Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A poet, a tower, and cold comfort.

My boundless naivete notwithstanding, I hope living in a stone tower on some savage coastline is in my not too distant future. Considering the imperiled state of the future as is, I can't think of a better, more beautiful place to fortify myself and my projects and, if I'm lucky to have them, my loved ones.

Maybe even some stone-masonry training in the meantime. Yeah, I know, I know. Writers can't use their hands. Writers are incorrigible drunks and dilettantes. I've heard the epithets, the accusations, the assumptions. Carry on, stone-throwers. We are a civilization of the book, for better or worse or ambiguous.

In my defense, I've pulled ropes on boats, and run rickshaws, and hauled boxes in a warehouse, and was a mean center back in my fleeting basketball days even though I couldn't make a free throw. I can even assemble Ikea furniture in no time now. I might have been good at tennis had I stuck with it and not discovered poetry and Twin Peaks.

But I think of another writer who excelled with stone and who's words and deeds are brutal comforts in these dark times: Robinson Jeffers who lived in the above house, Tor House and Hawk Tower, in Carmel, California. He built them himself, wrote poetry in the afternoons, lived with his wife Una there. (Sounds like a hell of a woman: "Una was a woman who "would roar like a lion" while taking her cold bath each morning. . .") Jeffers, the epic poet, proto-environmentalist and self-avowed Inhumanist was a renegade who's cynicism is far more like the Greek's original conception than our own self-involved ironic hyper-sarcasm.

And who among us can persuasively argue against the Cynical lifestyle of
self-sufficiency (autarkeia), austerity (ask─ôsis) and shamelessness (anaideia)?????

I forget about Jeffers until I'm reminded of him again, which usually happens when I'm mentally and economically overwhelmed, disgusted by urban life or feeling viscerally the darkening that seems to be settling on everyone's hearts and minds.

Particularly this other famous Jeffers poem makes me feel "good," if by good I mean a combination of vindication, surrender, melancholy and fatalistic euphoria:

Be Angry At The Sun

Robinson Jeffers

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.

I think this is gonna require a part-two in a second.

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