I built her a tower when I was young — / Sometime she will die — / I built it with my hands, I hung / Stones in the sky. ROBINSON JEFFERS For Una
|Hawk Tower, Carmel Point, California. Jeffers built this entirely by himself.|
In 1914 the great American poet Robinson Jeffers and his wife Una visited the Carmel-Big Sur coast south of California's Monterey Peninsula and were overwhelmed by its wild and pristine beauty. They decided to build a house there — Tor House — on a craggy finger of land called Carmel Point. They used granite stones and rocks gathered locally from the shoreline of Carmel Bay. After the house was finished, Jeffers continued to build, constructing his rugged Hawk Tower: a poetic retreat which inevitably brings to mind other literary towers — the towers of Hölderlin, Rilke and Yeats, for instance.
It's evident that Jeffers was a practical man, and a scientific one too. He'd studied medicine and forestry and astronomy and evolutionary science. But he was also well-versed in literature, languages, religion and the Classics. Truly Renaissance in his education. Ah, where have those times gone?
Civilized, crying: how to be human again; this will tell you how.
Turn outward, love things, not men, turn right away from humanity,
Let that doll lie. Consider if you like how the lilies grow,
Lean on the silent rock until you feel its divinity
Make your veins cold; look at the silent stars, let your eyes
Climb the great ladder out of the pit of yourself and man.
Things are so beautiful, your love will follow your eyes;
Things are the God; you will love God and not in vain,
For what we love, we grow to it, we share its nature. At length
You will look back along the star's rays and see that even
The poor doll humanity has a place under heaven.
Its qualities repair their mosaic around you, the chips of strength
And sickness; but now you are free, even to be human,
But born of the rock and the air, not of a woman.
As a poet, Jeffers evoked the divine in nature, and was one of our very first poet-ecologists. He realised that, if we pollute our environment, we pollute ourselves — our own minds and spirits. He denounced the arrogant, destructive tendency of human beings, and lamented the self-created split between mankind and the natural world.
The old voice of the ocean, the bird-chatter of little rivers,
(Winter has given them gold for silver
To stain their water and bladed green for brown to line their banks)
From different throats intone one language.
So I believe if we were strong enough to listen without
Divisions of desire and terror
To the storm of the sick nations, the rage of the hunger smitten cities,
Those voices also would be found
Clean as a child's; or like some girl's breathing who dances alone
By the ocean-shore, dreaming of lovers.
Jeffers recognised the humbling truth that we are just part of the universe, not the centre of it; and that our high-minded ideas amount to very little in the face of raw nature and its extraordinary power and beauty.
The Beauty of Things
To feel and speak the astonishing beauty of things — earth, stone and water,
Beast, man and woman, sun, moon and stars —
The blood-shot beauty of human nature, its thoughts, frenzies and passions,
And unhuman nature its towering reality —
For man’s half dream; man, you might say, is nature dreaming, but rock
And water and sky are constant — to feel
Greatly, and understand greatly, and express greatly, the natural
Beauty, is the sole business of poetry.
The rest’s diversion: those holy or noble sentiments, the intricate ideas,
The love, lust, longing: reasons, but not the reason.
Thanks go to am for inspiring this post.
(All images from Wikimedia Commons)