Tamar - Poem by Robinson Jeffers
A night the half-moon was like a dancing-girl,
No, like a drunkard's last half-dollar
Shoved on the polished bar of the eastern hill-range,
Young Cauldwell rode his pony along the sea-cliff;
When she stopped, spurred; when she trembled, drove
The teeth of the little jagged wheels so deep
They tasted blood; the mare with four slim hooves
On a foot of ground pivoted like a top,
Jumped from the crumble of sod, went down, caught, slipped;
Then, the quick frenzy finished, stiffening herself
Slid with her drunken rider down the ledges,
Shot from sheer rock and broke
Her life out on the rounded tidal boulders.
The night you know accepted with no show of emotion the little
accident; grave Orion
Moved northwest from the naked shore, the moon moved to
meridian, the slow pulse of the ocean
Beat, the slow tide came in across the slippery stones; it drowned
the dead mare's muzzle and sluggishly
Felt for the rider; Cauldwell’s sleepy soul came back from the
blind course curious to know
What sea-cold fingers tapped the walls of its deserted ruin.
Pain, pain and faintness, crushing
Weights, and a vain desire to vomit, and soon again
die icy fingers, they had crept over the loose hand and lay in the
hair now. He rolled sidewise
Against mountains of weight and for another half-hour lay still.
With a gush of liquid noises
The wave covered him head and all, his body
Crawled without consciousness and like a creature with no bones,
a seaworm, lifted its face
Above the sea-wrack of a stone; then a white twilight grew about
the moon, and above
The ancient water, the everlasting repetition of the dawn. You
So many and still so many and now for you the last. But when it
He grew quite conscious; broken ends of bone ground on each
other among the working fibers
While by half-inches he was drawing himself out of the seawrack
up to sandy granite,
Out of the tide's path. Where the thin ledge tailed into flat cliff
he fell asleep. . . .
The daylight moon hung like a slip of cloud against the horizon.
The tide was ebbing
From the dead horse and the black belt of sea-growth. Cauldwell
seemed to have felt her crying beside him,
His mother, who was dead. He thought 'If I had a month or two
of life yet
I would remember to be decent, only it's now too late, I'm finished,
I'm sorry.' After that he thought only of pain and raging thirst
until the sundown
Reddened the sea, and hands were reaching for him and drawing
him up the cliff.
His sister Tamar
Nursed him in the big westward bedroom
Of the old house on Point Lobos. After fever
A wonderful day of peace and pleasant weakness
Brought home to his heart the beauty of things. 'O Tamar
I've thrown away years like rubbish. Listen, Tamar,
It would be better for me to be a cripple,
Sit on the steps and watch the forest grow up the hill
Or a new speck of moss on some old rock
That takes ten years agrowing, than waste
Shame and my spirit on Monterey rye whiskey,
And worse, and worse. I shan't be a cripple, Tamar.
We'll walk along the blessed old gray sea,
And up in the hills and watch the spring come home.'
Youth is a troublesome but a magical thing,
There is little more to say for it when you've said
Young bones knit easily; he that fell in December
Walked in the February fields. His sister Tamar
Was with him, and his mind ran on her name,
But she was saying, 'We laugh at poor Aunt Stella
With her spirit
visitors: Lee, something told her truth.
Last August, you were hunting deer, you had been gone
Ten days or twelve, we heard her scream at night,
I went to the room, she told me
She'd seen you lying all bloody on the sea-beach
By a dead deer, its blood dabbling the black weeds of the ebb.'
'I was up Tassajara way,' he answered,
'Far from the sea.' 'We were glad when you rode home
Safe, with the two bucks on the packhorse. But listen,
She said she watched the stars flying over you
In her vision, Orion she said, and made me look
Out of her window southward, where I saw
The stars they call the Scorpion, the red bead
With the curling tail. Then it will be in winter,'
She whispered to me, 'Orion is winter.'
Winter is over, visions are over and vanished,
The fields are winking full of poppies,
In a week or two I'll fill your arms with shining irises.'
The winter sun went under and all that night there came a roaring
from the south; Lee Cauldwell
Lay awake and heard the tough old house creak all her timbers;
he was miserably lonely and vacant,
He'd put away the boyish jets of wickedness, loves with dark
eyes in Monterey back-streets, liquor
And all its fellowship, what was left to live for but the farmwork,
rain would come and hinder?
He heard the cypress trees that seemed to scream in the wind,
and felt the ocean pounding granite.
His father and Tamar's, the old man David Cauldwell, lay in the
eastern chamber; when the storm
Wakened him from the heartless fugitive slumber of age he rose
and made a light, and lighted
The lamp not cold yet; night and day were nearly equal to him,
he had seen too many; he dressed
Slowly and opened his Bible. In the neighboring rooms he heard
on one side Stella Moreland,
His dead wife's sister, quieting his own sister, the idiot Jinny
Cauldwell, who laughed and chuckled
Often for half the night long, an old woman with a child's mind
and mostly sleepless; in the other
Chamber Tamar was moaning, for it seemed that nightmare
Within the house answered to storm without.
To Tamar it seemed that she was walking by the seaside
With her dear brother, who said 'Here's where I fell,
A bad girl that I knew in Monterey pushed me over the cliff,
You can see blood still on the boulders.' Where he vanished to
She could not tell, nor why she was crying 'Lee. No.
No dearest brother, dearest brother no.' But she cried vainly,
Lee was not there to help her, a wild white horse
Came out of the wave and trampled her with his hooves,
The horror that she had dreaded through her dreaming
With mystical foreknowledge. When it wakened her,
She like her father heard old Jinny chuckling
And Stella sighing and soothing her, and the southwind
Raging around the gables of the house and through the forest of
'When it rains it will be quieter,' Tamar thought. She slept
again, all night not a drop fell.
Old Cauldwell from his window saw the cloudy light seep up
the sky from the overhanging
Hilltops, the dawn was dammed behind the hills but overflowed
at last and ran down on the sea.
Lee Cauldwell rode across the roaring southwind to the winter
pasture up in the hills.
A hundred times he wanted Tamar, to show her some new beauty
of canyon wildflowers, water
Dashing its ferns, or oaktrees thrusting elbows at the wind, blackoaks
smoldering with foliage
And the streaked beauty of white-oak trunks, and redwood
glens; he rode up higher across the rainwind
And found his father's cattle in a quiet hollow among the hills,
their horns to the wind,
Quietly grazing. He returned another way, from the headland
over Wildcat Canyon,
Saw the immense water possessing all the west and saw Point Lobos
Gemmed in it, and the barn-roofs and the house-roof
Like ships' keels in the cypress tops, and thought of Tamar.
Toward sundown he approached the house; Will Andrews
Was leaving it and young Cauldwell said, 'Listen, Bill Andrews,
We've had gay times together and ridden at night.
I've quit it, I don't want my old friends to visit my sister.
Better keep off the place.' 'I will,' said the other,
'When Tamar tells me to.' 'You think my bones
Aren't mended yet, better keep off.' Lee Cauldwell
Rode by to the stable wondering why his lips
Twitched with such bitter anger; Tamar wondered
Why he went upstairs without a word or smile
Of pleasure in her. The old man David Cauldwell,
When Lee had told him news of the herd and that Ramon
Seemed faithful, and the calves flourished, the old man answered:
'I hear that there's a dance at Motley's Landing Saturday. You'll
Down the coast, Lee. Don't kill the horse, have a good time.'
'No, I've had all I want, I'm staying
At home now, evenings.' 'Don't do it; better dance your pony
down the cliffs again than close
Young life into a little box; you've been too wild; now I'm worn
out, but I remember
Hell's in the box.' Lee answered nothing, his father's lamp of
thought was hidden awhile in words,
An old man's words, like the dry evening moths that choke a
candle. A space, and he was saying,
'Come summer we'll be mixed into the bloody squabble out there,
and you'll be going headforemost
Unless you make your life so pleasant you'd rather live it. I
mayn't be living
To see you home or hear you're killed.' Lee, smiling at him,
'A soldier's what I won't be, father.' That night
He dreamed himself a soldier, an aviator
Duelling with a German above a battle
That looked like waves, he fired his gun and mounted
In steady rhythm; he must have been winged, he suddenly
Plunged and went through the soft and deadly surface
Of the deep sea, wakening in terror.
He heard his old Aunt Jinny chuckling,
Aunt Stella sighing and soothing her, and the southwind
Raging around the gables of the house and through the forest of
They two had unbridled the horses
And tied them with long halters near the thicket
Under Mai Paso bridge and wandered east
Into the narrow cleft, they had climbed the summit
On the right and looked across the sea.
The steep path down, 'What are we for?' said Tamar wearily,
'to want and want and not dare know it.'
'Because I dropped the faded irises,' Lee answered, 'you're unhappy.
They were all withered, Tamar.
We have grown up in the same house.' 'The withered house
Of an old man and a withered woman and an idiot woman. No
wonder if we go mad, no wonder.'
They came to the hid stream and Tamar said, 'Sweet, green and cool,
After the mad white April sun: you wouldn't mind, Lee?
Here where it makes a pool: you mustn't look; but you're my
brother. And then
I will stand guard for you.' The murmur and splash of water
made his fever fierier; something
Unfelt before kept his eyes seaward: why should he dread to see
the round arm and clear throat
Flash from the hollow stream? He trembled, thinking
'O we are beasts, a beast, what am I for?
Was the old man right, I must be drunk and a dancer and feed on
the cheap pleasures, or it's dangerous?
Lovely and thoughtless, if she knew me how she'd loathe and
avoid me. Her brother, brother. My sister.
Better the life with the bones, and all at once have broken.'
Uneasily dipped her wrists, and crouching in the leaf-grown bank
Saw her breasts in the dark mirror, she trembled backward
From a long ripple and timidly wading entered
The quiet translucence to the thighs. White-shining
Slender and virgin pillar, desire in water
Unhidden and half reflected among the interbranching ripples,
Arched with alder, over-woven with willow.
Ah Tamar, stricken with strange fever and feeling
Her own desirableness, half-innocent Tamar
Thought, 'If I saw a snake in the water he would come now
And kill the snake, he is keen and fearless but he fears
Me I believe.' Was it the wild rock coast
Of her breeding, and the reckless wind
In the beaten trees and the gaunt booming crashes
Of breakers under the rocks, or rather the amplitude
And wing-subduing immense earth-ending water
That moves all the west taught her this freedom? Ah Tamar,
It was not good, not wise, not safe, not provident,
Not even, for custom creates nature, natural,
Though all other license were; and surely her face
Grew lean and whitened like a mask, the lips
Thinned their rose to a split thread, the little breasts
Erected sharp bright buds but the white belly
Shuddered, sucked in. The lips writhed and no voice
Formed, and again, and a faint cry. 'Tamar?'
He answered, and she answered, 'Nothing. A snake in the water
Frightened me.' And again she called his name.
'What is it, Tamar?' 'Nothing. It is cold in the water.
Come, Lee, I have hidden myself all but the head.
Bathe, if you mean to bathe, and keep me company.
I won't look till you're in.' He came, trembling.
He unclothed himself in a green depth and dared not
Enter the pool, but stared at the drawn scars
Of the old wound on his leg. 'Come, Lee, I'm freezing.
Come, I won't look.' He saw the clear-skinned shoulders
And the hollow of her back, he drowned his body
In the watery floor under the cave of foliage,
And heard her sobbing. When she turned, the great blue eyes
Under the auburn hair, streamed. 'Lee.
We have stopped being children; I would have drowned myself;
If you hadn't taught me swimming long ago long ago, Lee
When we were children.' 'Tamar, what is it, what is it?'
'Only that I want . . . death. You lie if you think
Another thing.' She slipped face down and lay
In the harmless water, the auburn hair trailed forward
Darkened like weeds, the double arc of the shoulders
Floated, and when he had dragged her to the bank both arms
Clung to him, the white body in a sobbing spasm
Clutched him, he could not disentangle the white desire,
So they were joined (like drowning folk brought back
By force to bitter life) painfully, without joy.
The spasm fulfilled, poor Tamar, like one drowned indeed, lay
pale and quiet
And careless of her nakedness. He, gulfs opening
Between the shapes of his thought, desired to rise and leave her
and was ashamed to.
He lay by her side, the cheek he kissed was cold like a smooth
stone, the blue eyes were half open,
The bright smooth body seemed to have suffered pain, not love.
One of her arms crushed both her breasts,
The other lay in the grass, the fingers clutching toward the
roots of die soft grass. 'Tamar,'
He whispered, then she breathed shudderingly and answered,
'We have it, we have it. Now I know.
