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Monday, 14 March 2011

Robinson Jeffers: The Great Explosion


M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy: photo using hydrogen-alpha filter by Adam Evans, 2010

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 Carmel 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.

A ship sits grounded after tsunami and earthquake in Kamaishi City in Iwate Prefecture, 12 March 2011
: photo by Reuters/Yomiuri

Cracks are seen on the snow-covered ground in woodlands near the earthquake-and tsunami-devastated town of Sendai, 12 March 2011: photo by Jo Young-Hak/Reuters

Swallow-tailed Gull (Creagrus furcatus), Espanola Island: photo by Benjamint444, 2001

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962): The Great Explosion, from The Beginning and the End (1963)


TC said...

By the same poet:

Robinson Jeffers: Evening Ebb

Robinson Jeffers: Rock and Hawk

Anonymous said...

When I first saw Jeffers on BTP, it made me happy (I know this probably sounds naive) because it now seemed ok to like him again. I did and it did when I started reading poetry early in high school, but then it seemed that permission was withdrawn. This is a pretty perfect statement, I think, of the covered subject, a wonderful pairing with the Stevens yesterday, and I just don't know what to say about the images, except that they remind me (choosing one thing only that they remind me of) of the time I got the wind knocked out of me playing a sport. Witnessing the ongoing tragedy makes me feel depleted, exhausted and powerless. This is amplified by the predictable continual disinformation, which turns into misinformation and is, I suppose, the anthropoid element in all of this.



"crush against each other in one harbor" indeed. . . .

more amazing photos here, and in the Stevens, whose "dark voice of the sea" rising up seems suddenly quite real (prow of ship at front porch? cargo containers scattered like matchsticks?). . . .


light coming into sky above still black
plane of ridge, red-tailed hawk calling
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

for every and in all is what,
as experienced by its

conditions, there, about how
much or little things

grey white clouds reflected in channel,
cormorant flapping across toward point

TC said...


Know what you mean about that punch-in-the-gut feeling.

(Not good, and I'd been out of breath for years, anyway.)

This was one of Jeffers' last poems, published posthumously a year after his death. By the 1960s he had lost his audience almost entirely, and was pretty much alone in his outcry against the flimsy artificial transparency of civilization and progress he saw draped over the timeless natural world with which he identified.

This poem, therefore, has, for me anyway, a sense of removal from the business of being a writer, a sense of aloof dignity and a perspectival distance.


Another indoors day here

rain on the roof,

grey white clouds reflected in

opaque sky from here out to the horizon (and Japan?)

Elmo St. Rose said...

Jeffers offers relief from the
official explanations which can
never quite stand up to the forces
of nature...though those forces
are highly concentrated to the
senses at Carmel and Big Sur...

the math and the science that lead
to fission were developed by men
who had a kinship of wonder with
Jeffers...fission and fusion should
be controlled by monks like Jeffers
with purer vision than those who
run Tokyo Electric, General Electric, etc... nuclear secrets
are akin to the holy grail, the
ark of the covenant but they are
now in the hands of perhaps good
men but not men of spiritual rigor

TC said...

You know Elmo, I think you're quite correct about the need for spiritual rigor and vision of the kind that once came with what was thought to be the mission and burden of the poet. I suppose that borders on a kind of priesthoood, in a sense. Though for Jeffers the religion was the universe itself, with no supreme being beyond or behind to hold it up or back it up. The courage to sustain that sort of belief is rare. And the orneriness. You'd never get it past airport screening in the carefully monitored and administered poetry business of today.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading more about this great poet....I think I will translate this...!!