17+ Best Robinson Jeffers Poems Everyone Should Read

DescriptionJohn Robinson Jeffers was an American poet, known for his work about the central California coast. Much of Jeffers’ poetry was written in narrative and epic form.

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Famous Robinson Jeffers Poems

The Bloody Sire

It is not bad. Let them play.
Let the guns bark and the bombing-plane
Speak his prodigious blasphemies.
It is not bad, it is high time,
Stark violence is still the sire of all the world’s values.

What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine
The fleet limbs of the antelope?
What but fear winged the birds, and hunger
Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?
Violence has been the sire of all the world’s values.

Who would remember Helen’s face
Lacking the terrible halo of spears?
Who formed Christ but Herod and Caesar,
The cruel and bloody victories of Caesar?
Violence, the bloody sire of all the world’s values.

Never weep, let them play,
Old violence is not too old to beget new values.

Shooting Season

IN THE NORTH OF SCOTLAND
The whole countryside deployed on the hills of heather, an army
with banners,
The beaters whoop the grouse to the butts.
Three gentlemen fling up their guns and the frightened covey is
a few wings fewer;
Then grooms approach with the panniered horses.
The gray old moorland silence has closed like water and covered
the gunshots.
Wave on wave goes the moor to the great
Circle of the sky; the cairn on the slope names an old battle and
beyond are
Broad gray rocks the grave-marks of clans.
Blond Celtic warriors lair in the sky-line barrows, down toward
the sea
Stand the tall stones of the Danish captains.
We dead that handled weapons and hunted in earnest, we old
dead have watched
Three little living gentlemen yonder
With a bitter flavor in the grin of amusement, uneasily remembering
our own
Old sports and delights. It is better to be dust.

The Wind-Struck Music

Ed Stiles and old Tom Birnam went up to their cattle on the
bare hills
Above Mai Paso; they’d ridden under the stars’ white death,
when they reached the ridge the huge tiger-lily
Of a certain cloud-lapped astonishing autumn sunrise opened all
its petals. Ed Stiles pulled in his horse,
That flashy palamino he rode cream-color, heavy white mane,
white tail, his pride and said
‘Look, Tom. My God. Ain’t that a beautiful sunrise?’ Birnam
drew down his mouth, set the hard old chin,
And whined: ‘Now, Ed: listen here: I haven’t an ounce of
poetry in all my body. It’s cows we’re after.’
Ed laughed and followed; they began to sort the heifers out of
the herd. One red little deer-legged creature
Rolled her wild eyes and ran away down the hill, the old man
hard after her. She ran through a deep-cut gully,
And Birnam’s piebald would have made a clean jump but the clay lip
Crumbled under his take-off, he slipped and
Spilled in the pit,
flailed with four hooves and came out scrambling.
Stiles saw them vanish,
Then the pawing horse and the flapping stirrups. He rode and
looked down and saw the old man in the gulley-bottom
Flat on his back, most grimly gazing up at the sky. He saw the
earth banks, the sparse white grass,
The strong dark sea a thousand feet down below, red with reflections
of clouds. He said ‘My God,
Tom, are you hurt?’ Who answered slowly, ‘No, Ed.
I’m only lying here thinking o’ my four sons’ biting the words
Carefully between his lips ‘big handsome men, at present lolling
in bed in their . . . silk . . . pyjamas . . .
And why the devil I keep on working?’ He stood up slowly and
wiped the dirt from his cheek, groaned, spat,
And climbed up the clay bank. Stiles laughed: ‘Tom, I can’t tell
you: I guess you like to. By God I guess
You like the sunrises.’ The old man growled in his throat and said
‘Catch me my horse.’

This old man died last winter, having
lived eighty-one years under open sky,
Concerned with cattle, horses and hunting, no thought nor emotion
that all his ancestors since the ice-age
Could not have comprehended. I call that a good life; narrow,
but vastly better than most
Men’s lives, and beyond comparison more beautiful; the wind-struck
music man’s bones were moulded to be the harp for.

The Low Sky

No vulture is here, hardly a hawk,
Could long wings or great eyes fly
Under this low-lidded soft sky?

