Man against the Sky

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Robinson Jeffers (1887—1962)


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Ode by E. A. Robinson, with a basic pentameter line and varying meters and rhymes, the title piece of a volume published in 1916.

A figure seen on a hilltop, against the sunset sky, symbolizes mankind looming “before the chaos and the glare As if he were the last god going home Unto his last desire.” Conjecturing as to the attitude of mind of this solitary figure, the poet reviews the various raisons d'être advanced by philosophy, mysticism, common sense, and emotion, but indicates his skeptical view that men “Must each await alone at his own height Another darkness or another light.…” Life seems a “blind atomic pilgrimage,” to which we are led by “crass chance,” yet we have hints of some deeper meaning. This he conceives as “an orient Word that will not be erased,” vouchsafed in “incommunicable gleams Too permanent for dreams.” Earthbound and narrow-visioned, men gain only “a little wisdom and much pain”; but if they are to continue living they must cling to hope, realizing that “Eternity records Too vast an answer for the time-born words We spell.…”

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869—1935)

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