Friday, November 30, 2012


Waiting for the End of the Age

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), Thebaid:
How many turn back toward dreams and magic, how many children
Run home to Mother Church, Father State,
To find in their arms the delicious warmth and folding of souls.
The age weakens and settles home toward old ways.
An age of renascent faith: Christ said, Marx wrote, Hitler says,        5
And though it seems absurd we believe.
Sad children, yes. It is lonely to be adult, you need a father.
With a little practice you'll believe anything.

Faith returns, beautiful, terrible, ridiculous,
And men are willing to die and kill for their faith.        10
Soon come the wars of religion; centuries have passed
Since the air so trembled with intense faith and hatred.
Soon, perhaps, whoever wants to live harmlessly
Must find a cave in the mountain or build a cell
Of the red desert rock under dry junipers,        15
And avoid men, live with more kindly wolves
And luckier ravens, waiting for the end of the age.

Hermit from stone cell
Gazing with great stunned eyes,
What extravagant miracle        20
Has amazed them with light,
What visions, what crazy glory, what wings?
—I see the sun set and rise
And the beautiful desert sand
And the stars at night,        25
The incredible magnificence of things.
I the last living man
That sees the real earth and skies,
Actual life and real death.
The others are all prophets and believers        30
Delirious with fevers of faith.

For this reader, the egotism of "I" in lines 23 and especially 27 is a bit irritating, whether Jeffers is speaking in propria persona or whether he imagines a hermit other than himself speaking. I'd like the poem even better if Jeffers had used the third person in those lines instead. The tone of lines 7-8 also seems condescending. But the poem is still a useful rebuke to those whom Eric Hoffer called "true believers".

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