To the Stone-cutters – Robinson Jeffers
Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you foredefeated
Challengers of oblivion
Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
The square-limbed Roman letters
Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain. The poet as well
Builds his monument mockingly;
For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth die, the brave sun
Die blind and blacken to the heart:
Yet stones have stood for a thousand years,
and pained thoughts found
The honey of peace in old poems.
If that don’t wake you up on a Friday morning I don’t know what will!
I’ve been wanting to do a post on Jeffers for a while. He’s definitely been an influence. I first got into his work back during my MFA – which resulted in my poor workshopmates being inundated with a Jose poem that was needlessly dark and unnecessarily long.
To keep it short, the influence wrecked me for a bit.
Which is the way it works sometimes. So much of writing is born out of reading, and sometimes we walk away from things we read with only a glimpse of how the writer got there but fully convinced we can get there too. I want to believe it’s a youthful hubris but I would be kidding myself.
To get back to Jeffers: he is famous for his longer works, but there is a lot of heart and insight in his shorter poems. After getting over my initial impulse to take after his way with the line (and getting away from myself in the process), I spent some time with the shorter lyrics learning a thing or two about compression and conciseness.
The poem below is a rare note not only in its brevity but also in his use of another’s voice.
Cremation – Robinson Jeffers
It nearly cancels my fear of death, my dearest said,
When I think of cremation. To rot in the earth
Is a loathsome end, but to roar up in flame – besides, I am used to it,
I have flamed with love or fury so often in my life,
No wonder my body is tired, no wonder it is dying.
We had great joy of my body. Scatter the ashes.