Sunday, March 3, 2013

The California Poet: Robinson Jeffers Quotes

Robinson Jeffers
I'm not sure how I became aware of the poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), but it was over ten years ago when I first discovered his writings, which I continue to return to. Jeffers lived with his wife Una and their twin sons in a stone house they built on a bluff overlooking the Pacific ocean in Carmel, California. There he was inspired by the mountains and ocean, rock and hawk. He wrote about the beauty and nobility of the natural world, and the destructiveness and self-indulgence of mankind.

Below are some of my favorite Robinson Jeffers quotes:

Mountains and ocean, rock, water, and beasts and trees are the protagonists, the human people are only symbolic interpreters.
"My Loved Subjects"

On the little stone-girdled platform over the earth and the ocean, I seem to have stood a long time and watched the stars pass. They also shall perish I believe. Here to-day, gone to-morrow, desperate wee galaxies scattering themselves and shining their substance away like a passionate thought. It is very well ordered.
Una Jeffers
Here is the poem, dearest: you will never read it nor hear it. You were more beautiful than a hawk flying; you were faithful and a lion heart like this rough hero Hungerfield. But the ashes have fallen and the flame has gone up; nothing human remains. You are earth and air; you are in the beauty of the ocean and the great streaming triumphs of sundown; you are alive and well in the tender young grass rejoicing when soft rain falls all night, and little rosy-fleeced clouds float on the dawn. I shall be with you presently.

We that have the honor and hardship of being human are one flesh with the beasts, and the beasts with the plants. It is all truly one life, red blood and tree-sap, animal, mineral, sidereal, one stream, one organism, one God.

It would be better for men to be few and live far apart, where none could infect another; then slowly the sanity of field and mountain and the cold ocean and glittering stars might enter their minds.

The greatest beauty is organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe. Love that, not man. Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions, or drown in despair when his days darken.
"The Answer"

Before the first man here were the stones, the ocean, the cypresses, and the pallid region in the stone-rough dome of fog where the moon falls on the west. Here is reality. The other is a spectral episode; after the inquisitive animal's amusements are quiet: the dark glory.
"Hooded Night"

We must uncenter our minds from ourselves. We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident as the rock and ocean that we were made from.
"Carmel Point"

Men suffer want and become curiously ignoble; as prosperity made them curiously vile. But look how noble the world is, the lonely-flowing waters, the secret-keeping stones, the flowing sky.
"Life From The Lifeless"

The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those that ask mercy, not often to the arrogant. You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him; intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him; beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying remember him.
"Hurt Hawks"

Mourning the broken balance, the hopeless prostration of the earth. Under men's hands and their minds, the beautiful places killed like rabbits to make a city. The spreading fungus, the slime-threads and spores; my own coast's obscene future: I remember the farther future, and the last man dying without succession under the confident eyes of the stars. It was only a moment's accident, the race that plagued us; the world resumes the old lonely immortal splendor.
"The Broken Balance"

And when the whole human race has been like me rubbed out, they will still be here: storms, moon and ocean, dawn and birds. And I say this: their beauty has more meaning than the whole human race.
"Their Beauty Has More Meaning"

Names foul in the mouthing. The human race is bound to defile. I've often noticed it. Whatever they can reach or name. They'd shit on the morning star if they could reach... Time will come no doubt when the sun too shall die; the planets will freeze, And the air on them; frozen gases, white flakes of air will be the dust; which no wind will ever stir: this very dust in dim starlight glistening is dead wind, the white corpse of wind. Also the galaxy will die; the glitter of the Milky Way, our universe, all the stars that have names are dead.
"The Inhumanist"
Tor House (R) and Hawk Tower (L) 
Man, introverted man, having crossed in passage and but a little with the nature of things this latter century has begot giants; but being taken up like a maniac with self-love and inward conflicts cannot manage his hybrids. Being used to deal with edgeless dreams, now he's bred knives on nature turns them also inward: they have thirsty points though. His mind forebodes his own destruction.

Here is your emblem to hang in the future sky. Not the cross, not the hive, bt this; bright power, dark peace; fierce consciousness joined with final disinterestedness. Life with calm death; the falcon's realist eyes and act married to the massive mysticism of stone.
"Rock and Hawk"

Is it hard for men to stand by themselves. They must hang on Marx or Christ, or mere Progress? Clearly it is hard. When these lonely have traveled through long thoughts to redeeming despair they are tired and cover their eyes. They flock into fold.

[people] need no savior, salvation comes and takes them by force, it gathers them into the great kingdoms of dust and stone, the blown storms, the stream's-end ocean.
"Meditation on Saviors"

The old voice of the ocean, the bird-chatter of little rivers. From different throats intone one language. So I believe if we were strong enough to listen without divisions of desire and terror to the storm of the sick nations, the rage of the hunger smitten cities, those voices also would be found clean as a child's; or like some girl's breathing who dances alone by the ocean-shore, dreaming of lovers.
"Natural Music"

It seems to me that the whole human race spends too much emotion on itself. The happiest and freest man is the scientist investigating nature, or the artist admiring it; the person who is interested in things that are not human. Or if he is interested in human things, let him regard them objectively, as a small part of the great music. Certainly humanity has claims on all of us; we can best fulfill them by keeping our emotional sanity; and this by seeing beyond and around the human race.
1941 Lecture at the Library of Congress

Tonight, dear, let’s forget all that, that and the war, and enisle ourselves a little beyond time, you with this Irish whiskey, I with red wine, while the stars go over the sleepless ocean, and sometime after midnight I’ll pluck you a wreath of chosen ones; we’ll talk about love and death, rock-solid themes, old and deep as the sea. Admit nothing more timely, nothing less real. While the stars go over the timeless ocean, and when they vanish we’ll have spent the night well.
"For Una"

It is only a little planet but how beautiful it is.
"The Beginning and the End"

Why, even in humanity beauty and good show, from the mountainside of solitude.
Robinson Jeffers photo by Ansel Adams 
I believe that the universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they are all in communication with each other, therefore parts of one organic whole. The parts change and pass, or die, people and races and rocks and stars; none of them seems to me important in itself, but only the whole. This whole is in all its parts so beautiful, and is felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it, and to think of it as divine. It seems to me that this whole alone is worthy of the deeper sort of love; and there is peace, freedom, I might say a kind of salvation, in turning one's affections outward toward this one God, rather than inwards on one's self, or on humanity, or on human imaginations and abstractions — the world of spirits. I think it is our privilege and felicity to love God for his beauty, without claiming or expecting love from him. We are not important to him, but he is to us. I think that one may contribute to the beauty of things by making one’s own life and environment beautiful, so far as one’s power reaches. This includes moral beauty, one of the qualities of humanity, though it seems not to appear elsewhere in the universe. But I would have each person realize that his contribution is not important, its success not really a matter for exultation nor its failure for mourning; the beauty of things is sufficient without him.
Letter to Sister Mary James Power, author of "Poets at Prayer", written in the 1930's.

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