The Broken Balance
By Robinson Jeffers
Reference to a Passage in Plutarch's Life of Sulla The people buying and selling, consuming pleasures, talking in the archways, Were all suddenly struck quiet And ran from under stone to look up at the sky: so shrill and mournful, So fierce and final, a brazen Pealing of trumpets high up in the air, in the summer blue over Tuscany.
They marvelled; the soothsayers answered: "Although the Gods are little troubled toward men, at the end of each period A sign is declared in heaven Indicating new times, new customs, a changed people; the Romans Rule, and Etruria is finished; A wise mariner will trim the sails to the wind.
" I heard yesterday So shrill and mournful a trumpet-blast, It was hard to be wise.
You must eat change and endure; not be much troubled For the people; they will have their happiness.
When the republic grows too heavy to endure, then Caesar will carry It; When life grows hateful, there's power .
To the Children Power's good; life is not always good but power's good.
So you must think when abundance Makes pawns of people and all the loaves are one dough.
The steep singleness of passion Dies; they will say, "What was that?" but the power triumphs.
Loveliness will live under glass And beauty will go savage in the secret mountains.
There is beauty in power also.
You children must widen your minds' eyes to take mountains Instead of faces, and millions Instead of persons; not to hate life; and massed power After the lone hawk's dead.
III That light blood-loving weasel, a tongue of yellow Fire licking the sides of the gray stones, Has a more passionate and more pure heart In the snake-slender flanks than man can imagine; But he is betrayed by his own courage, The man who kills him is like a cloud hiding a star.
Then praise the jewel-eyed hawk and the tall blue heron; The black cormorants that fatten their sea-rock With shining slime; even that ruiner of anthills The red-shafted woodpecker flying, A white star between blood-color wing-clouds, Across the glades of the wood and the green lakes of shade.
These live their felt natures; they know their norm And live it to the brim; they understand life.
While men moulding themselves to the anthill have choked Their natures until the souls the in them; They have sold themselves for toys and protection: No, but consider awhile: what else? Men sold for toys.
Uneasy and fractional people, having no center But in the eyes and mouths that surround them, Having no function but to serve and support Civilization, the enemy of man, No wonder they live insanely, and desire With their tongues, progress; with their eyes, pleasure; with their hearts, death.
Their ancestors were good hunters, good herdsmen and swordsman, But now the world is turned upside down; The good do evil, the hope's in criminals; in vice That dissolves the cities and war to destroy them.
Through wars and corruptions the house will fall.
Mourn whom it falls on.
Be glad: the house is mined, it will fall.
IV Rain, hail and brutal sun, the plow in the roots, The pitiless pruning-iron in the branches, Strengthen the vines, they are all feeding friends Or powerless foes until the grapes purple.
But when you have ripened your berries it is time to begin to perish.
The world sickens with change, rain becomes poison, The earth is a pit, it Is time to perish.
The vines are fey, the very kindness of nature Corrupts what her cruelty before strengthened.
When you stand on the peak of time it is time to begin to perish.
Reach down the long morbid roots that forget the plow, Discover the depths; let the long pale tendrils Spend all to discover the sky, now nothing is good But only the steel mirrors of discovery .
And the beautiful enormous dawns of time, after we perish.
V Mourning the broken balance, the hopeless prostration of the earth Under men's hands and their minds, The beautiful places killed like rabbits to make a city, The spreading fungus, the slime-threads And spores; my own coast's obscene future: I remember the farther Future, and the last man dying Without succession under the confident eyes of the stars.
It was only a moment's accident, The race that plagued us; the world resumes the old lonely immortal Splendor; from here I can even Perceive that that snuffed candle had something .
a fantastic virtue, A faint and unshapely pathos .
So death will flatter them at last: what, even the bald ape's by-shot Was moderately admirable? VI.
Palinode All summer neither rain nor wave washes the cormorants Perch, and their droppings have painted it shining white.
If the excrement of fish-eaters makes the brown rock a snow-mountain At noon, a rose in the morning, a beacon at moonrise On the black water: it is barely possible that even men's present Lives are something; their arts and sciences (by moonlight) Not wholly ridiculous, nor their cities merely an offense.
VII Under my windows, between the road and the sea-cliff, bitter wild grass Stands narrowed between the people and the storm.
The ocean winter after winter gnaws at its earth, the wheels and the feet Summer after summer encroach and destroy.
Stubborn green life, for the cliff-eater I cannot comfort you, ignorant which color, Gray-blue or pale-green, will please the late stars; But laugh at the other, your seed shall enjoy wonderful vengeances and suck The arteries and walk in triumph on the faces.
Copyright © by the author.