I am struggling to read this morning—Milosz is writing Merton about Robinson Jeffers, how he is attracted to Jeffers because of his effort to communicate a vision of the universe. “Of course, I recognize that long poems of Jeffers are failures,” Milosz writes. “And I cannot agree with his Weltanschuauung.” I look up the term. I know Jeffers opposed our involvement in the second world war, which led to his being shunned by the reading public—was there a reading public in America—and his poems fell out of favor.
Milosz frees me from the obligation of reading his longer poems by calling them failures. How easy it is to call something a failure. Much along the same lines as saying that all of the great poetry has already been written. A friend told me that once after reading my poems. I quit writing him. All meaningful thinking has already been thought, I might have told him. Or all meaningful lives have already been lived. All friendships. Love affairs. All the great wars have already been fought, I scribble in my notebook. Now there’s a thought.
Sometimes I feel that those of us who bother with poetry have taken up residence in the Galapagos islands.
I think about Jeffers living in Carmel, in Tor House. I find myself missing the Pacific Ocean this morning—I am sitting on the fire escape of my old barracks in Presidio overlooking Monterey Bay. I memorize the coast line. I have written this before. That perch on the fire escape platform was a refuse of mine for years. I knew when I lived there, it would be. I read a line from a Jeffers’s poem:
I am not dead, I have only become inhuman:
That is to say,
Undressed myself of laughable prides and infirmities,
But not as a man
Undresses to creep into bed, but like and athlete
Stripping for the race.
I sleep in my clothes, I write. Or I walk around, go to the store, in my pajamas. This dressing and undressing seems unimportant to me. Sweats are the only comfortable pants, and since it is fruitless to dress to impress anyone anymore—you see it in older men, this attitude of fuck you if you can’t take a joke.
The delicate ravel of nerves that made me a measurer
Of certain fictions…
I take a breath and try to center myself. Jeffers tells us to not be so self-absorbed. You are not the center of the universe, I think he is trying to tell us. But you are at the same time part of the beauty of it.
Miller wanted nothing to do with the war or the goons who created it. He had little use for the mechanisms of anything which robbed us of being alive—war and business and the maniacs who ran things. Miller ends up at Big Sur. Brautigan writes about Miller’s mail box in Confederate General.
Every day this past week, I have walked to the river, explored my sliver of wild here. I talk to the trees and tell them spring is coming. Grow your leaves and start producing oxygen. You are our last line of defense, I whisper to them. Our last hope.