02 December 2007

When you've been whipped by the forces that are inside you, you've got to come on up to the house

I'm kind of a cave man when it comes to technology, which is why the line breaks are screwed up in this Robinson Jeffers poem. The original line breaks parallel the content of the poem, creating a sense (while reading) of scurrying down an uneven trail. It's a poem I've loved since reading it during my first year of college 10 years ago.

The Deer Lay Down Their Bones
--Robinson Jeffers

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 clambered
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
lying 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 children 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.

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