It was my fault. I never shall be ashamed again.' He said,
'What shall I do? Go away?
Kill myself, Tamar?' She contracted all her body and crouched
in the long grass, shivering.
'It hurts, there is blood here, I am too cold to bathe myself
again. O brother, brother,
Mine and twice mine. You knew already, a girl has got to learn.
I love you, I chose my teacher.
Mine, it was my doing.' She flung herself upon him, cold white
and smooth, with sobbing kisses.
'I am so cold, dearest, dearest.' The horses at the canyon mouth
tugged at their halters,
Dug pits under the restless forehooves, shivered in the hill-wind
At sundown, were not ridden till dark, it was near midnight
They came to the old house.
When Jinny Cauldwell slept, the old woman with a child's mind,
then Stella Moreland
Invoked her childish-minded dead, or lying blank-eyed in the
dark egged on her dreams to vision,
Suffering for lack of audience, tasting the ecstasy of vision. This
was the vaporous portion
She endured her life in the strength of, in the sea-shaken loneliness,
little loved, nursing an idiot,
Growing bitterly old among the wind-torn Lobos cypress trunks.
(O torture of needled branches
Doubled and gnarled, never a moment of quiet, the northwind
or the southwind or the northwest.
For up and down the coast they are tall and terrible horsemen on
patrol, alternate giants
Guarding the granite and sand frontiers of the last ocean; but
here at Lobos the winds are torturers,
The old trees endure them. They blew always thwart the old
woman's dreams and sometimes by her bedside
Stood, the south in russety black, the north in white, but the
northwest wave-green, sea-brilliant,
Scaled like a fish. She had also the sun and moon and mightier
presences in her visions.) Tamar
Entered the room toward morning and stood ghost-like among
the old woman's ghosts. The rolled-up eyes,
Dull white, with little spindles of iris touching the upper lids,
played back the girl's blown candle
Sightlessly, but the spirit of sight that the eyes are tools of and
it made them, saw her. 'Ah, Helen,'
Cried out the entranced lips, 'We thought you were tired of the
wind, we thought you never came now.
My sister's husband lies in the next room, go waken him, show
him your beauty, call him with kisses.
He is old and the spittle when he dreams runs into his beard, but
he is your lover and your brother.'
'I am not Helen,' she said, 'what Helen, what Helen?' 'Who
was not the wife but the sister of her man,
Mine was his wife.' 'My mother?' 'And now he is an old hulk
battered ashore. Show him your beauty,
Strip for him, Helen, as when he made you a seaweed bed in the
cave. What if the beard is slimy
And the eyes run, men are not always young and fresh like you
dead women.' But Tamar clutching
The plump hand on the coverlet scratched it with her nails, the
old woman groaned but would not waken,
And Tamar held the candle flame against the hand, the soot
striped it, then with a scream
The old woman awoke, sat up, and fell back rigid on the bed.
Tamar found place for the candle
On a little table at the bedside, her freed hands could not awaken
a second answer
In the flesh that now for all its fatness felt like a warmed stone.
But the idiot waked and chuckled,
Waved both hands at the candle saying, 'My little star, my little
star, come little star.'
And to these three old Cauldwell sighing with sleeplessness
Entered, not noticed, and he stood in the open door. Tamar was
Over the bed, loose hair like burnished metal
Concealed her face and sharply cut across one rounded shoulder
The thin night-dress had slipped from. The old man her father
Feared, for a ghost of law-contemptuous youth
Slid through the chilly vaults of the stiff arteries,
And he said, 'What is it, Tamar?' 'She was screaming in a
I came to quiet her, now she has gone stiff like iron.
Who is this woman Helen she was dreaming about?'
'Helen? Helen?' he answered slowly and Tamar
Believed she saw the beard and the hands tremble.
'It's too cold for you, Tamar, go back to bed
And I'll take care of her. A common name for women.'
Old Jinny clapped her hands, 'Little star, little star,
Twinkle all night!' and the stiff form on the bed began to speak,
In a changed voice and from another mode of being
And spirit of thought: 'I cannot think that you have forgotten.
I was walking on the far side of the moon,
Whence everything is seen but the earth, and never forgot.
This girl's desire drew me home, we also had wanted
Too near our blood,
And to tangle the interbranching net of generations
With a knot sideways. Desire's the arrow-sprayer
And shoots into the stars. Poor little Tamar
He gave you a luckless name in memory of me
And now he is old forgets mine.' 'You are that Helen,'
Said Tamar leaning over the fat shape
The quiet and fleshless voice seemed issuing from,
A sound of youth from the old puffed lips, 'What Helen? This
man's . . .
Sister, this body was saying?' 'By as much more
As you are of your brother.' 'Why,' laughed Tamar trembling,
'Hundreds of nasty children do it, and we
Nothing but children.' Then the old man: 'Lies, lies, lies.
No ghost, a lying old woman. Your Aunt Helen
Died white as snow. She died before your mother died.
Your mother and this old woman always hated her,
This liar, as they hated me. I was too hard a nature
To die of it, Lily and Stella.' 'It makes me nothing,
My darling sin a shadow and me a doll on wires,'
Thought Tamar with one half her spirit; and the other half said,
'Poor lies, words without meaning. Poor Aunt Stella,
The voices in her have no minds.' 'Poor little Tamar,'
Murmured the young voice from the swollen cavern,
'Though you are that woman's daughter, if we dead
Could be sorrowful for anyone but ourselves
I would be sorrowful for you, a trap so baited
Was laid to catch you when the world began,
Before the granite foundation. I too have tasted the sweet bait.
But you are the luckier, no one came home to me
To say there are no whips beyond death but only memory,
And that can be endured.' The room was quiet a moment,
And Tamar heard the wind moving outdoors. Then the idiot
Whose mind had been from birth a crippled bird but when she
was twelve years old her mind's cage
Was covered utterly, like a bird-cage covered with its evening
cloth when lamps are lighted,
And her memory skipped the more than forty years between but
caught stray gleams of the sun of childhood,
She in her crumpled voice: 'I'd rather play with Helen, go away
Stella. Stella pinches me,
Lily laughs at me, Lily and Stella are not my sisters.' 'Jinny,
Said the old man shaking like a thin brick house-wall in an earthquake,
'do you remember, Jinny?'
'Jinny don't like the old man,' she answered, 'give me the star,
give me my star,'
She whined, stretching from bed to reach the candle, 'why have
they taken my little star?
Helen would give it to Jinny.' Then Stella waking from the
trance sighed and arose to quiet her
According to her night's habit. Tamar said, 'You were screaming
in your sleep.' 'I had great visions.
And I have forgotten them. There Jinny, there, there. It'll have
the candle, will it? Pretty Jinny.
Will have candle to-morrow. Little Jinny let Aunt Stella sleep
now.' Old Cauldwell tottering
Went to his room; then Tamar said, 'You were talking about
his sister Helen, my aunt Helen,
You never told me about her.' 'She has been dead for forty
years, what should we tell you about her?
Now little Jinny, pretty sister,' And laying her hands upon the
mattress of the bed
The old woman cradled it up and down, humming a weary song.
Tamar stood vainly waiting
The sleep of the monstrous babe; at length because it would not
sleep went to her room and heard it
Gurgle and whimper an hour; and the tired litanies of the lullabies;
not quiet till daylight.
O swiftness of the swallow and strength
Of the stone shore, brave beauty of falcons,
Beauty of the blue heron that flies
Opposite the color of evening
From the Carmel River's reed-grown mouth
To her nest in the deep wood of the deer
Cliffs of peninsular granite engirdle,
beauty of the fountains of the sun
1 pray you enter a little chamber,
I have given you bodies, I have made you puppets,
I have made idols for God to enter
And tiny cells to hold your honey.
I have given you a dotard and an idiot,
An old woman puffed with vanity, youth but botched with incest,
O blower of music through the crooked bugles,
You that make signs of sins and choose the lame for angels,
Enter and possess. Being light you have chosen the dark lamps,
A hawk the sluggish bodies: therefore God you chose
Me; and therefore I have made you idols like these idols
To enter and possess.
Tamar, finding no hope,
Slid back on passion, she had sought counsel of the dead
And found half-scornful pity and found her sin
Fore-dated; there was honey at least in shame
And secrecy in silence, and her lover
Could meet her afield or slip to her room at night
In serviceable safety. They learned, these two,
Not to look back nor forward; and but for the hint
Of vague and possible wreck every transgression
Paints on the storm-edge of the sky, their blue
Though it dulled a shade with custom shone serene
To the fifth moon, when the moon's mark on women
Died out of Tamar. She kept secret the warning,
How could she color such love with perplexed fear?
Her soul walked back and forth like a new prisoner
Feeling the plant of unescapable fate
Root in her body. There was death; who had entered water
To compass love might enter again to escape
Love's fruit; 'But O, but O,' she thought, 'not to die now.
It is less than half a year
Since life turned sweet. If I knew one of the girls
My lover has known
She'd tell me what to do, how to be fruitless,
How to be ... happy? They do it, they do it, all sin
Grew nothing to us that day in Mai Paso water.
A love sterile and sacred as the stars.
I will tell my lover, he will make me safe,
He will find means . . .
Sterile and sacred, and more than any woman
. . . Unhappy. Miserable,' she sobbed, 'miserable,
The rough and bitter water about the cliff's foot
Better to breathe.'
When Lee was not by her side
She walke4 the cliffs to tempt them. The calm and large
Pacific surge heavy with summer rolling southeast from a far origin
Battered to foam among the stumps of granite below.
Tamar watched it swing up the little fjords and fountain
Not angrily in the blowholes; a gray vapor
Breathed up among the buttressed writhings of the cypress trunks
And branches swollen with blood-red lichen. She went home
And her night was full of foolish dreams, two layers of dream,
unrelative in emotion
Or substance to the pain of her thoughts. One, the undercurrent
layer that seemed all night continuous,
Concerned the dead (and rather a vision than a dream, for visions
gathered on that house
Like corposant fire on the hoar mastheads of a ship wandering
strange waters), brown-skinned families
Came down the river and straggled through the wood to the sea,
they kindled fires by knobs of granite
And ate the sea-food that the plow still turns up rotting shells of,
not only around Point Lobos
But north and south wherever the earth breaks off to sea-rock;
Tamar saw the huddled bodies
Squat by the fires and sleep; but when the dawn came there was
throbbing music meant for daylight
And that weak people went where it led them and were nothing;
then Spaniards, priests and horseback soldiers,
Came down the river and wandered through the wood to the sea,
and hearing the universal music
Went where it led them and were nothing; and the English-speakers
Came down the river and wandered through the wood to the sea,
among them Tamar saw her mother
Walking beside a nameless woman with no face nor breasts; and
the universal music
Led them away and they were nothing; but Tamar led her father
from that flood and saved him,
For someone named a church built on a rock, it was beautiful
and white, not fallen to ruin
Like the ruin by Carmel River; she led him to it and made him
enter the door, when he had entered
A new race came from the door and wandered down the river
to the sea and to Point Lobos.
This was the undertow of the dream, obscured by a brighter
surface layer but seeming senseless.
The tides of the sea were quiet and someone said 'because the
moon is lost.' Tamar looked up
And the moon dwindled, rocketing off through lonely space, and
the people in the moon would perish
Of cold or of a star's fire: then Will Andrews curiously wounded
in the face came saying
'Tamar, don't cry. What do you care? I will take care of you.'
Wakening, Tamar thought about him
And how he had stopped coming to see her. Perhaps it was
another man came through her dream,
The wound in the face disguised him, but that morning Lee
having ridden to Mill Creek
To bargain about some fields of winter pasture
Now that the advancing year withered the hill-grass,
Tamar went down and saddled her own pony,
A four-year-old, as white as foam, and cantered
Past San Jose creek-mouth and the Carrows' farm
(Where David Carrow and his fanatical blue eyes,
That afterward saw Christ on the hill, smiled at her passing)
And three miles up the Carmel Valley came
To the Andrews place where the orchards ran to the river
And all the air was rich with ripening apples.
She would not go to the house; she did not find
Whom she was seeking; at length sadly she turned
Homeward, for Lee might be home within two hours,
And on the Carmel bridge above the water
(Shrunken with summer and shot with water lichen,
The surface scaled with minute scarlet leaves,
The borders green with slimy threads) met whom she sought.
'Tamar,' he said, 'I've been to see you.' 'You hadn't
For a long time.' 'I had some trouble with Lee,
I thought you didn't want me.' While they talked
Her eyes tasted his face: was it endurable?
