The Silent Shepherds

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



What's the best life for a man?
--Never to have been born, sings the choros, and the next best
Is to die young. I saw the Sybil at Cumae
Hung in her cage over the public street--
What do you want, Sybil? I want to die.
Apothanein Thelo. Apothanein Thelo. Apothanein Thelo.
You have got your wish. But I meant life, not death.
What's the best life for a man? To ride in the wind. To ride
     horses and herd cattle
In solitary places above the ocean on the beautiful mountain,
     and come home hungry in the evening
And eat and sleep. He will live in the wild wind and quick rain,
     he will not ruin his eyes with reading,
Nor think too much.
                          However, we must have philosophers.
I will have shepherds for my philosophers,
Tall dreary men lying on the hills all night
Watching the stars, let their dogs watch the sheep. And I'll have
     lunatics
For my poets, strolling from farm to farm, wild liars distorting
The country news into supernaturalism--
For all men to such minds are devils or gods--and that increases
Man's dignity, man's importance, necessary lies
Best told by fools.
                            I will have no lawyers nor constables
Each man guard his own goods: there will be manslaughter,
But no more wars, no more mass-sacrifice. Nor I'll have no doctors,
Except old women gathering herbs on the mountain,
Let each have her sack of opium to ease the death-pains.

That would be a good world, free and out-doors.
But the vast hungry spirit of the time
Cries to his chosen that there is nothing good
Except discovery, experiment and experience and discovery: To look
     truth in the eyes,
To strip truth naked, let our dogs do our living for us
But man discover.
                            It is a fine ambition,
But the wrong tools. Science and mathematics
Run parallel to reality, they symbolize it, they squint at it,
They never touch it: consider what an explosion
Would rock the bones of men into little white fragments and unsky
     the world
If any mind for a moment touch truth.

Submitted by Holt

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 15, 2023

1:48 min read
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Quick analysis:

Scheme XXAXXBXXBCDXDXEEXXFDAXGXXHECX XAXXGXHCFXCDXX X
Closest metre Iambic hexameter
Characters 2,022
Words 356
Stanzas 3
Stanza Lengths 29, 14, 1

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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