On the wide heather the curlew’s whistle
Dies of its echo, it has no room
Under the low lid of this tomb.

But one to whom mind and imagination
Sometimes used to seem burdensome
Is glad to lie down awhile in the tomb.

Among stones and quietness
The mind dissolves without a sound,
The flesh drops into the ground.

The Place For No Story

The coast hills at Sovranes Creek:
No trees, but dark scant pasture drawn thin
Over rock shaped like flame;
The old ocean at the land’s foot, the vast
Gray extension beyond the long white violence;
A herd of cows and the bull
Far distant, hardly apparent up the dark slope;
And the gray air haunted with hawks:
This place is the noblest thing I have ever seen.
No imaginable
Human presence here could do anything
But dilute the lonely self-watchful passion.

Quia Absurdum

Guard yourself from the terrible empty light of space, the bottomless
Pool of the stars. (Expose yourself to it: you might learn something.)

Guard yourself from perceiving the inherent nastiness of man and woman.
(Expose yourself to it: you might learn something.)

Faith, as they now confess, is preposterous, an act of will. Choose the Christian sheep-cote
Or the Communist rat-fight: faith will cover your head from the man-devouring stars.

The Truce And The Peace

(NOVEMBER, 1918)
Peace now for every fury has had her day,
Their natural make is moribund, they cease,
They carry the inward seeds of quick decay,
Build breakwaters for storm but build on peace.
The mountains’ peace answers the peace of the stars,
Our petulances are cracked against their term.
God built our peace and plastered it with wars,
Those frescoes fade, flake off, peace remains firm.
In the beginning before light began
We lay or fluttered blind in burdened wombs,
And like that first so is the last of man,
When under death for husband the amorous tombs
Are covered and conceived; nine months go by
No midwife called, nine years no baby’s cry.

II
Peace now, though purgatory fires were hot
They always had a heart something like ice
That coldly peered and wondered, suffering not
Nor pleased in any park, nor paradise
Of slightly swelling breasts and beautiful arms
And throat engorged with very carnal blood.
It coldly peered and wondered, ‘Strong God your charms
Are glorious, I remember solitude.
Before youth towered we knew a time of truth
To have eyes was nearly rapture.’ Peace now, for war
Will find the cave that childhood found and youth.
Ten million lives are stolen and not one star
Dulled; wars die out, life will die out, death cease,
Beauty lives always and the beauty of peace.

III
Peace to the world in time or in a year,
In the inner world I have touched the instant peace.
Man’s soul’s a flawless crystal coldly clear,
A cold white mansion that he yields in lease
To tenant dreams and tyrants from the brain
And riotous burnings of the lovelier flesh.
We pour strange wines and purples all in vain.
The crystal remains pure, the mansion fresh.
All the Asian bacchanals and those from Thrace
Lived there and left no wine-mark on the walls.
What were they doing in that more sacred place
All the Asian and the Thracian bacchanals?
Peace to the world to-morrow or in a year,
Peace in that mansion white, that crystal clear.

IV
Peace now poor earth. They fought for freedom’s sake,
She was starving in a corner while they fought.
They knew not whom they stabbed by Onega Lake,
Whom lashed from Archangel, whom loved, whom sought.
How can she die, she is the blood unborn,
The energy in earth’s arteries beating red,
The world will flame with her in some great morn,
The whole great world flame with her, and we be dead.
Here in the west it grows by dim degrees,
In the east flashed and will flame terror and light.
Peace now poor earth, peace to that holier peace
Deep in the soul held secret from all sight.
That crystal, the pure home, the holier peace,
Fires flaw not, scars the crudest cannot crease.

V
South of the Big Sur River up the hill
Three graves are marked thick weeds and grasses heap,
Under the forest there I have stood still
Hours, thinking it the sweetest place to sleep , . .
Strewing all-sufficient death with compliments
Sincere and unrequired, coveting peace . . .
Boards at the head not stones, the text’s rude paints
Mossed, rain-rubbed . . . wasting hours of scanty lease
To admire their peace made perfect. From that height
But for the trees the whole valley might be seen,
But for the heavy dirt, the eye-pits no light
Enters, the heavy dirt, the grass growing green
Over the dirt, the molelike secretness,
The immense withdrawal, the dirt, the quiet, the peace.

