Robinson Jeffers

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

The Songs Of The Dead Men To The Three Dancers - Poem by Robinson Jeffers

(Here a dancer enters and dances.)
Who is she that is fragrant and desirable,
Clothed but enough to wake wantonness,
And proud of her polished lithe body and her narrowing of
kohl-darkened eyelids with arrows between them?
Ah, ah, ah! Goddess of the world,
Young serpent in the veins of the rock,
In the mountain of jewels a young serpent, in the veins of a
man a sweet viper all emerald: ah Goddess
Are we proof to the hilt, are you pleased with us
When the splendor of your undulant insolence
Pricks the dark entrails of death, his foregathered grow hot for
you, the skeleton stands up to be amorous?
Ah, ah, ah! Goddess of the flesh
Will you think it a gift lacking grace
That the gates of the grave have been battered before you, the
iron doors to us dead in the deepest abysm?
For who has gone down to the dead or has touched them?
Did Jesus of Nazareth when he lay in deep hell
For three days and since lived as they say and has failed us?
No man nor no woman has gone down to us dead
Living until now, but the proof is here now, ah beautiful torture
us again and again.
We are fleshless, we tremble to your flesh,
Dear Goddess to taste of the dew
On your arms when you dance or to lip at the glitter of your
burnished thighs or the breast of your barrenness.
In the book of your triumphs with no term
Inscribe a more wonderful deed,
That you quickened the dead, that you lifted the flesh of the
fleshless, ah Goddess, ah! dancing, us dead men.
(The dancer goes out.)

(A second dancer enters and dances.)
Was it lovely to lie among violets ablossom in the valleys of
love on the breast of the south?
It was lovely but lovelier now
To behold the calm head of the dancer we dreaded, his curls are
as tendrils of the vineyard, O Death
Sweet and more sweet is your dancing.
Like the swoon of fulfilment of love in some lonelier vale among
flowers is the languor that flushes us,
O why did we fear him, for Death
Is a beautiful youth and his eyes are sleepy, the lids droop heavily
with wine when he wakens,
And his breast is more smooth than a dove's.
Fair Garda, gay water with olives engarlanded, lake of blue
laughter in a bay of the Alps
It is better for our spirits to be here
In the desolate hollows of darkness beholding the beauty of our
dancer than at rest on your hills
Of anemones and jonquils immingled.
And gay from the glacier womb, boy-throated for gladness to
shout where the snow-crags throng
Ran foaming the rivulet Rhone,
When the mountains were sprung for his passage, the ridges of
granite were splintered; and lovely the lake was
Under the vineyards of Vaud,
And at evening empurpling the peaks of the Chablais were
painted on the sleep and deep shadow of its waters
When the sundown was flame on la Dole.
But the best of the course is the last broad slumber, O river of
France to forget and go down
Slow-gliding and sultrily stagnant
Past Aries to the Gulf of the Lion and that azure and beautiful
grave in the waves of the south
That are warmest and best . . . and an end . . .
(The dancer has gone out.)

(A third dancer enters and dances.)
Use us again, you in the world only of goddesses worshipful
now or adored,
Helmeted victory!
How did we bow, even in dream, visions betraying us, unto some
other and base
Power when your splendor there
Struck on the gates? Use us again, awfully beautiful. Blood will
reblossom from death
Burning to minister
All its revived fire at your feet, only to merit an eye-glance, or
flash of your hand's
Gauntleted majesty.
Pounding of guns clear you a path, trample the ports of decision
and triumph on the slain.
Men when they fall in it
Gayly they die, scattering for flowers rosy and white at your
feet the red blood and pale brains
Carpeting battlefields.
Towering in steel, terribly armed, which of the daughters of
heaven is so hotly desired?
None has embraced you yet,
All of us burn, beautifully mad, frantic with lust of your beauty
and with thirst of your mouth's
Terrible maidenhood;
Holy and white, under the steel, hide the sweet limbs of our
longing desire in a deep
Sacred virginity.
Emperors and lords gave her in vain cities of gold and whole
nations of blood, for she took
Gifts, but rejected them.
Neither a king's bribe nor a bold armorer's hammer prevails to
unrivet the steel
Belt of her maidenhood,
Yet shall our prayer surely be heard. Goddess of glory revoke our
exemption of death,
Twice let us die for you.
Use us again, though but an hour: surely the prayer is as humble
as the gift would be great,
Helmeted Victory.
(The dancer goes out.)

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Poem Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010

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