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The Old Man’s Dream After He Died

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

Gently with delicate mindless fingers
Decomposition began to pick and caress the unstable chemistry
Of the cells of the brain; Oh very gently, as the first weak breath
of wind in a wood: the storm is still far,
The leaves are stirred faintly to a gentle whispering: the nerve-cells,
by what would soon destroy them, were stirred
To a gentle whispering. Or one might say the brain began to
glow, with its own light, in the starless
Darkness under the dead bone sky; like bits of rotting wood on
the floor of the night forest
Warm rains have soaked, you see them beside the path shine like
vague eyes. So gently the dead man's brain
Glowing by itself made and enjoyed its dream.

The nights of many
years before this time
He had been dreaming the sweetness of death, as a starved man
dreams bread, but now decomposition
Reversed the chemistry; who had adored in sleep under so many
disguises the dark redeemer
In death across a thousand metaphors of form and action celebrated
life. Whatever he had wanted
To do or become was now accomplished, each bud that had been
nipped and fallen grew out to a branch,
Sparks of desire forty years quenched flamed up fulfilment.
Out of time, undistracted by the nudging pulse-beat, perfectly
real to itself being insulated
From all touch of reality the dream triumphed, building from
past experience present paradise
More intense as the decay quickened, but ever more primitive
as it proceeded, until the ecstasy
Soared through a flighty carnival of wines and women to the
simple delight of eating flesh, and tended
Even higher, to an unconditional delight. But then the interconnections
between the groups of the brain
Failing, the dreamer and the dream split into multitude. Soon the
altered cells became unfit to express
Any human or at all describable form of consciousness.

Pain and
pleasure are not to be thought
Important enough to require balancing: these flashes of pos-tmortal
felicity by mindless decay
Played on the breaking harp by no means countervalued the excess
of previous pain. Such discords
In the passionate terms of human experience are not resolved,
nor worth it.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

1:50 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic hexameter
Characters 2,096
Words 366
Stanzas 3
Stanza Lengths 14, 24, 8

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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    Lewis Carroll wrote: "You are old father William, the young man said..."
    • A. "and you seem to have lost your sight"
    • B. "and your eyes have become less bright"
    • C. "and your hair has become very white"
    • D. "and you're going to die tonight"