VI
Women cried that morning, bells rocked with mirth,
We all were glad a long while afterward,
But still in dreary places of the earth
A hundred hardly fed shall labor hard
To clothe one belly and stuff it with soft meat,
Blood paid for peace but still those poor shall buy it,
This sweat of slaves is no good wine but yet
Sometimes it climbs to the brain. Be happy and quiet,
Be happy and live, be quiet or God might wake.
He sleeps in the mountain that is heart of man’s heart,
He also in promontory fists, and make
Of stubborn-muscled limbs, he will not start
For a little thing … his great hands grope, unclose,
Feel out for the main pillars . . . pull down the house . . .

VII
After all, after all we endured, who has grown wise?
We take our mortal momentary hour
With too much gesture, the derisive skies
Twinkle against our wrongs, our rights, our power.
Look up the night, starlight’s a steadying draught
For nerves at angry tension. They have all meant well,
Our enemies and the knaves at whom we’ve laughed,
The liars, the clowns in office, the kings in hell,
fhey have all meant well in the main . . . some of them tried
The mountain road of tolerance . . . They have made war,
Conspired, oppressed, robbed, murdered, lied and lied,
Meant well, played the loud fool . . . and star by star
Winter Orion pursues the Pleiades
In pale and huge parade, silence and peace.

VIII
That ice within the soul, the admonisher
Of madness when we’re wildest, the unwinking eye
That measures all things with indifferent stare,
Choosing far stars to check near objects by,
That quiet lake inside and underneath,
Strong, undisturbed by any angel of strife,
Being so tranquil seems the presence of death,
Being so central seems the essence of life.
Is it perhaps that death and life make truce
In neutral zone while their old feud beyond
Fires the towered cities? Surely for a strange use
He sphered that eye of flawless diamond.
It does not serve him but with line and rod
Measures him, how indeed should God serve God?

IX
It does not worship him, it will not serve.
And death and life within that Eye combine,
Within that only untorturable nerve
Of those that make a man, within that shrine
Which there is nothing ever can profane,
Where life and death are sister and brother and lovers,
The golden voice of Christ were heard in vain,
The holy spirit of God visibly hovers.
Small-breasted girls, lithe women heavy-haired,
Loves that once grew into our nerves and veins,
Yours Freedom was desire that deeper dared
To the citadel where mastery remains,
Yours to the spirit . . . discount the penny that is
Ungivable, this Eye, this God, this Peace.
All in a simple innocence I strove
To give myself away to any power,
Wasting on women’s bodies wealth of love,
Worshipping every sunrise mountain tower;
Some failure mocked me still denying perfection,
Parts of me might be spended not the whole,
I sought of wine surrender and self-correction,
I failed, I could not give away my soul.
Again seeking to give myself I sought
Outward in vain through all things, out through God,
And tried all heights, all gulfs, all dreams, all thought.
I found this wisdom on the wonderful road,
The essential Me cannot be given away,
The single Eye, God cased in blood-shot clay.

XI
Peace to the world in time or in a year,
But always all our lives this peace was ours.
Peace is not hard to have, it lies more near
Than breathing to the breast. When brigand powers
Of anger or pain or the sick dream of sin
Break our soul’s house outside the ruins we weep.
We look through the breached wall, why there within
All the red while our peace was lying asleep.
Smiling in dreams while the broad knives drank blood,
The robbers triumphed, the roof burned overhead,
The eternal living and untroubled God
Lying asleep upon a lily bed.
Men screamed, the bugles screamed, walls broke in the air,
We never knew till then that He was there.

