The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Robinson Jeffers—Critical Poems

The Bedford Intro to Literature (2002) illustrates the corporate cooptation of literature.  Robinson Jeffers is omitted altogether, while a 12-page Seinfeld episode included. Many lesser poets are incorporated into the anthology. How would a college professor with the function of training future corporate or educationist bureaucrats explain the following Jeffers’ poems?  Jeffers had dared protest World War II, a popular war, as opposed to Vietnam or Iraq. 

New Year’s Dawn, 1947
Two morning stars, Venus and Jupiter,
Walk in the pale and liquid light
Above the color of these dawns; and as the tide of light
Rises higher the great planet vanishes
While the nearer still shines. The yellow wave of light
In the east and south reddens, the opaque ocean
Becomes pale purple: 0 delicate
Earnestness of dawn, the fervor and pallor.
Stubbornly I think again: The state is a blackmailer,
Honest or not, with whom we make (within reason)
Our accommodations. There is no valid authority
In church nor state, custom, scripture nor creed,
But only in one's own conscience and the beauty of things.
Doggedly I think again: One's conscience is a trick oracle,
Worked by parents and nurse-maids, the pressure of the
And the delusions of dead prophets: trust it not.
Wash it clean to receive the transhuman beauty: then
trust it.


Quia Absurdum
GUARD yourself from the terrible empty light of
    space, the bottomless
Pool of the stars. (Expose yourself to it: you might learn
Guard yourself from perceiving the inherent nastiness of
man and woman.
(Expose your mind to it: you might learn something.)
Faith, as they now confess, is preposterous, an act of will.
Choose the Christian sheep-cote
Or the Communist rat-fight: faith will cover your head
from the man-devouring stars.


Be Angry at the Sun
That public men publish falsehoods
Is nothing new.  That America must accept
Like the historical republics corruption and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for setting
If these things anger you.  Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these people,
     those warriors.
This republic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them gesticulating,
Observe them going down.  The gang serves lies,
     the passionate
Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
Hunts in no pack. 

You are not Catullus, you know,
To lampoon these crude sketches of Caesar.  You
     are far
From Dante’s feet, but even farther from his dirty
Political hatreds. 

Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes
     to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

Advice to Pilgrims
That our senses lie and our minds trick us is true,

but in general
They are honest rustics; trust them a little;
The senses more than the mind, and your own mind more
than another man's.
As to the mind's pilot, intuition
Catch him clean and stark naked, he is first of truth-
tellers; dream-clothed, or dirty
With fears and wishes, he is prince of liars.
The first fear is of death: trust no immortalist. The first
Is to be loved: trust no mother's son.
Finally I say let demagogues and world-redeemers babble
their emptiness
To empty ears; twice duped is too much.
Walk on gaunt shores and avoid the people; rock and
wave are good prophets;
Wise are the wing's of the gull. pleasant her song.


We Are Those People
I have abhorred the wars and despised the liars, laughed at the frightened
And forecast victory; never one moment's doubt.
But now not far, over the backs of some crawling years, the next
Great war's column of dust and fire writhes
Up the sides of the sky: it becomes clear that we too may suffer
What others have, the brutal horror of defeat—
Or if not in the next, then in the next—therefore watch Germany
And read the future. We wish, of course, that our women
Would die like biting rats in the cellars, our men like wolves on the mountain:
It will not be so. Our men will curse, cringe, obey;
Our women uncover themselves to the grinning victors for bits of chocolate.