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Robinson Jeffers

Jeffers’ “Credo”

I just ordered a new version of The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, this one edited by Tim Hunt. I did it because the Random House copy had started to turn brown and was giving me a sinus headache since I am wildly allergic to book mold. More importantly, much of Jeffers’ poetry that was being cited on the web came from his later poetry, which was not included in the earlier Selected Poetry.

I’ve noted a number of changes in the book in the part I’ve already read, but I can’t imagine why Jeffers would have omitted this poem from his earlier collection:

CREDO

My, friend from Asia has powers and magic, he plucks a blue leaf from the young blue-gum
And gazing upon it gathering and quieting
The God in his mind, creates an ocean more real than the ocean, the salt, the actual
Appalling presence, the power of the waters.
He believes that nothing is real except as we make it. I humbler have found in my blood
Bred west of Caucasus a harder mysticism.
Multitude stands in my mind but I think that the ocean in the bone vault is only
The bone vault’s ocean: out there is the ocean’s;

The water is the water, the cliff is the rock, come shocks and flashes of reality. The mind
Passes, the eye closes, the spirit is a passage;
The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself, the heart-breaking beauty
Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.

As I’ve made clear, I’m quite drawn to Asian literature, particularly the Taoists and Chan Buddhism, but I don’t think I could agree with any poem more than this one.

This is my answer to Wallace Stevens’ “The Jar,” the answer I’ve never been able to articulate as directly and concisely as:

The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself, the heart-breaking beauty
Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.

It is delightful to imagine new realities, brave new worlds, but all are but a poor imitation of the transcending beauty of the world that already lays before us if only we’re able to see it.