Robinson Jeffers (10 January 1887 – 20 January 1962 / Allegheny, Pennsylvania)
Apology For Bad Dreams
In the purple light, heavy with redwood, the slopes drop seaward,
Headlong convexities of forest, drawn in together to the steep
ravine. Below, on the sea-cliff,
A lonely clearing; a little field of corn by the streamside; a roof
under spared trees. Then the ocean
Like a great stone someone has cut to a sharp edge and polished
to shining. Beyond it, the fountain
And furnace of incredible light flowing up from the sunk sun.
In the little clearing a woman
Is punishing a horse; she had tied the halter to a sapling at the
edge of the wood, but when the great whip
Clung to the flanks the creature kicked so hard she feared he
would snap the halter; she called from the house
The young man her son; who fetched a chain tie-rope, they
Noosed the small rusty links round the horse's tongue
And tied him by the swollen tongue to the tree.
Seen from this height they are shrunk to insect size.
Out of all human relation. You cannot distinguish
The blood dripping from where the chain is fastened,
The beast shuddering; but the thrust neck and the legs
Far apart. You can see the whip fall on the flanks . . .
The gesture of the arm. You cannot see the face of the woman.
The enormous light beats up out of the west across the cloud-bars
of the trade-wind. The ocean
Darkens, the high clouds brighten, the hills darken together.
Unbridled and unbelievable beauty
Covers the evening world . . . not covers, grows apparent out
of it, as Venus down there grows out
From the lit sky. What said the prophet? 'I create good: and
I create evil: I am the Lord.'
This coast crying out for tragedy like all beautiful places,
(The quiet ones ask for quieter suffering: but here the granite cliff
the gaunt cypresses crown
Demands what victim? The dykes of red lava and black what
Titan? The hills like pointed flames
Beyond Soberanes, the terrible peaks of the bare hills under the
sun, what immolation? )
This coast crying out for tragedy like all beautiful places: and
like the passionate spirit of humanity
Pain for its bread: God's, many victims', the painful deaths, the
horrible transfigurements: I said in my heart,
'Better invent than suffer: imagine victims
Lest your own flesh be chosen the agonist, or you
Martyr some creature to the beauty of the place.' And I said,
'Burn sacrifices once a year to magic
Horror away from the house, this little house here
You have built over the ocean with your own hands
Beside the standing boulders: for what are we,
The beast that walks upright, with speaking lips
And little hair, to think we should always be fed,
Sheltered, intact, and self-controlled? We sooner more liable
Than the other animals. Pain and terror, the insanities of desire;
not accidents but essential,
And crowd up from the core:' I imagined victims for those
wolves, I made them phantoms to follow,
They have hunted the phantoms and missed the house. It is not
good to forget over what gulfs the spirit
Of the beauty of humanity, the petal of a lost flower blown
seaward by the night-wind, floats to its quietness.
Boulders blunted like an old bear's teeth break up from the
headland; below them
All the soil is thick with shells, the tide-rock feasts of a dead
Here the granite flanks are scarred with ancient fire, the ghosts
of the tribe
Crouch in the nights beside the ghost of a fire, they try to remember
Light has died out of their skies. These have paid something for
Luck of the country, while we living keep old griefs in memory:
Envy is not a likely fountain of ruin, to forget evils calls down
Sudden reminders from the cloud: remembered deaths be our
Imagined victims our salvation: white as the half moon at midnight
Someone flamelike passed me, saying, 'I am Tamar Cauldwell,
I have my desire,'
Then the voice of the sea returned, when she had gone by, the
stars to their towers.
. . . Beautiful country burn again, Point Pinos down to the
Burn as before with bitter wonders, land and ocean and the
He brays humanity in a mortar to bring the savor
From the bruised root: a man having bad dreams, who invents
victims, is only the ape of that God.
He washes it out with tears and many waters, calcines it with
fire in the red crucible,
Deforms it, makes it horrible to itself: the spirit flies out and
stands naked, he sees the spirit,
He takes it in the naked ecstasy; it breaks in his hand, the atom
is broken, the power that massed it
Cries to the power that moves the stars, 'I have come home to
myself, behold me.
I bruised myself in the flint mortar and burnt me
In the red shell, I tortured myself, I flew forth,
Stood naked of myself and broke me in fragments,
And here am I moving the stars that are me.'
I have seen these ways of God: I know of no reason
For fire and change and torture and the old returnings.
He being sufficient might be still. I think they admit no reason;
they are the ways of my love.
Unmeasured power, incredible passion, enormous craft: no
thought apparent but burns darkly
Smothered with its own smoke in the human brain-vault: no
thought outside: a certain measure in phenomena:
The fountains of the boiling stars, the flowers on the foreland,
the ever-returning roses of dawn.
Comments about this poem (Apology For Bad Dreams by Robinson Jeffers )
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