Saturday, May 12, 2007 7 Comments

Watch the wide sea

By unpopular demand: Robinson Jeffers' Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor appeared in The Double Axe in 1948. Random House censored ten poems from the book and added a statement noting that they did not endorse Jeffers' political views. (Recent editions have the missing verses restored.) Indeed, The Double Axe essentially ended Jeffers' literary career, though in recent years he has been rehabilitated as a sort of eco-poet, which I'm sure he would have found hilarious. Jeffers' Inhumanist philosophy has about as much in common with today's humanist, essentially Christian environmentalism as the Visigoths with Joy Division.

I've reduced the font size in a desperate attempt to fit Jeffers' leviathan lines in Blogger's straitjacket of a template.

Pearl Harbor

I
Here are the fireworks. The men who conspired and labored
To embroil this republic in the wreck of Europe have got their bargain -
And a bushel more. As for me, what can I do but fly the national flag from the top of the tower?
America has neither race nor religion nor its own language: nation or nothing.
Stare, little tower,
Confidently across the Pacific, the flag on your head. I built you at the other war's end,
And the sick peace; I based you on living rock, granite on granite; I said, "Look, you gray stones:
Civilization is sick: stand awhile and be quiet and drink the sea-wind, you will survive
Civilization."
But now I am old, and O stones be modest. Look, little tower:
This dust blowing is only the British Empire; these torn leaves flying
Are only Europe; the wind is the plane-propellers; the smoke is Tokyo. The child with the butchered throat
Was too young to be named. Look no farther ahead.

II
The war that we have carefully for years provoked
Catches us unprepared, amazed and indignant. Our warships are shot
Like sitting ducks and our planes like nest-birds, both our coasts ridiculously panicked,
And our leaders make orations. This is the people
That hopes to impose on the whole planetary world
An American peace.
(Oh, we'll not lose our war; my money on amazed Gulliver
And his horse-pistols.)
Meanwhile our prudent officers
Have cleared the coast-long ocean of ships and fishing-boats, the sky of planes, the windows of light; these clearings
Make a great beauty. Watch the wide sea; there is nothing human; its gulls have it. Watch the wide sky
All day clean of machines; only at dawn and dusk one military hawk passes
High on patrol. Walk at night in the black-out,
The firefly lights that used to line the long shore
Are all struck dumb; shut are the shops, mouse-dark the houses. Here the prehuman dignity of night
Stands, as it was before and will be again. O beautiful
Darkness and silence, the two eyes that see God; great staring eyes.

(Apologies to anyone who saw an ill-formatted version of this. Someday, perhaps, Blogger will have a working preview function.)

7 Comments:

Blogger William A. Sigler said...

"Jeffers' Inhumanist philosophy has about as much in common with today's humanist, essentially Christian environmentalism as the Visigoths with Joy Division."

Damn! That's about the most brilliant line I've ever read. I would stumble like a toddler trying to parse it, but I sure can, as the hippies say, grok it. If I might venture the slightest objection, I do believe Jeffers' apprenticeship to the natural is the exact opposite of the stewardship implicit in "environmentalism" (as much as anything can be implicit in such a vague term) - whereas the thought of Richard Curtis sacking Rome is so real it gives me chills of the most gleeful kind.

Thanks for posting one of Jeffers' best poems!

September 3, 2008 at 6:10 PM  
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