The Broadstone

NEAR FINVOY, COUNTY ANTRIM
We climbed by the old quarries to the wide highland of heath,
On the slope of a swale a giant dolmen,
Three heavy basalt pillars upholding the enormous skb,
Towers and abides as if time were nothing.
The hard stones are hardly dusted with lichen in nobody knows
What ages of autumns in this high solitude
Since a recordless tribe of an unknown race lifted them up
To be the availing hero’s memorial,
And temple of his power. They gathered their slighter dead
from the biting
Winds of time in his lee, the wide moor
About him is swollen with barrows and breaks upon many stones,
Lean gray guardians of old urned ashes,
In waves on waves of purple heather and blithe spray of its bells.
Here lies the hero, more than half God,
And nobody knows his name nor his race, in the bee-bright
necropolis,
With the stone circle and his tribe around him.
Sometimes perhaps (but who’d confess it?) in soft adolescence
We used to wonder at the world, and have wished
To hear some final harmony resolve the discords of life?
Here they are all perfectly resolved.

Theory Of Truth

(Reference to The Women at Point Sur)
I stand near Soberanes Creek, on the knoll over the sea, west of
the road. I remember
This is the very place where Arthur Barclay, a priest in revolt,
proposed three questions to himself:
First, is there a God and of what nature? Second, whether there’s
anything after we die but worm’s meat?
Third, how should men live? Large time-worn questions no
doubt; yet he touched his answers, they are not unattainable;
But presently lost them again in the glimmer of insanity.

How
many minds have worn these questions; old coins
Rubbed faceless, dateless. The most have despaired and accepted
doctrine; the greatest have achieved answers, but always
With aching strands of insanity in them.
I think of Lao-tze; and the dear beauty of the Jew whom they
crucified but he lived, he was greater than Rome;
And godless Buddha under the boh-tree, straining through his
mind the delusions and miseries of human life.

Why does insanity always twist the great answers?
Because only
tormented persons want truth.
Man is an animal like other animals, wants food and success and
women, not truth. Only if the mind
Tortured by some interior tension has despaired of happiness:
then it hates its life-cage and seeks further,
And finds, if it is powerful enough. But instantly the private
agony that made the search
Muddles the finding.
Here was a man who envied the chiefs of
the provinces of China their power and pride,
And envied Confucius his fame for wisdom. Tortured by hardly
conscious envy he hunted the truth of things,
Caught it, and stained it through with his private impurity. He
praised inaction, silence, vacancy: why?
Because the princes and officers were full of business, and wise
Confucius of words.

Here was a man who was born a bastard, and among the people
That more than any in the world valued race-purity, chastity, the
prophetic splendors of the race of David.
Oh intolerable wound, dimly perceived. Too loving to curse his
mother, desert-driven, devil-haunted,
The beautiful young poet found truth in the desert, but found also
Fantastic solution of hopeless anguish. The carpenter was not his
father? Because God was his father,
Not a man sinning, but the pure holiness and power of God.
His personal anguish and insane solution
Have stained an age; nearly two thousand years are one vast poem
drunk with the wine of his blood.

And here was another Saviour, a prince in India,
A man who loved and pitied with such intense comprehension of
pain that he was willing to annihilate
Nature and the earth and stars, life and mankind, to annul the
suffering. He also sought and found truth,
And mixed it with his private impurity, the pity, the denials.
Then
search for truth is foredoomed and frustrate?
Only stained fragments?

Until the mind has turned its love from
itself and man, from parts to the whole.

Shane O’neill’s Cairn

TO U. J.
When you and I on the Palos Verdes cliff
Found life more desperate than dear,
And when we hawked at it on the lake by Seattle,
In the west of the world, where hardly
Anything has died yet: we’d not have been sorry, Una,
But surprised, to foresee this gray
Coast in our days, the gray waters of the Moyle
Below us, and under our feet
The heavy black stones of the cairn of the lord of Ulster.
A man of blood who died bloodily
Four centuries ago: but death’s nothing, and life,
From a high death-mark on a headland
Of this dim island of burials, is nothing either.
How beautiful are both these nothings.

