A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Poem of the Day: Robinson Jeffers

Hurt Hawks 

I
The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder, 
The wing trails like a banner in defeat, 
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine 
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote 
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons. 
He stands under the oak-bush and waits 
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom 
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it. 
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse. 
The curs of the day come and torment him 
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head, 
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes. 
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those 
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant. 
You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him; 
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him; 
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him. 

II
I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk; but the great redtail 
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved. 
We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom, 
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death, 
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old 
Implacable arrogance. I gave him the lead gift in the twilight. 
          What fell was relaxed, 
Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what 
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising 
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality. 
--Robinson Jeffers 

The man who has been called the greatest California poet was, like most Californians, born somewhere else. And Californians used to boast about Jeffers so much that the rest of the country seems to have decided that he must be overrated (like John Steinbeck). He is rarely mentioned in the same breath as writers like Eliot and Frost. But it takes only a careful reading of a poem like this one to realize that Jeffers had a powerful gift for observing nature and drawing the emotional essence from it. Is it sentimental? Perhaps there's too much anthropomorphizing of the wounded hawk, and perhaps that famous line about preferring to kill a man than a hawk has just a hint of posturing to it. But the sentiment is Jeffers's own, and I think we should honor it as such.    

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