Kees’ “Lands End”

I thought this poem by Weldon Kees was interesting, perhaps because of how different his treatment of the subject matter is from a Robinson Jeffers poem (see Jeffers’ November Surf) that I just finished commenting on.

LANDS END

A day all blue and white, and we
Came out of woods to sand
And snow-capped waves. The sea
Rose with us as we walked, the land
Built dunes, a lighthouse, and a sky of gulls.

Here where I built my life ten years ago,
The day breaks gray and cold;
And brown surf, muddying the shore,
Deposits fish-heads, sewage, rusted tin.
Children and men break bottles on the stones.
Beyond the lighthouse, black against the sky,
Two gulls are circling where the woods begin.

I like both poems, but despite the fact that he was considerably younger than Jeffers, Kees’ poem seems dated to me, reminding me a lot of Eliot’s “Wasteland.” There’s certainly no sense of environmentalism in Kees’ poem. Rather, he sees the desolation merely as a reflection of his own inner state.

As noted in my comments on “November Surf,” I’d be much more likely to react with outrage to the pollution desecrating the beach than with a sense of inner despair, but, then, I’m much more likely to be outraged than I am to be overcome with a sense of despair — which, of course, is not to say that I haven’t occasionally seen the PNW’s dark skies as a reflection of my own mood.

4 thoughts on “Kees’ “Lands End”

  1. Loren, great to find your site. So many of my favorite poets in the mix here. Especially Roethke. Nothing to add to your post just wanted to say hey, and I’ll be back.

  2. Startling to realize that “Land’s End” was written before 1955. In the late 1960s, as a young woman who loved the place where she was born and felt concerned, I thought that the polluted Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay that we were observing was something fairly new.

    When Kees refers to “here where I built my life ten years ago,” I can only imagine how Land’s End may have looked in the 1940s, when my father (born in the same year as Weldon Kees) and his Navy friends walked at Land’s End, when the San Francisco Bay area was much less populated than it is today. Kees chose an extraordinarily beautiful place to build his life but a place many times more vulnerable to overpopulation and degradation than the Big Sur of Robinson Jeffers. Interesting to see the differences between Kees and Jeffers.

    Having found some information about Weldon Kees, I see that he lived in San Francisco from 1950 to 1955, not during the 1940s. Now I’m puzzled. That’s good. Poetry is that way. There is a literal Land’s End and a figurative Land’s End.

    Literal Land’s End panorama with view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

  3. It reminds me of the lines from Plath’s 1959 poem “Suicide off Egg Rock”
             and the ochreous salt flats,
    Gas tanks, factory stacks—that landscape
    Of imperfections his bowels were part of—
    Rippled and pulsed in the glassy updraught.
    Sun struck the water like a damnation.
    ……
                       Children
    Were squealing where combers broke and the spindrift
    Raveled wind-ripped from the crest of the wave.
    A mongrel working his legs to a gallop
    Hustled a gull flock to flap off the sandspit.

  4. Interesting comparison, noel.

    I’ll have to admit that reading Kees reminded me of Sexton and Plath, though I certainly found Sexton’s poetry more interesting than his.

What do you think?