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Friday, 29 August 2014

Robinson Jeffers: Point Joe


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Seagull at Point Joe: photo by deb1edeb, 17 August 2009


Point Joe has teeth and has torn ships; it has fierce and solitary beauty;
Walk there all day you shall see nothing that will not make part of a poem.





The restless sea: rock formations at Point Joe, central California coast: photo by California Dreamin' 77, 23 June 2009


I saw the spars and planks of shipwreck on the rocks, and beyond the desolate
Sea-meadows rose the warped wind-bitten van of the pines, a fog-bank vaulted

 
Forest and all, the flat sea-meadows at that time of year were plated
Golden with the low flower called footsteps of the spring, millions of flowerets,

 
Whose light suffused upward into the fog flooded its vault, we wandered
Through a weird country where the light beat up from earthward, and was golden.





Breaking waves and ice plant at Point Joe, central California coast: a point where the sea surges due to submerged rocks: photo by California Dreamin' 77, 23 June 2009


One other moved there, an old Chinaman gathering seaweed from the sea-rocks,
He brought it in his basket and spread it flat to dry on the edge of the meadow.




China Rock, Monterey peninsula #4: a landmark named in honour of the Chinese who settled in the nearby fishing villages in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: photo by California Dreamin' 77, 23 June 2009


Permanent things are what is needful in a poem, things temporally
Of great dimension, things continually renewed or always present.





Hazy day, Monterey peninsula: photo by California Dreamin' 77, 23 June 2009


Grass that is made each year equals the mountains in her past and future;
Fashionable and momentary things we need not see nor speak of.





The restless sea: underwater rocks create crashing waves at vista point: photo by California Dreamin' 77, 23 June 2009


Man gleaning food between the solemn presences of land and ocean,
On shores where better men have shipwrecked, under fog and among flowers,

 
Equals the mountains in his past and future; that glow from the earth was only
A trick of nature's, one must forgive nature a thousand graceful subtleties.

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962): Point Joe, from Tamar and Other Poems (1924)




Cypress, at the coast, Monterey peninsula: photo by California Dreamin' 77, 23 June 2009


China Rock, Monterey peninsula #3. Here and at Point Joe, Chinese fishermen built lean-tos against the rocks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: photo by California Dreamin' 77, 23 June 2009



China Rock #2: photo by California Dreamin' 77, 23 June 2009



The restless sea: powerful waves breaking on the rocks at Point Joe, central California coast: photo by California Dreamin' 77, 23 June 2009

9 comments:

Wooden Boy said...

A poem that's part of the fabric of things and presses on the senses.

I love the burst of yellow flowers in the third photograph.

TC said...

It's been very hard to find an American poem that can stand up to the questions one must ask of poetry now, in light of what history has so unconsolingly shown us of late, about the capacity for cruelty and brutality that seems built into human nature.

Jeffers did respond intensely to the beauty of that other kind of nature, the non-human kind, and at the same time did also understand that the perceived beauty and indeed the act of perception itself are always contingencies, the ephemeral forever-changing surface film we spread over nature out of need, so as to somehow attempt to find a place for ourselves in a larger system into which we do not "naturally" fit -- indeed, to which we remain a mortal threat.

Jeffers could not have writ this poem without the revulsion he had experienced in reaction to the Great War, then still very much a part of living memory.

So that when he suggests the glow of those yellow flowers was all in his subjective vision, and in that sense a trick and a lie, he was expressing not only the notoriously hard view of things which has always made his poetry so uncomfortable for fools, but what was and is, after all, and we must now see this more clearly than ever, simple truth.

The harsh light is the true light. Nature has no tender feelings to be assuaged and comforted.

American poetry has always had more than enough of those to go around.

We have no Tintern Abbey.

But we do have this.

I saw the spars and planks of shipwreck on the rocks, and beyond the desolate
Sea-meadows rose the warped wind-bitten van of the pines, a fog-bank vaulted

Forest and all, the flat sea-meadows at that time of year were plated
Golden with the low flower called footsteps of the spring, millions of flowerets,

Whose light suffused upward into the fog flooded its vault, we wandered
Through a weird country where the light beat up from earthward, and was golden.

Wooden Boy said...

