Robinson Jeffers

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

Ghosts In England - Poem by Robinson Jeffers

At East Lulworth the dead were friendly and pitiful, I saw them
peek from their ancient earthworks on the coast hills
At the camps of the living men in the valley, the army-mechanics'
barracks, the roads where they try the tanks
And the armored cars: 'We also,' they say, 'trembled in our
time. We felt the world change in the rain,
Our people like yours were falling under the wheel. Great
past and declining present are a pitiful burden
For living men; but failure is not the worm that worries
the dead, you will not weep when you come,'
Said the soft mournful shadows on the Dorset shore. And those
on the Rollright ridge by the time-eaten stone-circle
Said nothing and had no wish in the world, having blessedly aged
out of humanity, stared with great eyes
White as the hollowed limestone, not caring but seeing, inhuman
as the wind.

But the other ghosts were not good,
But like a moon of jackals around a sick stag.
At Zennor in the tumbled granite chaos, at Marazion and the
angel's Mount, from the hoar tide-lines:
'Be patient, dead men, the tides of their day have turned,' from
the stone rings of the dead huts on Dartmoor,
The prison town like a stain of dirt on the distant hill: 'We not
the last,' they said, 'shall be hopeless,
We not alone hunger in the rain.' From Avebury in the high
heart of England, in the ancient temple,
When all the cottages darkened themselves to sleep: 'Send it
along the ridge-ways and say it on the hilltops
That the bone is broken and the meat will fall.'

There was also a
ghost of a king, his cheeks hollow as the brows
Of an old horse, was paddling his hands in the reeds of Dozmare
Pool, in the shallow, in the rainy twilight,
Feeling for the hilt of a ruinous and rusted sword. But they said
'Be patient a little, you king of shadows,
But only wait, they will waste like snow.' Then Arthur left
hunting for the lost sword, he grinned and stood up
Gaunt as a wolf; but soon resumed the old labor, shaking the
reeds with his hands.

Northeastward to Wantage
On the chalk downs the Saxon Alfred
Witlessly walks with his hands lamenting. 'Who are the people
and who are the enemy?' He says bewildered,
'Who are the living, who are the dead?' The more ancient dead
Watch him from the wide earthworks on White Horse Hill,
peer from the Ridgeway barrows, goggle from the broken
Mound and the scattered stones in the oval wood above Ashbury.
They whisper and exult.

In the north also
I saw them, from the Picts' houses in the black Caithness heather
to the bleak stones on Culloden Moor,
The rags of lost races and beaten clans, nudging each other, the
blue lips cracking with joy, the fleshless
Anticipatory fingers jabbing at the south. And on the Welsh
borders
Were dead men skipping and fleering behind all the hedges. An
island of ghosts. They seemed merry, and to feel
No pity for the great pillar of empire settling to a fall, the pride
and the power slowly dissolving.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010



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