Original Sin, Part II

I thought seriously about posting this poem for today’s entry:


The man-brained and man-handed ground-ape physically
The most repulsive of all hot-blooded animals
Up to that time of the world: they had dug a pitfall
And caught a mammoth, but how could their sticks and stones
Reach the life in that hide? They danced around the pit, shrieking
With ape excitement, flinging sharp flints in vain, and the stench of their bodies
Stained the white air of dawn; but presently one of them
Remembered the yellow dancer, wood-eating fire
That guards the cave-mouth: he ran and fetched him, and others
Gathered sticks at the wood’s edge; they made a blaze
And pushed it into the pit, and they fed it high, around the mired sides
Of their huge prey. They watched the long hairy trunk
Waver over the stifle-trumpeting pain,
And they were happy.

Meanwhile the intense color and nobility of sunrise
Rose and gold and amber, flowed up the sky. Wet rocks were
shining, a little wind
Stirred the leaves of the forest and the marsh flag-flowers;
the soft valley between the low hills
Became as beautiful as the sky; while in its midst, hour
after hour, the happy hunters
Roasted their living meat slowly to death.

These are the people.
This is the human dawn. As for me I would rather
Be a worm in a wild apple than a son of man.
But we are what we are, and we might remember
Not to hate any person, for all are vicious;
And not be astonished at any evil, all are deserved;
And not fear death; it is the only way to be cleansed.

as I remember being quite impressed with it when I first read it shortly after returning from Vietnam.

Though I’ve reverted to my original belief that man is born inherently good and society corrupts him, it still strikes a powerful note.

It reminds me of Golding’s Lord of the Flies, another work that seems to reaffirm the Old Testament version of man that requires redemption, though it’ s not clear what kind of redemption that would be for Jeffers.

I realized, however, that on a bright spring day like today, that this

was a more appropriate post.

6 thoughts on “Original Sin, Part II”

  1. This is one of my favourites among the Jeffers poems you’ve posted Loren. I like the line ‘I’d rather be a worm in a wild apple than a son of man’. Blunt, yet poetic, as many of his lines are.

    I’m not sure about the idea that man is born good and society corrupts him. As I grow older I tend to agree more with Wordsworth’s ‘the child is the father of the man’ notion, in the sense that individual personality traits – corrupt or otherwise – are there from the very beginning.

  2. Strange you should use Wordsworth, alan, since in “intimations of Immortality” he says,

    Not in entire forgetfulness,
    And not in utter nakedness,
    But trailing clouds of glory do we come
    From God, who is our home:

  3. I’ve never been a fan of “man is born a sinner” thinking. I think we are born with personality traits but that “evil” occurs because of the environment, though how that evil is shaped is not always (usually?) predictable. And that’s one of my favorite Wordsworth quotes, Loren!

  4. not sure about the issues of inherent evil but the last photo does bring to mind the last line of Wright’s “A Blessing.”

  5. The fact that I even remembered it and the title of the poem it came from must mean it’s also one of my favorite Wordsworth poems, tarakuanyin, otherwise I wouldn’t have recalled it.

    That’s a great last line, kjm. I might have to steal it some time and collage it on a picture.

  6. I suspect such things as love and compassion are just as much inherent human traits as are such traits as aggression and lying. If so, we were neither born good, nor born evil, but rather a mix of things.

    Yet, having said that, I also think society does much to bring out the worse in us at times. Perhaps that at least in part explains why depression and other emotional disorders are epidemic. Just a thought.

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