Robinson Jeffers

(10 January 1887 – 20 January 1962 / Allegheny, Pennsylvania)

Decaying Lambskins


After all, we also stand on a height. Our blood and our culture
have passed the flood-marks of any world
Up to this time. Our engineers have nothing to learn from Rome's,
Egypt's, China's, and could teach them more
Than ever their myth-makers imagined. Our science, however
confused, personal and fabulous, can hardly
Lean low enough, sun-blinded eagle, to laugh at the strange
astronomies of Babylon, or at Lucretius
His childish dreams of origins, or Plato's
Lunatic swan. While as for our means and mastery of warfare, at
sea, on land, in the air ...
So boastful?
Because we are not proud but wearily ashamed of this peak of
time. What is noble in us, to kindle
The imagination of a future age? We shall seem a race of cheap
Fausts, vulgar magicians.
What men have we to show them? but inventions and appliances.
Not men but populations, mass-men; not life
But amusements; not health but medicines. And the odor: what
is that odor? Decaying lambskins: the Christian
Ideals that for protection and warmth our naked ancestors . . .
but naturally, after nineteen centuries . . .

O Mort, vieux capitaine, est-il temps, nous levons l’ancre? It is perhaps
Time, almost time, to let our supreme inventions begin to work.
The exact intelligent guns
Can almost wheel themselves into action of their own accord, and
almost calculate their own trajectories.
The clever battleships know their objectives; the huge bombing-planes
and meteor pursuit-planes are all poised for ... what?
Vanity. This also is vanity; horrible too, but a vain dream.
Our civilization, the worst it can do, cannot yet destroy itself;
but only deep-wounded drag on for centuries.

Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010
Edited: Monday, November 21, 2011

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