Though it lacked the curious gash her dream had given him. . . .
'I didn't want you, you thought?' 'Lee said so.' 'You might
Till Tamar said so.' 'Well,' he answered, 'I've been,
And neither of you was home but now I've met you.'
Well-looking enough; freckles, light hair, light eyes;
Not tall, but with a chest and hard wide shoulders,
And sitting the horse well 'O I can do it, I can do it,
Help me, God,' murmured Tamar in her mind,
'How else what else can I do?' and said, 'Luck, isn't it?
What did you want to see me about?' 'I wanted . . .
Because I ... like you, Tamar.' 'Why should I be careful,'
She thought, 'if I frighten him off what does it matter,
I have got a little beyond caring.' 'Let's go down
Into the willow,' she said, 'we needn't be seen
Talking and someone tell him and make trouble
Here on the bridge.' They went to the hidden bank
Under the deep green willows, colored water
Stagnated on its moss up to the stems,
Coarse herbage hid the stirrups, Tamar slid from the saddle
As quietly as the long unwhitening wave
Moulds a sunk rock, and while he tethered the horses,
'I have been lonely,' she said. 'Not for me, Tamar.'
'You think not? Will, now that all's over
And likely we'll not see each other again
Often, nor by ourselves, why shouldn't I tell you . . .'
'What, Tamar?' 'There've been moments . . . hours then . .
When anything you might have asked me for
Would have been given, I'd have done anything
You asked me to, you never asked anything, Will.
I'm telling you this so that you may remember me
As one who had courage to speak truth, you'll meet
So many others.' 'But now' he meant to ask,
'Now it's too late, Tamar?' and hadn't courage,
And Tamar thought 'Must I go farther and say more?
Let him despise me as I despise myself.
I have got a little beyond caring.' 'Now?' she said.
'Do you think I am changed? You have changed, Will,
you have grown
Older, and stronger I think, your face is firmer;
And carefuller: I have not changed, I am still reckless
To my own injury, and as trustful as a child.
Would I be with you here in the green thicket
If I weren't trustful? If you should harm me, Will,
I'd think it was no harm.' She had laid her hand
On the round sunburnt throat and felt it throbbing,
And while she spoke the thought ran through her mind,
'He is only a little boy but if he turns pale
I have won perhaps, for white's the wanting color.
If he reddens I’ve lost and it's no matter.' He did not move
And seemed not to change color and Tamar said,
'Now I must go. Lee will be home soon.
How soft the ground is in the willow shadow.
I have ended with you honestly, Will; remember me
Not afraid to speak truth and not ashamed
To have stripped my soul naked. You have seen all of me.
Good-bye.' But when she turned he caught her by the arm,
She sickened inward, thinking, 'Now it has come.
I have called and called it and I can't endure it.
Ah. A dumb beast.' But he had found words now and said,
'How would you feel, Tamar, if all of a sudden
The bird or star you'd broken your heart to have
Flew into your hands, then flew away. O Tamar, Tamar,
You can't go now, you can't.' She unresisting
Took the hot kisses on her neck and hair
And hung loose in his arms the while he carried her
To a clean bank of grass in the deep shadow.
He laid her there and kneeling by her: 'You said you trusted me.
You are wise, Tamar; I love you so much too well
I would cut my hands off not to harm you.' But she,
Driven by the inward spark of life and dreading
Its premature maturity, could not rest
On harmless love, there were no hands to help
In the innocence of love, and like a vision
Came to her the memory of that other lover
And how he had fallen a farther depth
From firmer innocence at Mai Paso, but the stagnant
Autumn water of Carmel stood too far
From the April freshet in the hills. Tamar pushed off
His kisses and stood up weeping and cried
'It's no use, why will you love me till I cry?
Lee hates you and my father is old and old, we can't
Sour the three years he has before he dies.'
'I'll wait for you,' said the boy, 'wait years, Tamar.' Then Tamar
Hiding her face against his throat
So that he felt the tears whispered, 'But I ...'
She sobbed, 'Have no patience ... I can't wait. Will . . .
When I made my soul naked for you
There was one spot ... a fault ... a shame
I was ashamed to uncover.' She pressed her mouth
Between the muscles of his breast: 'I want you and want you.
You didn't know that a clean girl could want a man.
Now you will take me and use me and throw me away
And I've . . . earned it.' 'Tamar, I swear by God
Never to let you be sorry, but protect you
With all my life.' 'This is our marriage,' Tamar answered.
'But God would have been good to me to have killed me
Before I told you.' The boy feeling her body
Vibrant and soft and sweet in its weeping surrender
Went blind and could not feel how she hated him
That moment; when he awakened she was lying
With the auburn hair muddied and the white face
Turned up to the willow leaves, her teeth were bared
And sunk in the under lip, a smear of blood
Reddening the corner of the lips. One of her arms
Crushed both her breasts, the other lay in the grass,
The fingers clutching toward the roots of the soft grass. 'O Tamar,'
Murmured the boy, 'I love you, I love you. What shall I do?
Kill myself, Tamar?' She contracted all her body and crouched
in the long grass, thinking
'That Helen of my old father's never fooled him at least,' and
said, 'There is nothing to do, nothing.
It is horribly finished. Keep it secret, keep it secret, Will. I too
was to blame a little.
But I didn't mean . . . this.' 'I know,' he said, 'it was my
fault, I would kill myself, Tamar,
To undo it but I loved you so, Tamar.' 'Loved? You have hurt
me and broken me, the house is broken
And any thief can enter it.' 'O Tamar!' 'You have broken
our crystal innocence, we can never
Look at each other freely again.' 'What can I do, Tamar?'
'Nothing. I don't know. Nothing.
Never come to the farm to see me.' 'Where can I see you,
Tamar?' 'Lee is always watching me,
And I believe he'd kill us. Listen, Will. To-morrow night I'll
put a lamp in my window,
When all the house is quiet, and if you see it you can climb up
by the cypress. I must go home,
Lee will be home. Will, though you've done to me worse than
I ever dreamed, I love you, you have my soul,
I am your tame bird now.'
This was the high plateau of summer and August waning; white
Breathed up no more from the brown fields nor hung in the hills;
daily the insufferable sun
Rose, naked light, and flaming naked through the pale transparent
ways of the air drained gray
The strengths of nature; all night the eastwind streamed out of
the valley seaward, and the stars blazed.
The year went up to its annual mountain of death, gilded with
hateful sunlight, waiting rain.
Stagnant waters decayed, the trickling springs that all the misty-hooded
summer had fed
Pendulous green under the granite ocean-cliffs dried and turned
foul, the rock-flowers faded,
And Tamar felt in her blood the filth and fever of the season.
Walking beside the house-wall
Under her window, she resented sickeningly the wounds in the
cypress bark, where Andrews
Climbed to his tryst, disgust at herself choked her, and as a fire
Under the fog-bank of the night lines all the sea and sky with
fire, so her self-hatred
Reflecting itself abroad burned back against her, all the world
growing hateful, both her lovers
Hateful, but the intolerably masculine sun hatefullest of all.
The heat of the season
Multiplied centipedes, the black worms that breed under loose
rock, they call them thousand-leggers,
They invaded the house, their phalloid bodies cracking underfoot
with a bad odor, and dropped
Ceiling to pillow at night, a vile plague though not poisonous.
Also the sweet and female sea
Was weak with calm, one heard too clearly a mounting cormorant's
wing-claps half a mile off shore;
The hard and dry and masculine tyrannized for a season. Rain
in October or November
Yearly avenges the balance; Tamar's spirit rebelled too soon, the
female fury abiding
In so beautiful a house of flesh. She came to her aunt the ghost-seer.
'Listen to me, Aunt Stella.
I think I am going mad, I must talk to the dead; Aunt Stella,
will you help me?' That old woman
Was happy and proud, no one for years had sought her for
her talent. 'Dear Tamar, I will help you.
We must go down into the darkness, Tamar, it is hard and painful
for me.' 'I am in the darkness
Already, a fiery darkness.' 'The good spirits will guide you,
it is easy for you; for me, death.
Death, Tamar, I have to die to reach them.' 'Death's no bad
thing,' she answered, 'each hour of the day
Has more teeth.' 'Are you so unhappy, Tamar, the good spirits
will help you and teach you.' 'Aunt Stella,
To-night, to-night?' 'I groan when I go down to death, your
father and brother will come and spoil it.'
'In the evening we will go under the rocks by the sea.' 'Well,
in the evening.' 'If they talk to us
I'll buy you black silk and white lace.'
In and out of the little fjord swam the weak waves
Moving their foam in the twilight. Tamar at one flank, old
Stella at the other, upheld poor Jinny
Among the jags of shattered granite, so they came to the shingle.
Rich, damp and dark the sea's breath
Folding them made amend for days of sun-sickness, but Jinny
among the rubble granite
(They had no choice but take her along with them, who else
would care for the idiot?) slipped, and falling
Gashed knees and forehead, and she whimpered quietly in the
darkness. 'Here,' said Tamar, 'I made you
A bed of seaweed under the nose of this old rock, let Jinny lie
beside you, Aunt Stella,
I’ll lay the rug over you both.' They lay on the odorous kelp,
Tamar squatted beside them,
The weak sea wavered in her rocks and Venus hung over the
west between the cliff-butts
Like the last angel of the world, the crystal night deepening.
The sea and the three women
Kept silence, only Tamar moved herself continually on the fret
of her taut nerves,
And the sea moved, on the obscure bed of her eternity, but
both were voiceless. Tamar
Felt her pulse bolt like a scared horse and stumble and stop,
for it seemed to her a wandering power
Essayed her body, something hard and rounded and invisible
pressed itself for entrance
Between the breasts, over the diaphragm. When she was forced
backward and lay panting, the assault
Failed, the presence withdrew, and in that clearance she heard
her old Aunt Stella monotonously muttering
Words with no meaning in them; but the tidal night under
the cliff seemed full of persons
With eyes, although there was no light but the evening planet's
and her trail in the long water.
Then came a man's voice from the woman, saying, 'Que quieres
pobrecita?' and Tamar, 'Morir,'
Trembling, and marveling that she lied for no reason, and said,
'Es porque no entiendo,
Anything but ingles.' To which he answered, 'Ah pobrecita,'
and was silent. And Tamar
Cried, 'I will talk to that Helen.' But instead another male throat
spoke out of the woman's
Unintelligible gutturals, and it ceased, and the woman changing
voice, yet not to her own:
'An Indian. He says his people feasted here and sang to their
Gods and the tall Gods came walking
Between the tide-marks on the rocks; he says to strip and dance
and he will sing, and his Gods
Come walking.' Tamar answered, crying, 'I will not, I will
not, tell him to go away and let me
Talk to that Helen.' But old Stella after a silence: 'He says No,
no, the pregnant women
Would always dance here and the shore belongs to his people's
ghosts nor will they endure another
Unless they are pleased.' And Tamar said, 'I cannot dance,
drive him away,' but while she said it
Her hands accepting alien life and a strange will undid the
fastenings of her garments.
She panted to control them, tears ran down her cheeks, the
male voice chanted
Hoarse discords from the old woman's body, Tamar drew her
Out of its husks; dwellers on eastern shores
Watch moonrises as white as hers
When the half-moon about midnight
Steps out of her husk of water to dance in heaven:
So Tamar weeping
Slipped every sheath down to her feet, the spirit of the place
Ruling her, she and the evening star sharing the darkness,
And danced on the naked shore
Where a pale couch of sand covered the rocks,
Danced with slow steps and streaming hair,
Dark and slender
Against the pallid sea-gleam, slender and maidenly
Dancing and weeping . . .
It seemed to her that all her body
Was touched and troubled with polluting presences
Invisible, and whatever had happened to her from her two lovers
She had been until that hour inviolately a virgin,
Whom now the desires of dead men and dead Gods and a dead
Used for their common prey . . . dancing and weeping,
Slender and maidenly . . . The chant was changed,
And Tamar's body responded to the change, her spirit
Wailing within her. She heard the brutal voice
And hated it, she heard old Jinny mimic it
In the cracked childish quaver, but all her body
Obeyed it, wakening into wantonness,
Kindling with lust and wilder
Coarseness of insolent gestures,
The senses cold and averse, but the frantic too-governable flesh
Inviting the assaults of whatever desired it, of dead men
Or Gods walking the tide-marks,
The beautiful girlish body as gracile as a maiden's
Gone beastlike, crouching and widening,
Agape to be entered, as the earth
Gapes with harsh heat-cracks, the inland adobe of sun-worn
At the end of summer
Opening sick mouths for its hope of the rain,
So her body gone mad
Invited the spirits of the night, her belly and her breasts
Twisting, her feet dashed with blood where the granite had
And she fell, and lay gasping on the sand, on the tide-line.
