Going To The Horse Flats - Poem by Robinson Jeffers
Amazingly active a toothless old man
Hobbled beside me up the canyon, going to Horse Flats, he said,
To see to some hives of bees. It was clear that he lived alone and
craved companionship, yet he talked little
Until we came to a place where the gorge widened, and deer-hunters
had camped on a slip of sand
Beside the stream. They had left the usual rectangle of fired
stones and ashes, also some crumpled
Sheets of a recent newspaper with loud headlines. The old man
rushed at them
And spread them flat, held them his arm's length, squinting
through narrowed eyelids poor trick old eyes learn, to make
Lids act for lens. He read 'Spain Battle. Rebels kill captives. City
bombed Reds kill hostages. Prepare
For war Stalin warns troops.' He trembled and said, 'Please read
me the little printing, I hardly ever
Get to hear news.' He wrung his withered hands while I read;
it was strange in that nearly inhuman wilderness
To see an old hollow-cheeked hermit dancing to the world's
echoes. After I had read he said 'That's enough.
They were proud and oppressed the poor and are punished for
it; but those that punish them are full of envy and hatred
And are punished for it; and again the others; and again the
others. It is so forever, there is no way out.
Only the crimes and cruelties grow worse perhaps.' I said, 'You
are too hopeless. There are ways out.'
He licked his empty gums with his tongue, wiped his mouth and said
'What ways?' I said 'The Christian way: forgiveness, to forgive
Give good for evil.' The old man threw down the paper and
said 'How long ago did Christ live? Ah?
Have the people in Spain never heard about him? Or have the Russians,
Or Germans? Do you think I'm a fool?' 'Well,' I said to try
him, 'there's another way: extermination.
If the winning side will totally destroy its enemies, lives and
thoughts, liquidate them, firing-squads
For the people and fire for the books and records: the feud will then be
Finished forever.' He said justly, 'Yoiire the fool,' picked up
his bundle and hurried through the shadow-dapple
Of noon in the narrow canyon, his ragged coat-tails flapping like
mad over the coonskin patch
In the seat of his trousers. I waited awhile, thinking he wished
to be quit of company.
Sweet was the clear
Chatter of the stream now that our talk was hushed; the flitting
water-ouzel returned to her stone;
A lovely snake, two delicate scarlet lines down the dark back,
swam through the pool. The flood-battered
Trees by the stream are more noble than cathedral-columns.
do we invite the world's rancors and agonies
Into our minds though walking in a wilderness? Why did he
want the news of the world? He could do nothing
To help nor hinder. Nor you nor I can . . . for the world. It
is certain the world cannot be stopped nor saved.
It has changes to accomplish and must creep through agonies
toward new discovery. It must, and it ought: the awful
Is also the sacrificial duty. Man's world is a tragic music and is not
played for man's happiness,
Its discords are not resolved but by other discords.
But for each man
There is real solution, let him turn from himself and man to love
God. He is out of the trap then. He will remain
Part of the music, but will hear it as the player hears it.
He will be superior to death and fortune, unmoved by success
or failure. Pity can make him weep still,
Or pain convulse him, but not to the center, and he can conquer
them. . . . But how could I impart this knowledge
To that old man?
Or indeed to anyone? I know that all men
instinctively rebel against it. But yet
They will come to it at last.
Then man will have come of age; he will still suffer and still die,
but like a God, not a tortured animal.
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