What you have matters (more now than ever). The people getting sentimental about nature more often than not play a key role in its destruction.

Those contingencies. I can't think of a poet working who gives you such a plain sense of the poem's machinery so that you might have a sense of being there at the work's production.

Things temporally/ Of great dimension

No dishonest eternity.

TC said...

What we did have has been buried beneath what we do have: Ubu Web, EPC, Jacket 2, Poetry Foundation, and all those other heavily endowed museums of the canned avant-in-a-box which calls itself American poetry.

If Jeffers goes unread, it's simply because he's not on the approved list of the two-second-attention-span scenemakers who would never dare exit the box... unless herded safely to the next box, by one of those tweet-machines ostensibly hosted by the grand celebs of our culture...Hildebeest, Brangelina, Bernstein, Joan Rivers, Kenny Goldsmith...

One of the identifying features of a mind in a box is the inability to know what the box looks like from the outside, because you're in it, and it's safe, comfortable, reassuring and lucrative to be there.

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

A harsh, splendid poem reflecting the spirit of the man who wrote it.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

"We have no Tintern Abbey.

But we do have this."

Power, beauty, and, as you say, all in reaction to what came before, the war and the insanity and it continues on and on.

Thanks for this, Tom. Jeffers returns us to center when we stray from what is.

The great struggle of our times: the center will not hold.

"Nature has no tender feelings to be assuaged and comforted."

TC said...

Thanks very much, respected brothers.

One feels one would probably not ever have wanted to attempt to embrace RJ with a big hug, or be coy or cuddly with him in any way.

Hard-headed old coot.

But then... the cute, coy, cuddly, total-dishonesty style of Ampo in these parlous times -- revolting, beyond the ability of the heart to accept it for so much as one more awful minute.

Goodbye to all that.

Hello to the Great Unknown. Hello to the great cold universe. It will not pat us on the back and tell us everything's ok.

Everything isn't ok.

I had a note yesterday from the man who edited Jeffers' last book. That was some 43 years ago. He recounted a difficult experience with a difficult man. Some distance, perhaps some misunderstanding. But my friend says he did want to understand. After Jeffers' death, he tells me, he went down to Tor House, seeking to know, but found himself again rebuffed.

An honorable and worldly-wise man.

He said that reading this poem now, he is finally able to appreciate Jeffers.

Things change.

As we live and learn and grow and try to stay with the battle.

TC said...

No, my bad, twisted-digit counting, that was more like 53 years ago, not 43, when my friend edited Jeffers. Not that Time is such a great dimension, anyway. It flies, when it's not limping.

TC said...

... and apologies to those younger readers unfamiliar with Jeffers (what younger readers!?!), I keep forgetting tours of the Tar Pits are no longer part of the curriculum...

A wee bit of background, then.

Jeffers was the son of a Presbyterian minister who was also a professor of Old Testament textual studies and exegesis, a reserved, reclusive man who tutored his son at home in Greek and Latin and Calvinist doctrine.

The poet's own religious beliefs were singular. In 1934, responding to a query about faith from Sister Mary Powers, he wrote:

"I believe that the Universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they are all in communication with each other, therefore parts of one organic whole. (This is physics, I believe, as well as religion.) The parts change and pass, or die, people and races and rocks and stars, none of them seems to me important in itself, but only the whole. This whole is in all its parts so beautiful, and is felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it and to think of it as divine. It seems to me that this whole alone is worthy of the deeper sort of love and there is peace, freedom, I might say a kind of salvation, in turning one's affections outward toward this one God, rather than inwards on one's self, or on humanity, or on human imaginations and abstractions — the world of spirits.

"I think it is our privilege and felicity to love God for his beauty, without claiming or expecting love from him. We are not important to him, but he to us.

"I think that one may contribute (ever so slightly) to the beauty of things by making one's own life and environment beautiful, as far as one's power reaches. This includes moral beauty, one of the qualities of humanity, though it seems not to appear elsewhere in the universe. But I would have each person realize that his contribution is not important, its success not really a matter for exultation nor its failure for mourning; the beauty of things is sufficient without him.

"(An office of tragic poetry is to show that there is beauty in pain and failure as much as in success and happiness.)"