Possessed the shore when the evening star was down; old Stella
Was quiet in her trance; old Jinny the idiot clucked and parroted
to herself, there was none but the idiot
Saw whether a God or a troop of Gods came swaggering along
the tide-marks unto Tamar, to use her
Shamefully and return from her, gross and replete shadows,
swaggering along the tide-marks
Against the sea-gleam. After a little the life came back to that
fallen flower; for fear or feebleness
She crept on hands and knees, returning so to the old medium
of this infamy. Only
The new tide moved in the night now; Tamar with her back
bent like a bow and the hair fallen forward
Crouched naked at old Stella's feet, and shortly heard the voice
she had cried for. 'I am your Helen.
I would have wished you choose another place to meet me and
milder ceremonies to summon me.
We dead have traded power for wisdom, yet it is hard for us
to wait on the maniac living
Patiently, the desires of you wild beasts. You have the power.'
And Tamar murmured, 'I had nothing,
Desire nor power.' And Helen, 'Humbler than you were. She
has been humbled, my little Tamar.
And not so clean as the first lover left you, Tamar. Another and
half a dozen savages,
Dead, and dressed up for Gods.' 'I have endured it,' she answered.
Then the sweet disdainful voice
In the throat of the old woman: 'As for me, I chose rather to
die.' 'How can I kill
A dead woman,' said Tamar in her heart, not moving the lips,
but the other listened to thought
And answered, 'O, we are safe, we shan't fear murder. But,
Tamar, the child will die, and all for nothing
You were submissive by the river, and lived, and endured fouling.
I have heard the wiser flights
Of better spirits, that beat up to the breasts and shoulders of our
Father above the star-fire,
Say, 'Sin never buys anything.'
Tamar, kneeling, drew the
thickness of her draggled hair
Over her face and wept till it seemed heavy with blood; and
like a snake lifting its head
Out of a fire, she lifted up her face after a little and said, 'It
will live, and my father's
Bitch be proved a liar.' And the voice answered, and the tone
of the voice smiled, 'Her words
Rhyme with her dancing. Tamar, did you know there were
many of us to watch the dance you danced there,
And the end of the dance? We on the cliff; your mother, who
used to hate me, was among us, Tamar.
But she and I loved each only one man, though it were the
same. We two shared one? You, Tamar,
Are shared by many.' And Tamar: 'This is your help, I dug
down to you secret dead people
To help me and so I am helped now. What shall I ask more?
How it feels when the last liquid morsel
Slides from the bone? Or whether you see the worm that burrows
up through the eye-socket, or thrill
To the maggot's music in the tube of a dead ear? You stinking
dead. That you have no shame
Is nothing: I have no shame: see I am naked, and if my thighs
were wet with dead beasts' drippings
I have suffered no pollution like the worms in yours; and if I
cannot touch you I tell you
There are those I can touch. I have smelled fire and tasted fire,
And all these days of horrible sunlight, fire
Hummed in my ears, I have worn fire about me like a cloak and
burning for clothing. It is God
Who is tired of the house that thousand-leggers crawl about in,
where an idiot sleeps beside a ghost-seer,
A doting old man sleeps with dead women and does not know it,
And pointed bones are at the doors
Or climb up trees to the window. I say He has gathered
Fire all about the walls and no one sees it
But I, the old roof is ripe and the rafters
Rotten for burning, and all the woods are nests of horrible things,
nothing would ever clean them
But fire, but I will go to a clean home by the good river.' 'You
danced, Tamar,' replied
The sweet disdainful voice in the mouth of the old woman, 'and
now your song is like your dance,
Modest and sweet. Only you have not said it was you,
Before you came down by the sea to dance,
That lit a candle in your closet and laid
Paper at the foot of the candle. We were watching.
And now the wick is nearly down to the heap,
It's God will have fired the house? But Tamar,
It will not burn. You will have fired it, your brother
Will quench it, I think that God would hardly touch
Anything in that house.' 'If you know everything,'
Cried Tamar, 'tell me where to go.
Now life won't do me and death is shut against me
Because I hate you. O believe me I hate you dead people
More than you dead hate me. Listen to me, Helen.
There is no voice as horrible to me as yours,
And the breasts the worms have worked in. A vicious berry
Grown up out of the graveyard for my poison.
But there is no one in the world as lonely as I,
Betrayed by life and death.' Like rain breaking a storm
Sobs broke her voice. Holding by a jag of the cliff
She drew herself full height. God who makes beauty
Disdains no creature, nor despised that wounded
Tired and betrayed body. She in the starlight
And little noises of the rising tide
Naked and not ashamed bore a third part
With the ocean and keen stars in the consistence
And dignity of the world. She was white stone,
Passion and despair and grief had stripped away
Whatever is rounded and approachable
In the body of woman, hers looked hard, long lines
Narrowing down from the shoulder-bones, no appeal,
A weapon and no sheath, fire without fuel,
Saying, 'Have you anything more inside you
Old fat and sleepy sepulcher, any more voices?
You can do better than my father's by-play
And the dirty tricks of savages, decenter people
Have died surely. T have so passed nature
That God himself, who's dead or all these devils
Would never have broken hell, might speak out of you
Last season thunder and not scare me.' Old Stella
Groaned but not spoke, old Jinny lying beside her
Wakened at the word thunder and suddenly chuckling
Began to mimic a storm, 'whoo-whoo' for wind
And 'boom-boom-boom' for thunder. Other voices
Wakened far off above the cliff, and suddenly
The farm-bell ringing fire; and on the rock-islets
Sleepy cormorants cried at it. 'Why, now He speaks
Another way than out of the fat throat,'
Cried Tamar, and prayed, 'O strong and clean and terrible
Spirit and not father punish the hateful house.
Fire eat the walls and roofs, drive the red beast
Through every wormhole of the rotting timbers
And into the woods and into the stable, show them,
These liars, that you are alive.' Across her voice
The bell sounded and old Jinny mimicking it,
And shouts above the cliff. 'Look, Jinny, look,'
Cried Tamar, 'the sky'd be red soon, come and we'll dress
And watch the bonfire.' Yet she glanced no thought
At her own mermaid nakedness but gathering
The long black serpents of beached seaweed wove
Wreaths for old Jinny and crowned and wound her. Meanwhile
The bell ceased ringing and Stella ceased her moan,
And in the sudden quietness, 'Tamar,' she said
In the known voice of Helen so many years
Dead, 'though you hate me utterly, Tamar, I
Have nothing to give back, I was quite emptied
Of hate and love and the other fires of the flesh
Before your mother gave the clay to my lover
To mould you a vessel to hold them.' Tamar, winding
Her mindless puppet in the sea-slough mesh
Said over her shoulder, hardly turning, 'Why then
Do you trouble whom you don't hate?' 'Because we hunger
And hunger for life,' she answered. 'Did I come uncalled?
You called me, you have more hot and blind, wild-blooded
And passionate life than any other creature.
How could I ever leave you while the life lasts?
God pity us both, a cataract life
Dashing itself to pieces in an instant.
You are my happiness, you are my happiness and death eats you.
I'll leave you when you are empty and cold and join us.
Then pity me, then Tamar, me flitting
The chilly and brittle pumice-tips of the moon,
While the second death
Corrodes this shell of me, till it makes my end.'
But Tamar would not listen to her, too busily
Decking old Jinny for the festival fire,
And sighing that thin and envious ghost forsook
Her instrument, and about that time harsh pain
Wrung Tamar's loins and belly, and pain and terror
Expelled her passionate fancies, she cried anxiously,
'Stella, Aunt Stella, help me, will you?' and thinking,
'She hears when Jinny whimpers,' twistingly pinched
Her puppet's arm until it screamed. Old Stella
Sat up on the seaweed bed and turned white eyes
No pupils broke the diffused star-gleam in
Upon her sixty-year-old babe, that now
Crouched whimpering, huddled under the slippery leaves
And black whips of the beach; and by it stood gleaming
Tamar, anguished, all white as the blank balls
That swept her with no sight but vision: old Stella
Did not awake yet but a voice blew through her,
Not personal like the other, and shook her body
And shook her hands: 'It was no good to do too soon, your
fire's out, you'd been patient for me
It might have saved two fires.' But Tamar: 'Stella.
I'm dying: or it is dying: wake up Aunt Stella.
O pain, pain, help me.' And the voice: 'She is mine while I
use her. Scream, no one will hear but this one
Who has no mind, who has not more help than July rain.' And
Tamar, 'What are you, what are you, mocking me?
More dirt and another dead man? O,' she moaned, pressing her
flanks with both her hands, and bending
So that her hair across her knees lay on the rock. It answered,
'Not a voice from carrion.
Breaker of trees and father of grass, shepherd of clouds and
waters, if you had waited for me
You'd be the luckier.' 'What shall I give you?' Tamar cried,
'I have given away'
Pain stopped her, and then
Blood ran, and she fell down on the round stones, and felt nor
saw nothing. A little later
Old Stella Moreland woke out of her vision, sick and shaking.
Tamar's mind and suffering
Returned to her neither on the sea-rocks of the midnight nor
in her own room; but she was lying
Where Lee her brother had lain, nine months before, after his
fall, in the big westward bedroom.
She lay on the bed, and in one corner was a cot for Stella who
nursed her, and in the other
A cot for the idiot, whom none else would care for but old
Stella. After the ache of awakening
And blank dismay of the spirit come home to a spoiled house,
she lay thinking with vacant wonder
That life is always an old story, repeating itself always like the
leaves of a tree
Or the lips of an idiot; that herself like Lee her brother
Was picked up bleeding from the sea-boulders under the sea-cliff
and carried up to be laid
In the big westward bedroom . . . was he also fouled with
ghosts before they found him, a gang
Of dead men beating him with rotten bones, mouthing his body,
piercing him? 'Stella,' she whispered,
'Have I been sick long?' 'There, sweetheart, lie still; three or
four days.' 'Has Lee been in to see me?'
'Indeed he has, hours every day.' 'He'll come, then,' and she
closed her eyes and seemed to sleep.
Someone tapped at the door after an hour and Tamar said,
'Come, Lee.' But her old father
Came in, and he said nothing, but sat down by the bed; Tamar
had closed her eyes. In a little
Lee entered, and he brought a chair across the room and sat by
the bed. 'Why don't you speak,
Lee?' And he said, 'What can I say except I love you, sister?'
'Why do you call me sister,
Not Tamar?' And he answered, 'I love you, Tamar.' Then old
Aunt Stella said, 'See, she's much better.
But you must let her rest. She'll be well in a few days; now kiss
her, Lee, and let her rest.'
Lee bent above the white pure cameo-face on the white pillow,
meaning to kiss the forehead.
But Tamar's hands caught him, her lips reached up for his: while
Jinny the idiot clapped and chuckled
And made a clucking noise of kisses; then, while Lee sought to
untwine the arms that yoked his neck,
The old man, rising: 'I opened the Book last night thinking
about the sorrows of this house,
And it said, 'If a man find her in the field and force her and lie
with her, nevertheless the damsel
Has not earned death, for she cried out and there was none to
save her.' Be glad, Tamar, my sins
Are only visited on my son, for you there is mercy.' 'David,
Will you be gone and let her rest now,' cried old Stella, 'do
you mean to kill her with a bible?'
'Woman,' he answered, 'has God anything to do with you?
She will not die, the Book
Opened and said it.' Tamar, panting, leaned against the pillow
and said, 'Go, go. To-morrow
Say all you please; what does it matter?' And the old man said,
'Come, Lee, in the morning she will hear us.'
Tamar stretched out her trembling hand, Lee did not touch it,
but went out ahead of his father.
So they were heard in the hall, and then their footsteps on the
stair. Tamar lay quiet and rigid,
With open eyes and tightening fists, with anger like a coiled steel
spring in her throat but weakness
And pain for the lead weights. After an hour she said, 'What
does he mean to do? Go away?
Kill himself, Stella?' Stella answered, 'Nothing, nothing, they
talk, it's to keep David quiet.
