Today’s guest poster is Mary Follen of Portland, Oregon. Her positioning of Robinson Jeffers’ poem “To the Stone-Cutters” is so thoughtful (Poet’s Beach! could it be more perfect?) and enriches my experience of the poem and hopefully the passers-by’s experience of the riverbank. I had heard of Jeffers but was not familiar with him or his fascination with rocks. Thank you, Mary, for the introduction!
And heeeeeeere she is! Take it away, Mary!
To the Stone-Cutters
by Robinson Jeffers
Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you fore-defeated
Challengers of oblivion
Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
The square-limbed Roman letters
Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain. The poet as well
Builds his monument mockingly:
For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth dies, the brave sun
Die blind, his heart blackening:
Yet stones have stood for a thousand years, and pained thoughts found
The honey peace in old poems.
Dear Poem Elf—
I am so delighted to be invited to be a “poem elf assistant” to help celebrate 10 years of this wonderful offering to the world! I have loved your postings and eagerly open each new entry. (Thank you!) I especially loved your recent moving tribute to the English teacher who died of Covid 19. You could have been describing my beloved older sister, retiring this year after a long career teaching English to “America’s future” as she so wryly says. Alas. . . this year she should be going out with bang. . . she too was one of those life-changing amazing teachers. . . but instead it will be a whimper. . . and an on-line one at that. Such strange, sad times.
Melancholy times call to mind dour poets, perhaps! Who more dour than Robinson Jeffers, eh? This “Poet’s Beach” is a small, pocket park on the banks of the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. There are “poem fragments” about the river written by children, etched into the stones. . . indeed, words already wearing away in the rain. In these days of uncertainty and anxiety, more than ever I turn to nature and poetry to taste the “honey of peace,” in old poems and ancient stones.
The poet Robinson Jeffers (1887 – 1962) studied geology in college and worked in stone all his life. In 1914 Jeffers and his wife moved to Carmel, CA. To build a home, Jeffers first hired a local builder and then worked alongside him, learning the art of stonemasonry. By 1919 Jeffers was hauling boulders up from the beach, shaping them, and using them to add rooms to the home, which he named Tor House. Later, he built the four story Hawk Tower, named for a hawk that appeared while Jeffers worked on the structure, and disappeared the day it was finished. The Tor House Foundation maintains the house and grounds for visitors and preserves the legacy of Robinson Jeffers.
As Morgan Mussell (a writer who blogs at thefirstgates.com) writes, “Jeffers’ work with stone is central to his austere poetic vision of a human spirit that longs to fly like a hawk and find something that lasts, but in the end acknowledges that in this life, it can do neither.”