The Giant’s Ring

BALLYLESSON, NEAR BELFAST
Whoever is able will pursue the plainly
False immortality of not having lived in vain but leaving some
mark in the world.
Secretly mocking at his own insanity
He labors the same, he knows that no dead man’s lip was ever
curled in self-scorn,
And immortality is for the dead.
Jesus and Caesar out of the bricks of man’s weakness, Washington
out of the brittle
Bones of man’s strength built their memorials,
This nameless chief of a knot of forgotten tribes in the Irish darkness
used faithfuller
Simpler materials: to diadem a hilltop
That sees the long loughs and the Mourne Mountains, with a ring
of enormous embankment, and to build
In the center that great toad of a dolmen
Piled up of ponderous basalt that sheds the centuries like raindrops.
He drove the labor,
And has earmarked already some four millenniums.
His very presence is here, thick-bodied and brutish, a brutal and
senseless will-power.
Immortality? While Homer and Shakespeare are names,
Not of men but verses, and the elder has not lived nor the
younger will not, such treadings of time.
Conclude that secular like Christian immortality’s
Too cheap a bargain: the name, the work or the soul: glass beads
are the trade for savages.

To The House

I am heaping the bones of the old mother
To build us a hold against the host of the air;
Granite the blood-heat of her youth
Held molten in hot darkness against the heart
Hardened to temper under the feet
Of the ocean cavalry that are maned with snow
And march from the remotest west.
This is the primitive rock, here in the wet
Quarry under the shadow of waves
Whose hollows mouthed the dawn; little house each stone
Baptized from that abysmal font
The sea and the secret earth gave bonds to affirm you.

New Mexican Mountain

I watch the Indians dancing to help the young corn at Taos
pueblo. The old men squat in a ring
And make the song, the young women with fat bare arms, and a
few shame-faced young men, shuffle the dance.

The lean-muscled young men are naked to the narrow loins,
their breasts and backs daubed with white clay,
Two eagle-feathers plume the black heads. They dance with
reluctance, they are growing civilized; the old men persuade them.

Only the drum is confident, it thinks the world has not changed;
the beating heart, the simplest of rhythms,
It thinks the world has not changed at all; it is only a dreamer,
a brainless heart, the drum has no eyes.

These tourists have eyes, the hundred watching the dance, white
Americans, hungrily too, with reverence, not laughter;
Pilgrims from civilization, anxiously seeking beauty, religion,
poetry; pilgrims from the vacuum.

People from cities, anxious to be human again. Poor show how
they suck you empty! The Indians are emptied,
And certainly there was never religion enough, nor beauty nor
poetry here … to fill Americans.

Only the drum is confident, it thinks the world has not changed.
Apparently only myself and the strong
Tribal drum, and the rockhead of Taos mountain, remember
that civilization is a transient sickness.

Steelhead

The sky was cold December blue with great tumbling clouds,
and the little river
Ran full but clear. A bare-legged girl
in a red jersey was wading
in it, holding a five-tined
Hay-fork at her head’s height; suddenly she darted it down like
a heron’s beak and panting hard
Leaned on the shaft, looking down passionately, her gipsy-lean
face, then stooped and dipping
One arm to the little breasts she drew up her catch, great hammered-
silver steelhead with the tines through it
And the fingers of her left hand hooked in its
gills, her slender body
Rocked with its writhing. She took it to the near bank
And was dropping it behind a log when someone said
Quietly ‘I guess I’ve got you, Vina.’ Who gasped and looked up
At a young horseman half hidden in the willow bushes,
She’d been too intent to notice him, and said ‘My God,
I thought it was the game-warden.’ ‘Worse,’ he said smiling.
‘This river’s ours.
You can’t get near it without crossing our fences.
Besides that you mustn’t spear ’em, and . . . three, four, you
little bitch,
That’s the fifth fish.’ She answered with her gipsy face, ‘Take
half o’ them, honey. I loved the fun.’
He looked up and down her taper legs, red with cold, and said
fiercely, ‘Your fun.
To kill them and leave them rotting.’ ‘Honey, let me have one
o’ them,’ she answered,
‘You take the rest.’ He shook his blond head. ‘You’ll have to pay
a terrible fine.’ She answered laughing,
‘Don’t worry: you wouldn’t tell on me.’ He dismounted and
tied the bridle to a bough, saying ‘Nobody would.
I know a lovely place deep in the willows, full of warm grass,
safe as a house,
Where you can pay it.’ Her body seemed to grow narrower
suddenly, both hands at her throat, and the cold thighs
Pressed close together while she stared at his face, it was beautiful,
long heavy-lidded eyes like a girl’s,
‘I can’t do that, honey . . . I,’ she said shivering, ‘your wife
would kill me.’ He hardened his eyes and said
‘Let that alone.’ ‘Oh,’ she answered; the little red hands came
down from her breast and faintly
Reached toward him, her head lifting, he saw the artery on the
lit side of her throat flutter like a bird
And said ‘You’ll be sick with cold, Vina,’ flung off his coat
And folded her in it with his warmth in it and carried her
To that island in the willows.