Your father is off his head a little, you know. Now rest you,
little Tamar, smile and be sleepy,
Scold them to-morrow.' 'Shut the sun out of my eyes then,'
Tamar said, but the idiot Jinny
Made such a moaning when the windows were all curtained they
needed to let in one beam
For dust to dance in; then the idiot and the sick girl slept. About
the hour of sundown
Tamar was dreaming trivially an axman chopping down a tree
and field-mice scampering
Out of the roots when suddenly like a shift of wind the dream
Changed and grew awful, she watched dark horsemen coming
out of the south, squadrons of hurrying horsemen
Between the hills and the dark sea, helmeted like the soldiers of
the war in France,
Carrying torches. When they passed Mal Paso Creek the columns
Veered, one of the riders said, 'Here it began,' but another
answered, 'No. Before the granite
Was bedded to build the world on.' So they formed and galloped
north again, hurrying squadrons,
And Tamar thought, 'When they come to the Carmel River
then it will happen. They have passed Mal Paso.'
Who has ever guessed to what odd ports, what sea buoying the
keels, a passion blows its bulkless
Navies of vision? High up in the hills
Ramon Ramirez, who was herdsman of the Cauldwell herds,
stood in his cabin doorway
Rolling a cigarette a half-hour after sundown, and he felt puffs
from the south
Come down the slope of stunted redwoods, so he thought the
year was turning at last, and shortly
There would come showers; he walked therefore a hundred
yards to westward, where a point of the hill
Stood over Wildcat Canyon and the sea was visible; he saw
Point Lobos gemmed in the darkening
Pale yellow sea; and on the point the barn-roofs and the house roof
breaking up through the blackness
Of twilight cypress tops, and over the sea a cloud forming. The
evening darkened. Southwestward
A half-mile loop of the coast-road could be seen, this side Mal
Paso. Suddenly a nebular company
Of lights rounded the hill, Ramirez thought the headlights of
a car sweeping the road,
But in a moment saw that it was horsemen, each carrying a light,
Moving in squads he judged of twenty or twenty-five, he counted
twelve or thirteen companies
When the brush broke behind him and a horseman rode the
headlong ridge like level ground,
Helmeted, carrying a torch. Followed a squad of twelve, helmeted,
cantering the headlong ridge
Like level ground. He thought in the nervous innocence of the
early war, they must be Germans.
Tamar awoke out of her dream and heard old Jinny saying,
'Dear sister Helen, kiss me
As you kiss David. I was watching under a rock, he took your
clothes off and you kissed him
So hard and hard, I love you too, Helen; you hardly ever kiss
me.' Tamar lay rigid,
Breathless to listen to her; it was well known in the house that
under the shell of imbecility
Speech and a spirit, however subdued, existed still; there were
waking flashes, and more often
She talked in sleep and proved her dreams were made out of
clear memories, childhood sights and girlhood
Fancies, before the shadow had fallen; so Tamar craving food
for passion listened to her,
And heard: 'Why are you cross, Helen? I won't peek if you'd
rather I didn't. Darling Helen,
I love him, too; I'd let him play with me the way he does with
you if he wanted to.
And Lily and Stella hate me as much as they hate you.' All
she said after was so mumbled
That Tamar could not hear it, could only hear the mumble, and
old Aunt Stella's nasal sleep
And the sea murmuring. When the mumbled voice was quiet it
seemed to Tamar
A strange thing was preparing, an inward pressure
Grew in her throat and seemed to swell her arms and hands
And join itself with a fluid power
Streaming from somewhere in the room from Jinny?
From Stella? and in a moment the heavy chair
That Lee had sat in, tipped up, rose from the floor,
And floated to the place he had brought it from
Five hours ago. The power was then relaxed,
And Tamar could breathe and speak. She awaked old Stella
And trembling told her what she had seen; who laughed
And answered vaguely so that Tamar wondered
Whether she was still asleep, and let her burrow
In her bed again and sleep. Later that night
Tamar too slept, but shudderingly, in snatches,
For fear of dreaming. A night like years. In the gray of morning
A horse screamed from the stableyard and Tamar
Heard the thud of hooves lashing out and timbers
Splintering, and two or three horses broken loose
Galloped about the grounds of the house. She heard men calling,
And downstairs Lee in a loud angry tone
Saying 'Someone's pitched the saw-buck and the woodpile
Into the horse-corral.' Then Tamar thought
'The same power moved his chair in the room, my hatred, my
Disturbing the house because I failed to burn it.
I must be quiet and quiet and quiet and keep
The serving spirits of my hid hatred quiet
Until my rime serves too. Helen you shadow
Were never served so handily.' Stella had awakened,
And Tamar asking for a drink of water
She waddled to fetch it and met Lee at the door.
'O Lee,' she said, 'that noise what ever has happened?'
He: 'I don't know. Some fool has pitched the whole woodpile
Into the horse-corral. Is Tamar awake?
I want to see Tamar.' He entered the room
As Stella left it. Old withered Aunt Jinny
Sat up in her bed saying 'David, David,' but Lee
Kneeling at Tamar's bedside, 'O Tamar, Tamar.
The old man's outdoors tottering after the horses
So I can see you a minute. O why, why, why,
Didn't you tell me Tamar? I'd have taken you up
In my arms and carried you to the end of the world.'
'How it's turned sour,' she thought, 'I'd have been glad of this
Yesterday,' and she clinched her finger-nails
Into her palms under the bed-covers,
Saying, 'Tell you what? What have they told you,' she asked
With a white sidelong smile, 'people are always lying?'
'Tamar, that you that we ... O I've lived hell
Four or five days now.' 'You look well enough,'
She answered, 'put yours by mine,' laying her white, lean,
And somewhat twitching hand on the counterpane,
'Mine used to manage a bridle as well as yours
And now look at them. I don't suppose you want me
Now, but it doesn't matter. You used to come to my bed
With something else than pity, convenient, wasn't it?
Not having to ride to Monterey?' He answered frowning,
'However much you hurt me I am very glad too
That all the joys and memories of a love
As great and as forbidden as ours are nothing to you
Or worse than nothing, because I have to go away,
Two days from now, and stay rill the war's over
And you are married and father is dead. I've promised him
Never to see him again, never to see his face.
He didn't ask it because he thinks his Book
Told him I'm to be killed. That's foolishness,
But makes your peace with him and thank God for that.
What his Book told him.' 'So here's the secret
I wasn't strong enough yesterday to hear.
I thought maybe you meant to kill yourself.'
'Thanks, Tamar. The old man thinks I don't need to.' 'O,
You beast,' she said, 'you runaway dog.
I wish you joy of your dirty Frenchwomen
You want instead of me. Take it, take it.
Old people in their dotage gabble the truth,
You won't live long.' 'What can I say, Tamar?
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' 'But go away,'
She said, 'and if you'll come again to-night
Maybe I'll tell you mine, my secret.'
Ramon Ramirez who watched the Cauldwell cattle
Up in the hills kept thinking of his vision
Of helmets carrying torches; he looked for tracks
On the ridge where he had seen the riders cantering,
And not a bush was broken, not a hoof-mark
Scarred the sear grass. At noon he thought he'd ride
To Vogel's place taking his lunch in the saddle
And tell someone about it. At the gap in the hill
Where storm-killed redwoods line both sides he met
Johnny Cabrera with a flaming bundle
Of dead twigs and dry grass tied with brown cord.
He smelled the smoke and saw the flame sag over
On a little wind from the east, and said in Spanish
'Eh Johnny, are you out of matches?' who answered flashing
His white teeth in a smile, 'I'm carrying fire to Lobos
If God is willing,' and walked swinging ahead,
Singing to himself the fool south-border couplet
'No tengo tabaco, no tengo papel,
No tengo dinero, God damn it to hell,'
And Ramon called 'Hey Johnny,' but he would not stop
Nor answer, and thinking life goes wild at times
Ramon came to the hill-slope under Vogel's
And smelled new smoke and saw the clouds go up
And this same Johnny with two other men
Firing the brush to make spring pasture. Ramon
Felt the scalp tighten on his temples and thought best
Not to speak word of either one of his visions,
Though he talked with the men, they told him Tamar Cauldwell
Was sick, and Lee had enlisted.
Was feverish for so temperate a sea-coast
And terribly full of light, the sea like a hard mirror
Reverberated the straight and shining serpents
That fell from heaven and Tamar dreamed in a doze
She was hung naked by that tight cloth bandage
Half-way between sea and sky, beaten on by both,
Burning with light; wakening she found she had tumbled
The bed-clothes to the floor and torn her nightgown
To rags, and was alone in the room, and blinded
By the great glare of sun in the western windows.
She rose and shut the curtains though they had told her
She mustn't get out of bed, and finding herself
Able to walk she stood by the little window
That looked southeast from the south bay of the room
And saw the smoke of burning brushwood slopes
Tower up out of the hills in the windless weather
Like an enormous pinetree, 'Everybody
But me has luck with fire,' she thought to herself,
'But I can walk now,' and returned to bed
And drew the sheets over her flanks, but leaving
The breasts and the shoulders bare. In half an hour
Stella and old Jinny came into the room
With the old man David Cauldwell. Stella hastily
Drew up the sheet to Tamar's throat but Tamar
Saying, 'You left the curtains open and the sun
Has nearly killed me,' doubled it down again,
And David Cauldwell, trembling: 'Will you attempt
Age and the very grave, uncovering your body
To move the old bones that seventy years have broken
And dance your bosoms at me through a mist of death?
Though I know that you and your brother have utterly despised
The bonds of blood, and daughter and father are no closer
And though this house spits out all goodness, I am old, I am old,
I am old,
What do you want of me?' He stood tottering and wept,
Covering his eyes and beard with shaken old hands,
And Tamar, having not moved, 'Nothing,' she said,
'Nothing, old man. I have swum too deep into the mud
For this to sicken me; and as you say, there are neither
Brother nor sister, daughter nor father, nor any love
This side the doorways of the damnable house.
But I have a wildbeast of a secret hidden
Under the uncovered breast will eat us all up
Before Lee goes.' 'It is a lie, it is a lie, it is all a lie.
Stella you must go out, go out of the room Stella,
Not to hear the sick and horrible imaginations
A sick girl makes for herself. Go Stella.' 'Indeed I won't,
David.' 'You-you-it is still my house.' 'To let you kill her
with bad words
All out of the bible-indeed I won't.' 'Go, Stella,' said Tamar,
'Let me talk to this old man, and see who has suffered
When you come back. I am out of pity, and you and Jinny
Will be less scorched on the other side of the door.' After a
The old woman went, leading her charge, and Tamar: 'You
thought it was your house? It is me they obey.
It is mine, I shall destroy it. Poor old man I have earned
authority.' 'You have gone mad,' he answered.
And she: 'I'll show you our trouble, you sinned, your old book
calls it, and repented: that was foolish.
I was unluckier, I had no chance to repent, so I learned something,
we must keep sin pure
Or it will poison us, the grain of goodness in a sin is poison.
Old man, you have no conception
Of the freedom of purity. Lock the door, old man, I am telling
you a secret.' But he trembling,
'O God thou hast judged her guiltless, the Book of thy word
spake it, thou hast the life of the young man
My son . . .' and Tamar said, 'Tell God we have revoked
relationship in the house, he is not
Your son nor you my father.' 'Dear God, blot out her words,
she has gone mad. Tamar, I will lock it,
Lest anyone should come and hear you, and I will wrestle for
you with God, I will not go out
Until you are His.' He went and turned the key and Tamar
said, 'I told you I have authority.
You obey me like the others, we pure have power. Perhaps
there are other way, but I was plunged
In the dirt of the world to win it, and, O father, so I will call
you this last time, dear father
You cannot think what freedom and what pleasure live in having
abjured laws, in having
Annulled hope, I am now at peace.' 'There is no peace, there
is none, there is none, there is no peace
But His,' he stammered, 'but God's.' 'Not in my arms, old
man, on these two little pillows? Your son
Found it there, and another, and dead men have defiled me.
You that are half dead and half living,
Look, poor old man. That Helen of yours, when you were
young, where was her body more desirable,
Or was she lovinger than I? You know it is forty years ago
that we revoked
Relationships in the house.' 'He never forgives, He never forgives,
evil punishes evil
With the horrible mockery of an echo.' 'Is the echo louder
than the voice, I have surpassed her,
Yours was the echo, time stands still old man, you'll learn when
you have lived at the muddy root
Under the rock of things; all times are now, to-day plays on
last year and the inch of our future
Made the first morning of the world. You named me for the
monument in a desolate graveyard,
Fool, and I say you were deceived, it was out of me that fire lit
you and your Helen, your body
Joined with your sister's
Only because I was to be named Tamar and to love my brother
and my father.
