Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The unformed volcanic earth, a female thing,
Furiously following with the other planets
Their lord the sun: her body is molten metal pressed rigid
By its own mass; her beautiful skin,
basalt and granite and the lighter elements,
Swam to the top. She was like a mare in heat eyeing the stallion,
Screaming for life in the womb; her atmosphere
Was the breath of her passion: not the blithe air
Men breathe and live, but marsh gas, ammonia, sulphured hydrogen,
Such poison as our remembering bodies return to
When they die and decay and the end of life
Meets its beginning. The sun heard her and stirred
Her thick air with fierce lightnings and flagellations
Of germinal power, building impossible molecules, amino-acids
And flashy unstable protiens: thence life was born,
Its nitrogen from ammonia, carbon from methane,
Water from the cloud and salts from the young seas,
It dribbled down into the primal ocean like a babe's urine
Soaking the cloth: heavily built protein molecules
Chemically growing, bursting apart as the tensions
In the inordinate molecule become unbearable--
That is to say, growing and reproducing themselves, a virus
On the warm ocean.

Time and the world changed,
The proteins were no longer created, the ammoniac atmosphere
And the great storms no more. The virus now
Must labor to maintain itself. It clung together
Into bundles of life, which we call cells,
With microscopic walls enclosing themselves
Against the world. But why would life maintain itself,
Being nothing but a dirty scum on the sea
Dropped from foul air? Could it perhaps perceive
Glories to come? Could it foresee that cellular life
Would make the mountain forest and the eagle dawning,
Monstrously beautiful, wings, eyes and claws, dawning,
Over the rock ridge? And the passionate human intelligence
Straining its limits, striving to understand itself and the universe to the last galaxy --
Fammantia moenia mundi, Lucretius wrote,
Alliterating like a Saxon -- all those Ms mean majesty --
The flaming world walls, far flung fortifications of being
Against non-being.

For another time the cells of life
Bound themselves into clans, a multitude of cells
To make one being -- as the molecules before
Hand made of many one cell. Meanwhile they had invented
Chlorophyll and ate sunlight, cradled in peace
On the warm waves; but certain assassins among them
Discovered that it was easier to eat flesh
Than feed on lean air and sunlight: thence the animals,
Greedy mouths and guts, life robbing life,
Grew from the plants; and as the ocean ebbed and flowed
many plants and animals
Were stranded in the great marshes along the shore,
Where many died and some lived. From these grew all land-life,
Plants, beasts and men; the mountain forest
and the mind of Aeschylus
And the mouse in the wall.

What is this thing called life? -- But I believe
That the earth and stars too, and the whole glittering universe,
and rocks on the mountain have life,
Only we do not call it so -- I speak of the life
That oxydizes fats and proteins and carbo-
Hydrates to live on, and from that chemical energy
Makes pleasure and pain, wonder, love, adoration, hatred and terror:
how do these things grow
From a chemical reaction?

I think they were here already. I think the rocks
And the earth and the other planets, and the stars and galaxies
Have their various consciousnesses, all things are conscious;
But the nerves of an animal,
the nerves and brain are like a burning-glass
To concentrate the heat and make it catch fire:
It seems to us martyrs hotter than the blazing hearth
From which it came. So we scream and laugh, clamorous animals
Born howling to die groaning: the old stones in the dooryard
Prefer silence: but those and all things have their own awareness,
As the cells of a man have; they feel and feed
and influence each other, each unto all
Like the cells of a man's body making one being,
They make one being, one consciousness, one life, one God.

But whence came the race of man? I will make a guess.
A change of climate killed the great northern forests,
Forcing manlike apes down from their trees,
They starved up there. They had been secure up there,
But famine is no security: among the withered branches blue famine:
They had to go down to the earth, where green still grew
And small meats might be gleaned. But there the great flesh-eaters,
Tiger and panther and the horrible fumbling bear
and endless wolf-packs made life
A dream of death. Therefore man had those dreams,
And kills out of pure terror. Therefore man walks erect,
Forever alerted: as the bear rises to fight
So man does always. Therefore he invented fire and flint weapons
In his desperate need. Therefore he is cruel and bloody-handed and
quick-witted, having survived
Against all odds. Never blame the man: his hard-pressed
Ancestors formed him: the other anthropoid apes were safe
In the great southern rain-forest and hardly changed
In a million years: but the race of man was made
By shock and agony. Therefore they invented
the song called language
To celebrate their survival and record their deeds.
And therefore the deeds they celebrate --
Achilles raging in the flame of the south,
Baltic Beowulf like a fog-blinded sea-bear
Prowling the blasted fenland
in the bleak twilight to the black water --
Are cruel and bloody. Epic, drama, and history,
Jesus and Judas, Jenghiz, Julius Ceasar, no great poem
Without the blood-splash. They are a little lower than the angels,
as someone said. -- Blood-snuffing rats:
But never blame them: a wound was made in the brain
When life became too hard, and has never healed.
It is there that they learned
trembling religion and blood-sacrifice,
It is there that they learned
to butcher beasts and slaughter men,
And hate the world: the great religions of love and kindness
May conceal that, not change it. They are not primary but reactions
Against the hate: as the eye after feeding on a red sunfall
Will see green suns.

The human race is one of God's sense organs,
Immoderately alerted to feel good and evil
And pain and pleasure. It is a nerve-ending,
Like eye, ear, taste-buds (hardly able to endure
The nauseous draught) it is a sensory organ of God's.
As Titan-mooded Lear or Prometheus reveal to their audience
Extremes of pain and passion they will never find
In their own lives but through the poems as sense-organs
They feel and know them:
so the exultations and agonies of beasts and men
Are sense organs of God: and on other globes
Throughout the universe much greater nerve-endings
Enrich the consciousness of the one being
Who is all that exists. This is man's mission:
To find and feel; all animal experience
Is a part of God's life. He would be balanced and neutral
As a rock on the shore, but the red sunset-waves
Of life's passions fling over him.
Slowly, perhaps, man may grow into it --
Do you think so? This villainous king of beasts,
this deformed ape? -- He has mind
And imagination, he might go far
And end in honor. The hawks are more heroic
but man has a steeper mind,
Huge pits of darkness, high peaks of light,
You may calculate a comet's orbit or the dive of a hawk,
not a man's mind.

-- Robinson Jeffers