He warmed her bruised feet in
his hands;
She paid her fine for spearing fish, and another
For taking more than the legal limit, and would willingly
Have paid a third for trespassing; he sighed and said,
‘You’ll owe me that. I’m afraid somebody might come looking
for me,
Or my colt break his bridle.’ She moaned like a dove, ‘Oh Oh
Oh Oh,
You are beautiful, Hugh.’ They returned to the stream-bank.
There,
While Vina put on her shoes-they were like a small boy’s, all
stubbed and shapeless young Flodden strung the five fish
On a willow rod through the red gills and slung them
To his saddle-horn. He led the horse and walked with Vina,
going part way home with her.

Toward the canyon sea-mouth
The water spread wide and shoal, fingering through many channels
down a broad flood-bed, and a mob of sea-gulls
Screamed at each other. Vina said, ‘That’s a horrible thing.’
‘What?’ ‘What the birds do. They’re worse than I am.’
When Flodden returned alone he rode down and watched them.
He saw that one of the thousand steelhead
Which irresistible nature herded up stream to the spawning-gravel
in the mountain, the river headwaters,
Had wandered into a shallow finger of the current, and was
forced over on his flank, sculling uneasily
In three inches of water: instantly a gaunt herring-gull hovered
and dropped, to gouge the exposed
Eye with her beak; the great fish writhing, flopping over in his
anguish, another gull’s beak
Took the other eye. Their prey was then at their mercy, writhing
blind, soon stranded, and the screaming mob
Covered him.

Young Flodden rode into them and drove them
up; he found the torn steelhead
Still slowly and ceremoniously striking the sand with his tail and
a bloody eye-socket, under the
Pavilion of wings. They cast a cold shadow on the air, a fleeting
sense of fortune’s iniquities: why should
Hugh Flodden be young and happy, mounted on a good horse,
And have had another girl besides his dear wife, while others
have to endure blindness and death,
Pain and disease, misery, old age, God knows what worse?

Mountain Pines

In scornful upright loneliness they stand,
Counting themselves no kin of anything
Whether of earth or sky. Their gnarled roots cling
Like wasted fingers of a clutching hand
In the grim rock. A silent spectral band
They watch the old sky, but hold no communing
With aught. Only, when some lone eagle’s wing
Flaps past above their grey and desolate land,
Or when the wind pants up a rough-hewn glen,
Bending them down as with an age of thought,
Or when, ‘mid flying clouds that can not dull
Her constant light, the moon shines silver, then
They find a soul, and their dim moan is wrought
Into a singing sad and beautiful.

Song Of Quietness

Drink deep, drink deep of quietness,
And on the margins of the sea
Remember not thine old distress
Nor all the miseries to be.
Calmer than mists, and cold
As they, that fold on fold
Up the dim valley are rolled,
Learn thou to be.

The Past—it was a feverish dream,
A drunken slumber full of tears.
The Future—O what wild wings gleam,
Wheeled in the van of desperate years!
Thou lovedst the evening: dawn
Glimmers; the night is gone:—
What dangers lure thee on,
What dreams more fierce?

But meanwhile, now the east is gray,
The hour is pale, the cocks yet dumb,
Be glad before the birth of day,
Take thy brief rest ere morning come:
Here in the beautiful woods
All night the sea-mist floods,—
Thy last of solitudes,
Thy yearlong home.

To Helen About Her Hair

Your hair is long and wonderful;
It is dark, with golden
Lights in the length of it.

Long, lovely, liquid, glorious
Is your hair, and lustrous,
Scented with summertime.

Beware when you are combing it,
In the nights and mornings,
Shaking its splendor out.

I bid you comb it carefully,
For my soul is caught there,
Wound in the web of it.

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