I am the fountain.' But he, shuddering, moaned, 'You have gone
mad, you have gone mad, Tamar,'
And twisted his old hands muttering, 'I fear hell. O Tamar, the
nights I have spent in agony,
Ages of pain, when the eastwind ran like glass under the peeping
stars or the southwest wind
Plowed in the blackness of the tree. You-a little thing has
driven you mad, a moment of suffering,
But I for more than forty years have lain under the mountains
and looked down into hell.'
'One word,' she said, 'that was not written in the book of my
fears. I did indeed fear pain
Before peace found me, or death, never that dream. Old man,
to be afraid is the only hell
And dead people are quit of it, I have talked with the dead.'
'Have you with her?' 'Your pitiful Helen?
She is always all about me; if you lay in my arms old man you
would be with her. Look at me,
Have you forgotten your Helen?' He in torture
Groaned like a beast, but when he approached the bed she
laughed, 'Not here, behind you.' And he blindly
Clutching at her, she left the coverlet in his hands and slipping
free at the other side
Saw in a mirror on the wall her own bright throat and shoulder
and just beyond them the haggard
Open-mouthed mask, the irreverend beard and blind red eyes.
She caught the mirror from its fastening
And held it to him, reverse. 'Here is her picture, Helen's picture,
look at her, why is she always
Crying and crying?' When he turned the frame and looked,
then Tamar: 'See that is her lover's.
The hairy and horrible lips to kiss her, the drizzling eyes to eat
her beauty, happiest of women
If only he were faithful; he is too young and wild and lovely,
and the lusts of his youth
Lead him to paw strange beds.' The old man turned the glass
and gazed at the blank side, and turned it
Again face toward him, he seemed drinking all the vision in it,
and Tamar: 'Helen, Helen,
I know you are here present; was I humbled in the night lately
and you exulted?
See here your lover. I think my mother will not envy you now,
your lover, Helen, your lover,
The mouth to kiss you, the hands to fondle secret places.' Then
the old man sobbing, 'It is not easy
To be old, mocked, and a fool.' And Tamar, 'What, not yet,
you have not gone mad yet? Look, old fellow.
These rags drop off, the bandages hid something but I'm done
with them. See ... I am the fire
Burning the house.' 'What do you want, what do you want?'
he said, and stumbled toward her, weeping.
'Only to strangle a ghost and to destroy the house. Spit on the
memory of that Helen
You might have anything of me.' And he groaning, 'When I
I thought it was my fault, I am old and know it was hers, night
after night, night after night
I have lain in the dark, Tamar, and cursed her.' 'And now?'
'I hate her, Tamar.' 'O,' said Tamar gently,
'It is enough, she has heard you. Now unlock the door, old
father, and go, and go.' 'Your promise,
Tamar, the promise, Tamar.' 'Why I might do it, I have no
feeling of revolt against it.
Though you have forgotten that fear of hell why should I let
Be mocked by God?' And he, the stumpage of his teeth knocking
together, 'You think, you think
I'll go to the stables and a rope from a rafter
Finish it for you?' 'Dear, I am still sick,' she answered, 'you
don't want to kill me? A man
Can wait three days: men have lived years and years on the
Meanwhile the two old women
Sat in their room, old Stella sat at the window looking south
into the cypress boughs, and Jinny
On her bed's edge, rocking her little withered body backward
and forward, and said vacantly,
'Helen, what do you do the times you lock the door to be
alone, and Lily and Stella
Wonder where David's ridden to?' After a while she said again,
'Do tell me, sister Helen,
What you are doing the times you lock the door to be alone,
and Lily and Stella wonder
Where David's ridden to?' And a third time she repeated,
'Darling sister Helen, tell me
What you are doing the times you lock the door to be alone,
and Lily and Stella wonder
Where David's riding?' Stella seemed to awake, catching at
breath, and not in her own voice,
'What does she mean,' she said, 'my picture, picture? O! the
mirror I read in a book Jinny.
A story about lovers; I never had a lover, I read about them;
I won't look, though.
With all that blind abundance, so much of life and blood, that
sweet and warming blaze of passion,
She has also a monkey in her mind.' 'Tell me the story about
the picture.' 'Ugh, if she plans
To humble herself utterly . . . You may peek, Jinny,
Try if you can, shut both eyes, draw them back into your forehead,
and look, look, look
Over the eyebrows, no, like this, higher up, up where the hair
grows, now peek Jinny. Can't you
See through the walls? You can. Look, look, Jinny. As if they'd
cut a window. I used to tell you
That God could see into caves: you are like God now: peek,
Jinny.' 'I can see something.
It's in the stable, David's come from Monterey, he's hanging
the saddle on a peg there . . .'
'Jinny, I shall be angry. That's not David,
It's Lee, don't look into the stable, look into the bedroom, you
know, Jinny, the bedroom,
Where we left Tamar on the bed.' 'O that's too near, it hurts
me, it hurts my head, don't scold me, Helen.
How can I see if I'm crying? I see now clearly.'
'What do you see?' 'I see through walls, O, I'm like God,
Helen. I see the wood and plaster
And see right through them.' 'What? What are they doing?'
'How can you be there and here, too, Helen?'
'It's Tamar, what is she doing?' 'I know it's you Helen, because
you have no hair
Under the arms, I see the blue veins under the arms.' 'Well, if
it's me, what is she doing?
Is she on the bed? What is she saying?' 'She is on fire Helen,
she has white fire all around you
Instead of clothes, and that is why you are laughing with so
pale a face.' 'Does she let him do
Whatever he wants to, Jinny?' 'He says that he hates . . .
somebody . . . and then you laughed for he had a rope
Around his throat a moment, the beard stuck out over it.' 'O
Jinny it wasn't I that laughed
It was that Tamar, Tamar, Tamar, she has bought him for
nothing. She and her mother both to have him,
The old hollow fool.' 'What do they want him for, Helen?'
'To plug a chink, to plug a chink, Jinny,
In the horrible vanity of women. Lee's come home, now I
could punish her, she's past hurting,
Are they huddled together Jinny? What, not yet, not yet?'
'You asked for the key but when he held it
You ran away from him.' 'What do I want, what do I want,
it is frightful to be dead, what do I ...
Without power, and no body or face. To kill her, kill her?
There's no hell and curse God for it . . .'
Lee Cauldwell childishly
Loved hearing the spurs jingle, and because he felt
'After to-morrow I shan't wear them again,
Nor straddle a pony for many a weary month and year,
Maybe forever,' he left them at his heels
When he drew off the chaps and hung the saddle
On the oak peg in the stable-wall. He entered the house
Slowly, he had taken five drinks in Monterey
And saw his tragedy of love, sin, and war
At the disinterested romantic angle
Misted with not unpleasing melancholy,
Over with, new adventure ahead, a perilous cruise
On the other ocean, and great play of guns
On the other shore ... at the turn of the stair he heard
Hands hammering a locked door, and a voice unknown to him
Crying, 'Tamar, I loved you for your flame of passion
And hated you for its deeds, all that we dead
Can love or hate with: and now will you crust flame
With filth, submit? Submit? Tamar,
The defilement of the rideline dead was nothing
To this defilement.' Then Lee jingling his spurs,
Jumped four steps to the landing, 'Who is there? You,
Aunt Stella?' Old gray Aunt Jinny like a little child
Moaning dr'ew back from him, and the mouth of Stella:
'A man that's ready to cross land and water
To set the world in order can't be expected
To leave his house in order.' And Lee, 'Listen, Aunt Stella,
Who are you playing, I mean what voice out of the world of
Is speaking from you?' She answered, 'Nothing. I was something
Forty years back but now I'm only the bloodhound
To bay at the smell of what they're doing in there.'
'Who? Tamar? Blood?' 'Too close in blood, I am the bloodstain
On the doorsill of a crime, she does her business
Under her own roof mostly.' 'Tamar, Tamar,'
Lee called, shaking the door. She from within
Answered 'I am here, Lee. Have you said good-by
To Nita and Conchita in Monterey
And your fat Fanny? But who is the woman at the door
Making the noise?' He said, 'Open the door;
Open the door, Tamar.' And she, 'I opened it for you,
You are going to France to knock at other doors.
I opened it for you and others.' 'What others?' 'Ask her,'
Said the young fierce voice from old Aunt Stella's lips,
'What other now?' 'She is alone there,' he answered,
'A devil is in you. Tamar,' he said, 'tell her
You are alone.' 'No, Lee, I am asking in earnest,
Who is the woman making the noise out there?
Someone you've brought from Monterey? Tell her to go:
Father is here.' 'Why have you locked it, why have you
He felt the door-knob turning in his hand
And the key shook the lock; Tamar stood in the doorway
Wrapped in a loose blue robe that the auburn hair
Burned on, and beyond her the old man knelt by the bed,
His face in the lean twisted hands. 'He was praying for me,'
Tamar said quietly. 'You are leaving to-morrow,
He has only one child.' Then the old man lifting a face
From which the flesh seemed to have fallen, and the eyes
Dropped and been lost: 'What will you do to him, Tamar?
Tamar, have mercy.
He was my son, years back.' She answered, 'I am glad
That you know who has power in the house'; and he
Hid the disfigured face, between his wrists
The beard kept moving, they thought him praying to God.
And Tamar said, 'It is coming to the end of the bad story,
That needn't have been bad only we fools
Botch everything, but a dead fool's the worst,
This old man's sister who rackets at the doors
And drove me mad, although she is nothing but a voice,
Dead, shelled, and the shell rotted, but she had to meddle
In the decencies of life here. Lee, if you truly
Lust for the taste of a French woman I'll let you go
For fear you die unsatisfied and plague
Somebody's children with a ghost's hungers
Forty years after death. Do I care, do I care?
You shan't go, Lee. I told the old man I have a secret
That will eat us all up ... and then, dead woman,
What will you have to feed on? You spirits flicker out
Too speedily, forty years is a long life for a ghost
And you will only famish a little longer
To whom I'd wish eternity.' 'O Tamar, Tamar,'
It answered out of Stella's mouth, 'has the uttermost
Not taught you anything yet, not even that extinction
Is the only terror?' 'You lie too much,' she answered,
'You'll enter it soon and not feel any stitch
Of fear afterwards. Listen, Lee, your arms
Were not the first man's to encircle me, and that spilled life
Losing which let me free to laugh at God,
I think you had no share in.' He trembled, and said
'O Tamar has your sickness and my crime
Cut you so deep? A lunatic in a dream
Dreams nearer things than this.' 'I'd never have told you,'
She answered, 'if his vicious anger-after I'd balanced
Between you a long time and then chose you
Hadn't followed his love's old night-way to my window
And kindled fire in the room when I was gone,
The spite-fire that might easily have eaten up
And horribly, our helpless father, or this innocent
Jinny . . .' 'He did it, he did it, forgive me, Tamar.
I thought that you gone mad . . . Tamar, I know
That you believe what you are saying but I
Do not believe you. There was no one.' 'The signal
Was a lamp in the window, perhaps some night
He'd come still if you'd set a lamp into my window.
And when he climbed out of the cypress tree
Then you would know him.' 'I would mark him to know.
But it's not true.' 'Since I don't sleep there now
You might try for the moth; if he doesn't come
I'll tell you his name to-morrow.' Then the old man jerking
Like dry bones wired pulled himself half erect
With clutching at the bed-clothes: 'Have mercy, Tamar.
Lee, there's a trick in it, she is a burning fire,
She is packed with death. I have learned her, I have learned her,
I have learned her,
Too cruel to measure strychnine, too cunning-cruel
To snap a gun, aiming ourselves against us.'
Lee answered, 'There is almost nothing here to understand.
If we all did wrong why have we all gone mad
But me, I haven't a touch of it. Listen, dead woman,
Do you feel any light here?' 'Fire-as much light
As a bird needs,' the voice from the old woman
Answered, 'I am the gull on the butt of the mast
Watching the ship founder, I'll fly away home
When you go down, or a swallow above a chimney
Watching the brick and mortar fly in the earthquake.'
'Til just go look at the young cypress bark
Under her window,' he said, 'it might have taken
The bite of a thief's hobnails.' When he was gone
And jingling down the stair, then Tamar: 'Poor people,
Why do you cry out so? I have three witnesses,
The old man that died to-day, and a dead woman
Forty years dead, and an idiot, and only one of you
Decently quiet. There is the great and quiet water
Reaching to Asia, and in an hour or so
The still stars will show over it but I am quieter
Inside than even the ocean or the stars.
