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Best Famous Robinson Jeffers Poems

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Written by Robinson Jeffers |

The Silent Shepherds

 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.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

The Deer Lay Down Their Bones

 I followed the narrow cliffside trail half way up the mountain
Above the deep river-canyon.
There was a little cataract crossed the path, flinging itself Over tree roots and rocks, shaking the jeweled fern-fronds, bright bubbling water Pure from the mountain, but a bad smell came up.
Wondering at it I clam- bered down the steep stream Some forty feet, and found in the midst of bush-oak and laurel, Hung like a bird's nest on the precipice brink a small hidden clearing, Grass and a shallow pool.
But all about there were bones Iying in the grass, clean bones and stinking bones, Antlers and bones: I understood that the place was a refuge for wounded deer; there are so many Hurt ones escape the hunters and limp away to lie hidden; here they have water for the awful thirst And peace to die in; dense green laurel and grim cliff Make sanctuary, and a sweet wind blows upward from the deep gorge.
--I wish my bones were with theirs.
But that's a foolish thing to confess, and a little cowardly.
We know that life Is on the whole quite equally good and bad, mostly gray neutral, and can be endured To the dim end, no matter what magic of grass, water and precipice, and pain of wounds, Makes death look dear.
We have been given life and have used it--not a great gift perhaps--but in honesty Should use it all.
Mine's empty since my love died--Empty? The flame- haired grandchild with great blue eyes That look like hers?--What can I do for the child? I gaze at her and wonder what sort of man In the fall of the world .
I am growing old, that is the trouble.
My chil- dren and little grandchildren Will find their way, and why should I wait ten years yet, having lived sixty- seven, ten years more or less, Before I crawl out on a ledge of rock and die snapping, like a wolf Who has lost his mate?--I am bound by my own thirty-year-old decision: who drinks the wine Should take the dregs; even in the bitter lees and sediment New discovery may lie.
The deer in that beautiful place lay down their bones: I must wear mine.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

The Epic Stars

 The heroic stars spending themselves,
Coining their very flesh into bullets for the lost battle,
They must burn out at length like used candles;
And Mother Night will weep in her triumph, taking home her heroes.
There is the stuff for an epic poem-- This magnificent raid at the heart of darkness, this lost battle-- We don't know enough, we'll never know.
Oh happy Homer, taking the stars and the Gods for granted.

More great poems below...

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

Be Angry At The Sun

 That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new.
That America must accept Like the historical republics corruption and empire Has been known for years.
Be angry at the sun for setting If these things anger you.
Watch the wheel slope and turn, They are all bound on the wheel, these people, those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.
Observe them gesticulating, Observe them going down.
The gang serves lies, the passionate Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth Hunts in no pack.
You are not Catullus, you know, To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar.
You are far From Dante's feet, but even farther from his dirty Political hatreds.
Let boys want pleasure, and men Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame, And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

The Great Explosion

 The universe expands and contracts like a great heart.
It is expanding, the farthest nebulae Rush with the speed of light into empty space.
It will contract, the immense navies of stars and galaxies, dust clouds and nebulae Are recalled home, they crush against each other in one harbor, they stick in one lump And then explode it, nothing can hold them down; there is no way to express that explosion; all that exists Roars into flame, the tortured fragments rush away from each other into all the sky, new universes Jewel the black breast of night; and far off the outer nebulae like charging spearmen again Invade emptiness.
No wonder we are so fascinated with fireworks And our huge bombs: it is a kind of homesickness perhaps for the howling fireblast that we were born from.
But the whole sum of the energies That made and contain the giant atom survives.
It will gather again and pile up, the power and the glory-- And no doubt it will burst again; diastole and systole: the whole universe beats like a heart.
Peace in our time was never one of God's promises; but back and forth, live and die, burn and be damned, The great heart beating, pumping into our arteries His terrible life.
He is beautiful beyond belief.
And we, God's apes--or tragic children--share in the beauty.
We see it above our torment, that's what life's for.
He is no God of love, no justice of a little city like Dante's Florence, no anthropoid God Making commandments,: this is the God who does not care and will never cease.
Look at the seas there Flashing against this rock in the darkness--look at the tide-stream stars--and the fall of nations--and dawn Wandering with wet white feet down the Caramel Valley to meet the sea.
These are real and we see their beauty.
The great explosion is probably only a metaphor--I know not --of faceless violence, the root of all things.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |


 There is a jaggle of masonry here, on a small hill
Above the gray-mouthed Pacific, cottages and a thick-walled tower, all made of rough sea rock
And Portland cement.
I imagine, fifty years from now, A mist-gray figure moping about this place in mad moonlight, examining the mortar-joints, pawing the Parasite ivy: "Does the place stand? How did it take that last earthquake?" Then someone comes From the house-door, taking a poodle for his bedtime walk.
The dog snarls and retreats; the man Stands rigid, saying "Who are you? What are you doing here?" "Nothing to hurt you," it answers, "I am just looking At the walls that I built.
I see that you have played hell With the trees that I planted.
" "There has to be room for people," he answers.
"My God," he says, "That still!"

