Treasure Island

Robert Hass

(March 1, 1941 / San Francisco)

Heroic Simile


When the swordsman fell in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai
in the gray rain,
in Cinemascope and the Tokugawa dynasty,
he fell straight as a pine, he fell
as Ajax fell in Homer
in chanted dactyls and the tree was so huge
the woodsman returned for two days
to that lucky place before he was done with the sawing
and on the third day he brought his uncle.

They stacked logs in the resinous air,
hacking the small limbs off,
tying those bundles separately.
The slabs near the root
were quartered and still they were awkwardly large;
the logs from midtree they halved:
ten bundles and four great piles of fragrant wood,
moons and quarter moons and half moons
ridged by the saw's tooth.

The woodsman and the old man his uncle
are standing in midforest
on a floor of pine silt and spring mud.
They have stopped working
because they are tired and because
I have imagined no pack animal
or primitive wagon. They are too canny
to call in neighbors and come home
with a few logs after three days' work.
They are waiting for me to do something
or for the overseer of the Great Lord
to come and arrest them.

How patient they are!
The old man smokes a pipe and spits.
The young man is thinking he would be rich
if he were already rich and had a mule.
Ten days of hauling
and on the seventh day they'll probably
be caught, go home empty-handed
or worse. I don't know
whether they're Japanese or Mycenaean
and there's nothing I can do.
The path from here to that village
is not translated. A hero, dying,
gives off stillness to the air.
A man and a woman walk from the movies
to the house in the silence of separate fidelities.
There are limits to imagination.

Submitted: Monday, January 20, 2003

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  • Neil Young (4/24/2009 5:33:00 AM)

    This poem has all the hallmarks that make a good Robert Hass poem. I love the relaxed pace, the strong meandering imagery and the subtle humour.

    I recently discovered RH's Time And Materials collection from 2007. A book I would certainly recommend. (Report) Reply

  • Lorraine Margueritte Gasrel Black (12/28/2008 1:16:00 PM)

    WAR mankind's greatest passion or should I say favorite past time? I suppose continuous fighting is as ingrained as anything else in the human psyche.Well Art imitates life and life imitates art and it's an unending cycle.Death is the only winner and the great equalizer-pacifyer-THE END Great provocative work.I will look for more of this poet's works! ! ! ! ! ! A ten from me I could never give him less! ! ! ! (Report) Reply

  • Craig Steiger (8/24/2007 11:31:00 AM)

    Very much appreciate this poem..... as usual in a Hass poem, so much is going on, and by the end we feel like we've been through a psychic odyssey... Well done.

    Craig Steiger (Report) Reply

  • Michael Shepherd (11/7/2006 9:16:00 AM)

    Not perhaps the best single-poem introduction to this writer of humanity and humour - here reflecting on the nature of imagination - but go seek his poetry elsewhere (Poemhunter has to abide by copyright rules re living poets) - he's a delightful and highly accessible man and poet. There's a fine reading by him on Google Video. (Report) Reply

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