Though I have to kindle paper flares of passion
Sometimes, to fool you with. But I was thinking
Last night, that people all over the world
Are doing much worse and suffering much more than we
This wartime, and the stars don't wink, and the ocean
Storms perhaps less than usual.' Then the dead woman,
'Wild life, she has touched the ice-core of things and learned
Something, that frost burns worse than fire.' 'O, it's not true,'
She answered, 'frost is kind; why, almost nothing
You say is true. Helen, do you remember at all
The beauty and strangeness of this place? Old cypresses
The sailor wind works into deep-sea knots
A thousand years; age-reddened granite
That was the world's cradle and crumbles apieces
Now that we're all grown up, breaks out at the roots;
And underneath it the old gray-granite strength
Is neither glad nor sorry to take the seas
Of all the storms forever and stand as firmly
As when the red hawk wings of the first dawn
Streamed up the sky over it: there is one more beautiful thing,
Water that owns the north and west and south
And is all colors and never is all quiet,
And the fogs are its breath and float along the branches of
And I forgot the coals of ruby lichen
That glow in the fog on the old twigs. To live here
Seventy-five years or eighty, and have children,
And watch these things fill up their eyes, would not
Be a bad life . . . I'd rather be what I am,
Feeling this peace and joy, the fire's joy's burning,
And I have my peace.' Then the old man in the dull
And heartless voice answered, 'The strangest thing
Is that He never speaks: we know we are damned, why should
He speak? The book
Is written already. Cauldwell, Cauldwell, Cauldwell, Cauldwell.
Eternal death, eternal wrath, eternal torture, eternity, eternity,
eternity . . .
That's after the judgment.' 'You needn't have any fear, old
Of anything to happen after to-morrow,' Tamar answered, 'we
have turned every page
But the last page, and now our paper's so worn out and tissuey
I can read it already
Right through the leaf, print backwards.'
It was twilight in the
room, the shiny side of the wheel
Dipping toward Asia; and the year dipping toward winter encrimsoned
the grave spokes of sundown;
And jingling in the door Lee Cauldwell with the day's-death
flush upon his face: 'Father:
There are marks on the cypress: a hell of a way to send your
soldier off: I want to talk to her
Alone. You and the women ' he flung his hand out, meaning
'go.' The old man without speaking
Moved to the door, propping his weakness on a chair and on
the door-frame, and Lee entering
Passed him and the two women followed him three, if Stella
were onebut when they had passed the doorway
Old Cauldwcll turned, and tottering in it: 'Death is the horror,'
he said, 'nothing else lasts, pain passes,
Death's the only trap. I am much too wise to swing myself in
the stable on a rope from a rafter. Helen, Helen,
You know about death.' 'It is cold,' she answered from the
hallway; 'unspeakably hopeless . . .' 'You curse of talkers,
Go,' he said, and he shut the door against them and said, 'Slut,
how many, how many?' She, laughing,
'I knew you would be sweet to me: I am still sick: did you find
marks in the bark? I am still sick, Lee;
You don't intend killing me?' 'Flogging, whipping, whipping,
is there anything male about here
You haven't used yet? Agh you mouth, you open mouth. But
I won't touch you.' 'Let me say something,'
She answered, standing dark against the west in the window, the
death of the winter rose of evening
Behind her little high-poised head, and threading the brown
twilight of the room with the silver
Exultance of her voice, 'My brother can you feel how happy
I am but how far off too?
If I have done wrong it has turned good to me, I could almost
be sorry that I have to die now
Out of such freedom; if I were standing back of the evening
crimson on a mountain in Asia
All the fool shames you can whip up into a filth of words would
not be farther off me,
Nor any fear of anything, if I stood in the evening star and saw
this dusty dime's worth
A dot of light, dropped up the star-gleam. Poor brother, poor
brother, you played the fool too
But not enough, it is not enough to taste delight and passion and
disgust and loathing
And agony, you have to be wide alive, 'an open mouth' you
said, all the while, to reach this heaven
You'll never grow up to. Though it's possible if I'd let you
go asoldiering, there on the dunghills
Of death and fire ... ah, you'd taste nothing even there but
the officers' orders, beef and brandy,
And the tired bodies of a few black-eyed French dance-girls:
it is better for you
To be lost here than there.' 'You are up in the evening star,'
he said, 'you can't feel this,' flat-handed
Striking her cheek, 'you are up on a mountain in Asia, who
made you believe that you could keep me
Or let me go? I am going to-morrow, to-night I set the house
in order.' 'There is nothing now
You can be sorry for,' she answered, 'not even this, it is out
of the count, the cup ran over
Yesterday.' He turned and left the room, the foolish tune of
the spurs tinkled
Hallway and stair. Tamar, handling the fiery spot upon her
cheek smiled in the darkness,
Feeling so sure of the end. 'Night after night he has ridden to
the granite at the rivermouth
And missed my light, to-night he will see it, the Lobos star he
called it, and look and look to be sure
It is not a ship's light nor a star's, there in the south, then he
will come, and my three lovers
Under one roof.'
Lee Cauldwell felt his way in the dark among the cypress trees,
At the stable-door saw the evening star, he felt for the lantern
Hung on the bent nail to the right of the door,
Lighted it, and in the sweet hay-dusty darkness
Found the black quirt that hung beside the saddle
And seemed a living snake in the hand, then he opened
A locker full of hunter's gear and tumbled
Leather and iron to the floor for an old sheath-knife
Under all the rest; he took the knife and whip
And Tamar in the dark of the westward bedroom heard him
Tinkle on the stair and jingle in the hall, slow steps
Moving to hers, the room that had been her room
Before this illness; she felt him as if she had been there
Lighting her lamp and setting it on the sill,
Then felt him look about the little room and feel it
Breathing and warm with her once habitancy
And the hours of hers and his there, and soften almost
To childish tears at trifles on the wall-,
And then he would look at the bed and stiffen
In a brittle rage, feel with thrust under-lip
Virtuous, an outcrop of morality in him
To grow ridiculous and wish to be cruel,
And so return to her. Hastily, without light,
She redded up some of the room's untidiness,
Thrust into the stove the folds of bandage-cloth,
Straightened the bed a little, and laying aside
The loose blue robe lay down in the bed to await him,
Who, throwing open the door, 'Tamar: I've got no right
To put my hands into your life, I see
That each of us lives only a little while
And must do what he can with it: so, I'm going
To-night; I'd nearly worked myself to the act
Of some new foolishness: are you there, Tamar?
The lamp?' He struck a match and saw her eyes
Shine on him from the pillow and when the lamp
Was lighted he began again: 'It's all such foolishness.
Well, you and I are done. I set your lamp for a signal on the sill,
I'll take it away or help you to that room,
Whichever you like. That'll be my last hand in the game.
It won't take me ten minutes to pack and go, my plan's
Not to risk losing temper and have half-decent
Thoughts of you while I'm gone, and you of me, Tamar.'
She lay too quietly and the shining eyes
Seemed not to hide amusement, he waited for her
To acknowledge not in direct words perhaps
His generosity, but she silent, 'Well, shall I leave the lamp?'
He said, not all so kindly, and Tamar, 'I've no one else
If you are going. But if you'd stay I wouldn't
Touch you again, ever. Agh, you can't wait
To get to France to crawl into strange beds,
But Monterey to-night. You what a beast.
You like them dirty.' He said, 'You're a fool, Tamar.
Well, so I'll leave the lamp. Good-by, Tamar.'
'You said you'd help me down the hall.' 'Yes, even that.
What must I do, carry you?' 'Is the bed together?
See whether there are sheets and covers on it.'
He went, and returned icy-pale. 'It hasn't been changed
Since I smelled fire and ran into the room
Six or eight days ago. The cupboard door-frame
Is all charcoal. By God, Tamar,
If I believed he'd done it-who is he, Andrews?-
You and your lies have made a horror in the house.
What, shall I go, shall I go?' 'Me? who made me
Believe that I could keep you or let you go.
Didn't you say?' 'You still believe it,' he answered,
Doubling his fists to hold in anger, the passionate need
Of striking her like a torrent in his throat,
'Believe it, fool.' 'Poor brother. You will never see France.
Never wear uniform nor learn how to fasten
A bayonet to a gun-barrel.' 'Come. Stop talking.
Get up, come to your room.' 'Carry me,' she answered.
'Though I am not really much too tired to walk.
You used to like me.' 'Well, to get done and be gone,'
He said, bending above her, she enlaced his neck
Softly and strongly and raised her knees to let
His arms slip under them, he like a man stung by a serpent
Felt weakness and then rage, panted to lift her
And staggered in the doorway and in the dark hallway
Grew dizzy, and difficultly went on and groaning
Dropped her on the bed in her own room, she did not move
To cover herself, then he drawing his palm
Across his forehead found it streaming wet
And said, 'You whore, you whore, you whore. Well, you shall
You've earned it,' and he twisted himself to the little table
And took the whip, the oiled black supple quirt,
Loaded at the handle, that seemed a living snake in the hand,
And felt the exasperate force of his whole baffled
And blindfold life flow sideways into the shoulder
Swinging it, and half repenting while it dropped
Sickened to see the beautiful bare white
Blemishless body writhe under it before it fell,
The loins pressed into the bed, the breast and head
Twisting erect, and at the noise of the stroke
He made a hoarse cry in his throat but she
Took it silently, and lay still afterward,
Her head so stricken backward that the neck
Seemed strained to breaking, the coppery pad of her hair
Crushed on the shoulder-blades, while that red snake-trail
Swelled visibly from the waist and flank down the left thigh.
'O God, God, God,' he groaned; and she, her whole body
Twitching on the white bed whispered between her teeth
'It was in the bargain,' and from her bitten lip
A trickle of blood ran down to the pillow.
That one light in the room,
The lamp on the sill, did not turn redder for blood nor with the
But shone serene and innocent up the northward night, writing
a long pale-golden track
In the river's arm of sea, and beyond the river's mouth where
the old lion's teeth of blunted granite
Crop out of the headland young Will Andrews kissed it with
his eyes, rode south and crossed the river's
Late-summer sand-lock. Figures of fire moved in the hills on
the left, the pasture-fires and brush-fires
Men kindle before rain, on a southerly wind the smell of the
smoke reached him, the sea on his right
Breathed; when he skirted the darkness of the gum-tree grove
at San Jose creek-mouth he remembered
Verdugo killed there; Sylvia Vierra and her man had lived in
the little white-washed farm-hut
Under the surf-reverberant blue-gums, two years ago they had
had much wine in the house, their friend
Verdugo came avisiting, he being drunk on the raw plenty of
wine they thought abused
Nine-year-old Mary, Sylvia's daughter, they struck him from
behind and when he was down unmanned him
With the kitchen knife, then plotted drunkenly for he seemed
to be dead-where to dispose the body.
That evening Tamar Cauldwell riding her white pony along
the coast-road saw a great bonfire
Periling the gum-tree grove, and riding under the smoke met evil
odors, turning in there
Saw by the firelight a man's feet hang out of the fire; then Tamar
never having suffered
Fear in her life, knocked at the hut's door and unanswered entered,
and found the Vierras asleep
Steaming away their wine, but little Mary weeping. She had
taken the child and ridden homeward.
Young Andrews thinking of that idyll of the country gulped at
the smoke from the hills and tethered
His horse in the hiding of a clump of pines, and climbed the
Turning a cypress thicket
He saw a figure sway in the starlight, and stood still, breathless.
A woman: Tamar? Not Tamar:
No one he knew: it faced the east gables of the house and seemed
twisting its hands and suddenly
Flung up both arms to its face and passed out of the patch of
starlight. The boy, troubled and cautious,
Turned the other way and circling to the south face of the
house peered from behind the buttressed
Base of a seventy-year-old trunk that yellow light on the other
side clothed, and he saw
A lamp on the table and three people sitting by it; the old man,
stiff-jointed as a corpse,
Grotesquely erect, and old Aunt Stella her lips continually in
motion, and old Jinny
Cross-legg'd having drawn up her ankles into her chair, nodding
asleep. At length Aunt Stella
Ceased talking, none of the three stirred. Young Andrews backed
into the wood and warily finishing
His circuit stood in the darkness under Tamar's window. The
strong young tree to help him to it
Still wore on its boughs her lamplight, then he climbed and set
his hands on the sill, his feet on the ledge
Under it, and Tamar came to the window and took up the lamp
to let him enter. Her face
White in the yellow lamp's glow, with sharp shadows under the
eyes and a high look of joy
He had never seen there frightened him, and she said, 'I have
been sick, you know.' 'I heard,' he answered,
'O Tamar, I have been lonely. We must let them know, we
can't go on, my place is with you
When you most need me.' 'We will tell them to-night,' she
said, and kissed his mouth and called, 'Lee, Lee,
Come. He has come.' 'What? Now,' he said. 'I have told Lee.
