become
The bodies of men; they murmur at their fate
In the hollows of windless nights, they'd rather be anything
Than human flesh played on by pain and joy,
They pray for annihilation sooner, but annihilation's
Not in the book yet.

So, I thought, the rumor
Of human consciousness has gone abroad in the world,
The sane uninfected far-outer universes
Flee it in a panic of escape, as men flee the plague
Taking a city: for look at the fruits of consciousness:
As in young Walter Margrave when he'd been sentenced for
murder: he was thinking when they brought him back
To the cell in jail,
'I've only a moment to arrange my thoughts,
I must think quickly, I must think clearly,
And settle the world in my mind before I kick off,' but to feel
the curious eyes of his fellow-prisoners
And the wry-mouthed guard's and so forth torment him through
the steel bars put his mind in a stupor, he could only
Sit frowning, ostentatiously unafraid. 'But I can control my
mind, their eyes can't touch my will.
One against all. What use is will at this end of everything? A
kind of nausea is the chief feeling . . .
In my stomach and throat . . . but in my head pride: I fought
a good fight and they can't break me; alone, unbroken,
Against a hundred and twenty-three million people. They are
going to kill the best brain perhaps in the world,
That might have made such discoveries in science
As would set the world centuries ahead, for I had the mind and
the power. Boo, it's their loss. Blind fools,
Killing their best.' When his mind forgot the eyes it made rapid
capricious pictures instead of words,
But not of the medical school and the laboratories, its late intense
interest; not at all of his crime; glimpses
Of the coast-range at home; the V of a westward canyon with
the vibrating
Blue line of the ocean strung sharp across it; that domed hill up
the valley, two cows like specks on the summit
And a beautiful-colored jungle of poison-oak at the foot; his
sister half naked washing her hair,
'My dirty sister,' whose example and her lovers had kept him
chaste by revulsion; the reed-grown mouth of the river
And the sand-bar against the stinging splendor of the sea ...
and anguish behind all the pictures
(He began to consider his own mind again) 'like a wall they
hang on.' Hang. The anguish came forward, an actual
Knife between two heartbeats, the organ stopped and then raced.
He experimented awhile with his heart,
Making in his mind a picture of a man hanged, pretending to
himself it was to happen next moment,
Trying to observe whether the beat suspended 'suspended,' he
thought in systole or in diastole.
The effect soon failed; the anguish remain
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 11, 2023

4:02 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic hexameter
Characters 4,436
Words 805
Stanzas 4
Stanza Lengths 12, 23, 9, 48

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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