Cawdor by Robinson Jeffers
Educated in the classical tradition, Jeffers was a scholar and scientist, before settling on poetry for his living. He lived near Carmel, California and centered much of his poetry on the natural landscape around him. And these moments of natural beauty are what shine brightest in his work.
Jeffers based his narrative poem Cawdor on Euripides’ tragedy of Phaedra and Hippolytus; woman marries husband but falls in love with son. Before the requisite confusion can be resolved, Phaedra commits suicide and Hippolytus is killed. In Greek tragedy the gods are always inventing our doom: not so in Jeffers’ world:
‘…There is something within us knows our fates from the first, our ends from the very fountain; and we in our nights may overhear its knowledge by accident, all to no purpose…’
The backdrop of coastal California lends to the hardness and savagery of the poem. Life and death become intertwined and he moves with sure steps between the two. When describing the moments after death, Jeffers is particularly resonant:
‘…one might say the brain began to glow, with its own light, in the starless darkness under the dead bone sky; like bits of rotting wood on the floor of the night forest warm rains have soaked, you see them beside the path shine like vague eyes. So gently the dead man’s brain glowing by itself made and enjoyed its dream.’
As with all poetry, read it slowly, take it in. And if you are a fan of Cormac McCarthy, you will enjoy this poem. He was influenced by Jeffers work.