But It Isn’t Freedom

 

Shine, Perishing Republic
by Robinson Jeffers

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass
hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots to make
earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence; and
home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly long
or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine, perishing
republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening
center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there are left the
mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant, insufferable
master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught—they say—God, when he
walked on earth.

h/t Hadley

********

From “The Spirit of Place”–D.H. Lawrence

Those Pilgrim Fathers and their successors never came here for freedom of worship. What did they set up when they got here? Freedom, would you call it?

They didn’t come for freedom. Or if they did, they sadly went back on themselves.

All right then, what did they come for ? For lots of reasons. Perhaps least of all in search of freedom of any sort: positive freedom, that is.

They came largely to get away – that most simple of motives. To get away. Away from what? In the long run, away from themselves. Away from everything. That’s why most people have come to America, and still do come. To get away from everything they are and have been.

‘Henceforth be masterless.’

Which is all very well, but it isn’t freedom. Rather the reverse. A hopeless sort of constraint. It is never freedom till you kind something you really positively want to be. And people in America have always been shouting about the things they are not. Unless, of course, they are millionaires, made or in the making.

 

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4 Comments

  1. SS June 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    Creating the idea of freedom as a “liberty” means that it is truly not, or not accepted inherently as such. This feels the same to me as the idea of honesty as a policy that you mentioned earlier today. The “Pilgrim Fathers” came here to enslave; freedom is defined in this country historically as a negative, i.e. other people have to be not free so we understand some of us as free? We create so many different kinds of social slaves.

    Reply
  2. HCL June 25, 2012 at 11:48 am

    Jeffers seems to have a very different idea of freedom – more akin to Melville’s “subtilizing” than DH’s exhortation that we must know what we “want to be.”

    Some things he says:

    from “Foreword” to The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (1938)
    Long ago [ . . . ] it became evident to me that poetry—if it was to survive at all—must reclaim some of the power and reality that it was so hastily surrendering to prose. The modern French poetry of that time, and the most “modern” of the English poetry, seemed to me thoroughly defeatist, as if poetry were in terror of prose, and desperately trying to save its soul from the victor by giving up its body. It was becoming slight and fantastic, abstract, unreal, eccentric; and was not even saving its soul, for these are generally anti-poetic qualities. It must reclaim substance and sense, and physical and psychological reality. This feeling has been basic in my mind since then. It led me to write narrative poetry, and to draw subjects from contemporary life; to present aspects of life that modern poetry had generally avoided; and to attempt the expression of philosophic and scientific ideas in verse. It was not in my mind to open new fields for poetry, but only to reclaim old freedom.

    from “Themes in My Poems” (1941)
    Another theme that has much engaged my verses is the expression of a religious feeling, that perhaps must be called pantheism, though I hate to type it with a name. It is the feeling…I will say the certainty…that the universe is one being, a single organism, one great life that includes all life and all things; and is so beautiful that it must be loved and reverenced; and in moments of mystical vision we identify ourselves with it.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    If a person spends all his emotion on his own body and states of mind, he is mentally diseased, and the disease is called narcissism. It seems to me, analogously, that the whole human race spends too much emotion on itself. The happiest and freest man is the scientist investigating nature, or the artist admiring it; the person who is interested in things that are not human. Or if he is interested in human things, let him regard them objectively, as a very small part of the great music. Certainly humanity has claims, on all of us; we can best fulfil them by keeping our emotional sanity; and this by seeing beyond and around the human race.
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    Science usually takes things to pieces in order to discover them; it dissects and analyzes; poetry puts things together, producing equally valid discovery, and actual creation. Something new is found out, something that the author himself did not know before he wrote it; and something new is made.

    from notes for a response to a letter to Dorothy Thompson (December 1938)
    . . . You speak of the present isolation and spiritual despair of the individual; and I must confess that I value the isolation, and don’t feel the despair.
    . . . Justice is a fighting word and so is freedom.

    Reply
    1. Douglas Storm June 25, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      The first bit made me think of Muriel Rukeyser–her first book, Theory of Flight, and her bio work on Thomas Hariot and Willard Gibbs. As well her exploration of motherhood from out of that sensibility.

      The next about sanity/disease seems to me right on–but this again I would identify with “sight” and technology. The disease is endemic in the culture now. We are all narcissists and “scientists” and we cannot see our way to art and poetry anymore unless it is a “lyric” or an ode to Onan.

      As well, the rest–art is making and discovering and the “destruction” of art that allows the new creation is one of understanding being NOT of materiality.

      Reply
    2. focus June 29, 2012 at 3:06 pm

      Thanks for adding this excerpt.

      Reply

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