William Everson, The Poet Is Dead

The Poet is Dead

A memorial for Robinson Jeffers

In the evening the dusk
Stipples with light. The long shore
Gathers darkness in on itself
And goes cold. From the lap of silence
All the tide-crest’s pivotal immensity
Lifts into the land.

*

Snow on the headland,
Rare on the coast of California.
Snow on Point Lobos,
Falling all night,
Filling the creeks and the back country,
The strangely beautiful
Setting of death.

*

For the poet is dead.
The pen, splintered on the sheer
Excesses of vision, unfingered, falls.
The heart-crookt hand, cold as stone,
Lets it go down.

*

The great tongue is dried.
The teeth that bit to the bitterness
Are sheathed in truth.

*

If you listen
You can hear the field mice
Kick little rifts in the snow-swirls.
You can hear
Time take back its own.

*

For the poet is dead.
On the bed by the window,
Where dislike and desire
Killed each other in the crystalline interest,
What remains alone lets go of its light. It has found
Finalness. It has touched what it craved: the passionate
Darks of deliverance.

*

At sundown the seawind,
Burgeoning,
Bled the west empty.

*

Now the opulent
Threacherous woman called Life
Forsakes her claim. Blond and a harlot
She once drank joy from his narrow loins.
She broke his virtue in her knees.

*

In the water-gnawn coves of Point Lobos
The white-faced sea otters
Fold their paws on their velvet breasts
And list waveward.

*

But he healed his pain on the wisdom of stone.
He touched roots for his peace.

*

For the poet is dead. The gaunt wolf
Crawled out to the edge and died snapping.
He said he would. The wolf
Who lost his mate. He said he would carry the wound,
The blood-wound of life, to the broken edge
And die grinning.

*

Over the salt marsh the killdeer,
Unrestrainable,
Cry fear against moonset.

*

And all the hardly suspected
Latencies of disintegration
Inch forward. The skin
Flakes loss. On the death-gripped feet
The toenails glint like eyeteeth
From the pinched flesh.
The caged ribs and the bladed shoulders,
Ancient slopes of containment,
Imperceptibly define the shelves of structure,
Faced like rock ridges
Boned out of the mountains, absently revealed
With the going of the snow.

*

In the sleeve of darkness the gopher
Tunnels the sod for short grass
And pockets his fill.

*

And the great phallus shrinks in the groin,
The seed in the scrotum
Chills.

*

When the dawn comes in again,
Thoughtlessly,
The sea birds will mew by the window.

*

For the poet is dead. Beyond the courtyard
The ocean at full tide hunches its bulk.
Groping among the out-thrusts of granite
It moans and whimpers. In the phosphorescent
Restlessness it chunks deceptively,
Wagging its torn appendages, dipping and rinsing
Its ripped sea rags, its strip-weeded kelp.
The old mother grieves her deathling.
She trundles the dark for her lost child.
She hunts her son.

*

On the top of the tower
The hawk will not perch tomorrow.

*

But in the gorged rivermouth
Already the steelhead fight for entry.
They feel fresh water
Sting through the sieves of their salt-coarsened gills.
They shudder and thrust.

*

So the sea broods. And the aged gull,
Asleep on the water, too stiff to feed,
Spins in a side-rip crossing the surf
And drags down.

*

This mouth is shut. I say
The mouth is clamped cold.
I tell you this tongue is dried.

*

But the skull, the skull,
The perfect sculpture of bone!—
Around the forehead the fine hair,
Composed to the severest
Lineaments of thought,
Is molded on peace.

*

And the strongly-wrought features,
That keep in the soul’s serenest achievement
The spirit’s virtue,
Set the death mask of all mortality,
The impress of that grace.

*

In the shoal-champed breakers
One wing of the gull
Tilts like a fin through the ribbon of spume
And knifes under.

*

And all about there the vastness of night
Affirms its sovereignty. There’s not a cliff
Of the coastline, not a reef
Of the waterways, from the sword-thrust Aleutians
To the scorpion-tailed stinger Cape Horn—
All that staggering declivity
Grasped in the visionary mind and established—
But is sunken under the dark ordainment,
Like a sleeper possessed, like a man
Gone under, like a powerful swimmer
Plunged in a womb-death washed out to sea
And worked back ashore.

*

The gull’s eye,
Skinned to the wave, retains the ocean’s
Imponderable compression,
And burns yellow.

*

The poet is dead. I tell you
The nostrils are narrowed. I say again and again
The strong tongue is broken.

*

But the owl
Quirks in the cypresses, and you hear
What he says. He is calling for something.
He tucks his head for his mate’s
Immemorial whisper. In her answering voice
He tastes the grace-note of his reprieve.

*

When fog comes again to the canyons
The redwoods will know what it means.
The giant sisters
Gather it into their merciful arms
And stroke silence.

*

You smell pine resin laced in the salt
And know the dawn wind has veered.

*

And on the shelf in the gloom,
Blended together, the tall books emerge,
All of a piece. Transparent as membranes
The thin leaves of paper hug their dark thoughts.
They know what he said.

*

The sea, reaching for life,
Spits up the gull. He falls spread-eagled,
The streaked wings swept on the sand.
Vague fingers of snow, aimlessly deft, grope for his eyes.
When the blind head snaps
The beak krakes at the sky.

*

Now the night closes.
All the dark’s nugatory
Decentralization
Quivers toward dawn.

*

He has gone into death like a stone thrown in the sea.

*

And in far places the morning
Shrills its episodes of triviality and vice
And one man’s passing. Could the ears
That hardly listened in life
Care much less now?

*

Snow on the headland,
The strangely beautiful
Oblique concurrence,
The strangely beautiful
Setting of death.

*

The great tongue
Dries in the mouth. I told you.
The voiceless throat
Cools silence. And the sea-granite eyes.
Washed in the sibilant waters
The stretched lips kiss peace.

*

The poet is dead.

*

Nor will ever again hear the sea lions
Grunt in the kelp at Point Lobos.
Nor look to the south when the grunion
Run the Pacific, and the plunging
Shearwaters, insatiable,
Stun themselves in the sea.

(from The Norton Anthology of Poetry (Third Edition), WW Norton & Company, New York, 1983; originally from The Veritable Years 1949-1966, Black Sparrow Press, 1978, © William Everson)

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