I was sick, he was sorry for me, he is going
To camp to-morrow, he wants to see you and say good-by.'
Lee entered while she spoke and quietly
Held out his hand and Andrews took it. 'Talk to each other,'
Tamar said, 'I am very tired
And must lie down.' Lee muttered 'She's been awfully sick, it
scared us, you were lucky, Bill Andrews,
Not to be here.' 'I didn't think so,' he answered, 'what was it,
Lee?' 'Well, it's all over,' Lee said,
Shifting his feet, 'I'm off to-morrow. I'm glad we're friends to
say good-by. Be good to her, won't you.'
And the other, 'O God knows I will. All I can do. But of course
. . . Lee ... if they need me
She knows I won't beg off because I'm . . . married . . .
maybe I'll see you over there.' 'O,' said Tamar
Laughing, 'you too?' and she sat up on the bed saying, 'Lee:
go and call father if he's able.
We ought to tell him, he ought to meet my-husband.' 'I'll see
if he can,' Lee answered, 'he was unwell
To-day, and if he's in bed . . .' He left the room, then Tamar:
'Look. Bring the lamp. What Lee did to me.'
She opened the blue robe and bared her flank and thigh showing
the long whip-mark. 'I have a story.
You must sec this to believe it.' He turned giddy, the sweet
Dazzling him, and the lamp shook in his hand, for the sharp spasm
of physical pain one feels
At sight of a wound shot up his entrails. That long welt of red on
the tender flesh, the blood-flecks
And tortured broken little channels of blood crossing it. 'Tamar,
Tamar!' 'Put down the lamp,
And when they come I'll tell you the story.' 'What shall I do?'
'Why, nothing, nothing. Poor boy,' she said,
Pityingly, 'I think you are too glad of your life to have come
Into this house, you are not hard enough, you are like my mother,
only stone or fire
Should marry into this house.' Then he bewildered looking at
the blackened door-frame, 'Why, yes,'
Laughed Tamar, 'it is here, it has been here, the bridegroom's
here already. O Will I have suffered . . .
Things I daren't tell.' 'What do you mean, Tamar?' 'Nothing,
I mustn't tell you, you are too high-tempered,
You would do something. Dear, there are things so wicked that
nothing you can do can make them better,
So horrible now they are done that even to touch or try to mend
or punish them is only to widen
Horror: like poking at a corpse in a pool. And father's old and
helpless.' 'Your father, Tamar?'
'And not to blame. I think he hardly even knew what Lee'
'Lee?' 'This much I'll tell you,
You have to know it ... our love, your love and mine, had . . .
fruit, would have been fruitful, we were going to have
A child, and I was happy and frightened, and it is dead. O God,
O God, O God, I wish
I too had been born too soon and died with the eyes unopened,
not a cry, darkness, darkness,
And to be hidden away. They did it to me; with other abuse,
worse violence.' Meanwhile Lee Cauldwell
Finding his father with the two old women in the room downstairs,
'Father,' he said,
'Tamar was asking for you . . .' and Helen's voice through old
Aunt Stella answered, 'She has enough,
Tell her she has enough.' 'Aunt Stella,' he said, 'how long will
you keep it up? Our trouble's clearing,
Let your ghosts be.' 'She has you and the other,' she answered,
'let me have this one. Are we buzzards to quarrel
Over you dead, we ghosts?' Then Lee turning his shoulder at her,
'You must come up, father.
Do you remember the Andrews place that's up the valley? Young
Andrews is upstairs with Tamar,
He wants to marry her. You know I have to go away to-morrow,
remember? and I'll go happier
To leave her . . . taken care of. So you'll see him, father?'
'Who is it?' asked the old man. 'The bridegroom,'
Said Helen's voice, 'a bridegroom for your Tamar, and the priest
will be fire and blood the witness,
And they will live together in a house where the mice are moles.'
'Why do you plague me,' he answered
Plaintively, and Lee: 'Come, father,' and he lifting his face,
'I have prayed to the hills to come and cover me,
We are on the drop-off cliff of the world and dare not meet Him,
I with two days to live, even I
Shall watch the ocean boiling and the sea curl up like paper in a
fire and the dry bed
Crack to the bottom: I have good news for her, I will see her.'
'And I to tell her she may take
Two but not three,' said Helen. 'Stay here, stay here, be quiet,'
Lee answered angrily, 'can I take up
The whole menagerie, raving?' He turned in the door and heard
his father move behind him and said,
'If you come up, be quiet,' and at the door upstairs, 'Father is
tired and sick, he'll only
Speak to you, Andrews, and must go to bed; he's worried about
my going away to-morrow.
This is Bill Andrews, father.' And Tamar coming to the door,
'Let him come in, it's dark here,
No, bring him in. Father come in. What, shall the men that made
your war suck up their millions,
Not I my three?' Then Andrews: 'If Tamar is well enough to
go to-night I will take her to-night.
You will be well when you are out of this house.' 'You hate it
still,' said Tamar. 'He hates the house,'
She said to Lee, leading his eyes with the significance in hers to
the blackened door-frame,
'Well, I will go with you to-morrow.' And Lee, 'Listen, Will
Andrews, I heard from somebody
You know who set the fire here.' 'No, not that,' he answered,
'but I know other worse things
That have been done here.' 'Fire, fire,' moaned the old man,
'the fire of the Lord coming in judgment. Tamar,
It is well with us, be happy, He won't torture the wicked, He will
rub them out and suddenly
With instant fire. We shall be nothing.' 'Come, Tamar,' Andrews
cried, 'to-night. I daren't leave you.'
'For fear I ask her,' said Lee. 'You did it, then. You set the fire.'
'No, that's too idiot
A lie to answer,' he said, 'what do I know about your fires?
I know something
Worse than arson. And saw the horrible new scar of a whip
Not to be paid this way!' He felt the jerk of his arm striking
And his fist hitting the sharp edge of the jawbone, but yet
When Lee staggered and closed in with a groan,
Clutching him, fumbling for his throat, Will thought 'What a fool
To make a nasty show of us before Tamar
And the others, why does he want to fight?' and indignantly
Pushed him off and struck twice, both fists, Lee dropped
And scrambled on hands and knees by the little table.
Then the old man cried, 'We shall be nothing, nothing.
O but that's frightful.'
And Will turning to Tamar saw such hatred
Wrinkle her face he felt a horrible surge
Of nausea in him, then with bare teeth she smiled at him
And he believed the hate was for her brother
And said, 'Ah Tamar, come.' Meanwhile the Helen
That spoke out of the lungs and ran in the nerves
Of old Aunt Stella caught the old man David Cauldwell
By the loose flapping sleeve and the lean arm,
Saying in a clotted amorous voice, 'Come, David,
My brother, my lover, O honey come, she has no eyes for you,
She feasts on young men. But you to me, to me,
Are as beautiful as when we dared
Desperate pleasure, naked, ages ago,
In the room and by the sea.' 'Father,' said Tamar,
'It is only an hour to the end, whom do you want
To-night? Stay here by me.' 'I was hunting for something,' said
'Here it is, here it is,' and had the sheath-knife bared
And struck up from the floor, rising, the blade
Ripped cloth and skin along his enemy's belly
And the leather belt catching it deflected the point
Into the bowels, Andrews coughed and fell backward
And Lee falling across him stabbed at his throat
But struck too high and opened the right cheek,
The knife scraping on bone and teeth, then Tamar
In a sea-gull voice, 'I dreamed it in his face,
I dreamed a T cut in his face
' 'You and your dreams
Have done for us,' Lee groaned answer. 'Akh, all blood, blood.
What did you say to make him hit me?'
Though it is not thought
That the dead intervene between the minds
And deeds of the living, that they are witnesses,
If anything of their spirits with any memory
Survive and not in prison, would seem as likely
As that an exile should look longingly home:
And the mist-face of that mother at the window
Wavering was but a witness, could but watch,
Neither prevent nor cause: no doubt there are many
Such watchers in the world: the same whom Andrews,
Stepping like a thief among the cypress clumps an hour before
Saw twist her hands and suddenly fling up both vaporous arms
and sway out of the starlight,
She now was watching at the downstairs window
Old Jinny alone in the room, and saw, as the dead see, the
More clearly than the cloth and skin; the child mind
In that old flesh gathered home on itself
In coils, laboring to warm a memory,
And worked on by an effluence, petulantly pushing away
The easier memories of its open time
Forty years back, power flowing from someone in that house
Belting it in, pressing it to its labor,
Making it shape in itself the memory of to-day's
Vision, the watcher saw it, how could she know it
Or know from whence? a girl naked, no, wrapped in fire,
Filmed in white sheets of fire. 'Why, I'm like God,'
Old Jinny had said, 'I see through walls,' a girl
Naked though clothed in fire, and under the arms
Naked, no hair,- 'Ah to be like her, to be like her, probably
Cloth, hair, burned off'; displaying herself before a wild old man
Who appeared pan of the joy: 'Ah, to be like her,
Fire is so sweet, they never let me play with it,
No one loves Jinny, wouldn't fire be a father
And hold her in his arms? Fire is so sweet,'
She hovered the hot lamp, 'sweet fire, sweet light,'
She held a rag of paper above it, 'O dear, dear fire,
Come and kiss Jinny, no one's looking,
Jinny's alone. Dear star, dear light, O lovely fire
Won't you come out, why is it turning black,
Ah come, Ah come, hug Jinny.' The hungry beautiful bird
Hopped from its bird-cage to her. 'I've got my star
Ah love, Ah love, and here's more paper
And a little of Jinny's dress, love, lovely light,
Jinny so loves you, Jinny's baby, Jinny's baby,
O,' she screamed, 'Oo, Oo, Oo,' and ran to the window, folded
In a terrible wreath, and at her side the curtains
Danced into flame, and over her head; the gasp
That followed on a cry drew down a sword
Of flame to her lungs, pain ceased, and thinking 'Father'
She dropped herself into the arms of the fire,
Huddling under the sill, and her spirit unprisoned
Filled all the room and felt a nuptial joy
In mixing with the bright and eager flame.
While from that blackened morsel on the floor
Fire spread to the wall and gnawed it through, and the window-glass
Crackling and tinkling a rush of south wind fed
The eagerness in the house. They heard upstairs
That brutal arch of crying, the quick crescendo,
The long drop and the following moan, Will Andrews
Struggled to rise and like a gopher-snake that a child
Has mashed the head of with a stone, he waggled
The blood-clot of his head over the floor
Gulping 'You devils, you devils.' Lee would have run down
But Tamar clung to him, the old man on his knees
Muttered to God, and old Aunt Stella
In no voice but her own screamed, screamed. Then fire
Was heard roaring, the door leaked threads of smoke,
Lee caught up Tamar in his arms and turned
To the window, the cypress-ladder, but his first step,
Blind, with the burden in his arms, the smoke in his eyes,
Trampled his murdered man on the floor who turning
Caught the other ankle and Lee went down and Tamar
So lovingly wound him that he could not rise
Till the house was full of its bright death; then Tamar:
'I will not let you take me. Go if you want.'
He answered, 'You devil, shall I go?' 'You wouldn't stay!
Think of your black-eyed French girls.' 'We are on the edge
of it,' he answered,
'Tamar, be decent for a minute.' 'I have my three lovers
Here in one room, none of them will go out,
How can I help being happy? This old man
Has prayed the end of the world onto us all,
And which of you leaves me?' Then the old man: 'O what
What mountain, what mountain?' And Lee, 'Father. The
We'll follow you.' But he kneeling would not rise,
While the house moved and the floor sagged to the south
And old Aunt Stella through the opening door
Ran into the red and black, and did not scream
Any more; then Tamar, 'Did you think you would go
Laughing through France?' And the old man, 'Fierce, fierce
Have pity, Christ have pity, Christ have pity, Christ have pity,
Christ have pity,
Christ have pity . . .'
And Tamar with her back to the window embraced
Her brother, who struggled toward it, but the floor
Turned like a wheel.
Grass grows where the flame flowered;
A hollowed lawn strewn with a few black stones
And the brick of broken chimneys; all about there
The old trees, some of them scarred with fire, endure the sea
Comments about Tamar by Robinson Jeffers
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This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.
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