For the most part, the poems I put up here are fairly obscure. I make exceptions for the work of some of my favorite poets. And for all his apparent misanthropy, there are few poets I love better than Robinson Jeffers. The great poet of my home-town, Carmel by-the-Sea, Jeffers also had a strong Southern California connection -- he graduated at 18 from Occidental College and later studied at USC.
This is one of his better-known poems, and it always challenges me. I've never intentionally killed a living animal larger than my finger nail, but I've seen it done. When I was a child, I saw our ranch caretaker shoot a horse that had been trapped in a cattleguard; it apparently "had to be done", and I've never forgotten it. I accept that such things may be necessary, but have no idea how I could do it or bear it.
The broken pillar of the wing jags from the clotted shoulder,
The wing trails like a banner in defeat,
No more to use the sky forever but live with famine
And pain a few days: cat nor coyote
Will shorten the week of waiting for death, there is game without talons.
He stands under the oak-bush and waits
The lame feet of salvation; at night he remembers freedom
And flies in a dream, the dawns ruin it.
He is strong and pain is worse to the strong, incapacity is worse.
The curs of the day come and torment him
At distance, no one but death the redeemer will humble that head,
The intrepid readiness, the terrible eyes.
The wild God of the world is sometimes merciful to those
That ask mercy, not often to the arrogant.
You do not know him, you communal people, or you have forgotten him;
Intemperate and savage, the hawk remembers him;
Beautiful and wild, the hawks, and men that are dying, remember him.
I'd sooner, except the penalties, kill a man than a hawk;
but the great redtail
Had nothing left but unable misery
From the bone too shattered for mending, the wing that trailed under his talons when he moved.
We had fed him six weeks, I gave him freedom,
He wandered over the foreland hill and returned in the evening, asking for death,
Not like a beggar, still eyed with the old
I gave him the lead gift in the twilight.
What fell was relaxed, Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what
Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising
Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.