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

We Are Those People

 I have abhorred the wars and despised the liars, laughed at the frightened
And forecast victory; never one moment's doubt.
But now not far, over the backs of some crawling years, the next Great war's column of dust and fire writhes Up the sides of the sky: it becomes clear that we too may suffer What others have, the brutal horror of defeat— Or if not in the next, then in the next—therefore watch Germany And read the future.
We wish, of course, that our women Would die like biting rats in the cellars, our men like wolves on the mountain: It will not be so.
Our men will curse, cringe, obey; Our women uncover themselves to the grinning victors for bits of chocolate.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

Contemplation Of The Sword

 Reason will not decide at last; the sword will decide.
The sword: an obsolete instrument of bronze or steel, formerly used to kill men, but here In the sense of a symbol.
The sword: that is: the storms and counter-storms of general destruction; killing of men, Destruction of all goods and materials; massacre, more or less intentional, of children and women; Destruction poured down from wings, the air made accomplice, the innocent air Perverted into assasin and poisoner.
The sword: that is: treachery and cowardice, incredible baseness, incredible courage, loyalties, insanities.
The sword: weeping and despair, mass-enslavement, mass-tourture, frustration of all hopes That starred man's forhead.
Tyranny for freedom, horror for happiness, famine for bread, carrion for children.
Reason will not decide at last, the sword will decide.
Dear God, who are the whole splendor of things and the sacred stars, but also the cruelty and greed, the treacheries And vileness, insanities and filth and anguish: now that this thing comes near us again I am finding it hard To praise you with a whole heart.
I know what pain is, but pain can shine.
I know what death is, I have sometimes Longed for it.
But cruelty and slavery and degredation, pestilence, filth, the pitifulness Of men like hurt little birds and animals .
if you were only Waves beating rock, the wind and the iron-cored earth, With what a heart I could praise your beauty.
You will not repent, nor cancel life, nor free man from anguish For many ages to come.
You are the one that tortures himself to discover himself: I am One that watches you and discovers you, and praises you in little parables, idyl or tragedy, beautiful Intolerable God.
The sword: that is: I have two sons whom I love.
They are twins, they were born in nineteen sixteen, which seemed to us a dark year Of a great war, and they are now of the age That war prefers.
The first-born is like his mother, he is so beautiful That persons I hardly know have stopped me on the street to speak of the grave beauty of the boy's face.
The second-born has strength for his beauty; when he strips for swimming the hero shoulders and wrestler loins Make him seem clothed.
The sword: that is: loathsome disfigurements, blindness, mutilation, locked lips of boys Too proud to scream.
Reason will not decide at last: the sword will decide.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

The Answer

 Then what is the answer?- Not to be deluded by dreams.
To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence, and their tyrants come, many times before.
When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
To keep one's own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted and not wish for evil; and not be duped By dreams of universal justice or happiness.
These dreams will not be fulfilled.
To know this, and know that however ugly the parts appear the whole remains beautiful.
A severed hand Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars and his history.
for contemplation or in fact.
Often appears atrociously ugly.
Integrity is wholeness, 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.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

Birthday (Autobiography)

 Seventy years ago my mother labored to bear me,
A twelve-pound baby with a big head,
Her first, it was plain torture.
Finally they used the forceps And dragged me out, with one prong In my right eye, and slapped and banged me until I breathed.
I am not particularly grateful for it.
As to the eye: it remained invalid and now has a cataract.
It can see gods and spirits in its cloud, And the weird end of the world: the left one's for common daylight.
As to my mother: A rather beautiful young woman married to a grim clergyman Twenty-two years older than she: She had her little innocent diversions, her little travels in Europe— And once for scandal kissed the Pope's ring— Perhaps her life was no emptier than other lives.
Both parents Swim in my blood and distort my thought but the old man's welcome.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |


 A little too abstract, a little too wise,
It is time for us to kiss the earth again, 
It is time to let the leaves rain from the skies,
Let the rich life run to the roots again.
I will go to the lovely Sur Rivers And dip my arms in them up to the shoulders.
I will find my accounting where the alder leaf quivers In the ocean wind over the river boulders.
I will touch things and things and no more thoughts, That breed like mouthless May-flies darkening the sky, The insect clouds that blind our passionate hawks So that they cannot strike, hardly can fly.
Things are the hawk's food and noble is the mountain, Oh noble Pico Blanco, steep sea-wave of marble.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

The Eye

 The Atlantic is a stormy moat; and the Mediterranean,
The blue pool in the old garden,
More than five thousand years has drunk sacrifice
Of ships and blood, and shines in the sun; but here the Pacific--
Our ships, planes, wars are perfectly irrelevant.
Neither our present blood-feud with the brave dwarfs Nor any future world-quarrel of westering And eastering man, the bloody migrations, greed of power, clash of faiths-- Is a speck of dust on the great scale-pan.
Here from this mountain shore, headland beyond stormy headland plunging like dolphins through the blue sea-smoke Into pale sea--look west at the hill of water: it is half the planet: this dome, this half-globe, this bulging Eyeball of water, arched over to Asia, Australia and white Antartica: those are the eyelids that never close; this is the staring unsleeping Eye of the earth; and what it watches is not our wars.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

Hurt Hawks


The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat, 

No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
He stands under the oak-bush and waits The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head, The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
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.
II I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail Had nothing left but unable misery From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.
We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom, He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death, Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old Implacable arrogance.
I gave him the lead gift in the twilight.
What fell was relaxed, Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |

Shine Perishing Republic

 While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening 
 to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
 mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots 
 to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and deca- dence; and home to the mother.
You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stub- bornly long or suddenly A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing republic.
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thick- ening center; corruption Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster's feet there are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught--they say-- God, when he walked on earth.

Written by Robinson Jeffers |


 I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean.
I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up in heaven, And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I understood then That I was under inspection.
I lay death-still and heard the flight- feathers Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings Bear downward staring.
I said, "My dear bird, we are wasting time here.
These old bones will still work; they are not for you.
" But how beautiful he looked, gliding down On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the sea-light over the precipice.
I tell you solemnly That I was sorry to have disappointed him.
To be eaten by that beak and become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes-- What a sublime end of one's body, what and enskyment; what a life after death.