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Personal Choice 57

Original Sin

The man-brained and man-handed ground-ape, physically

The most repulsive of all hot-blooded animals

Up to that time of the world: they had dug a pitfall

And caught a mammoth, but how could their sticks and stones

Reach the life in that hide? They danced around the pit, shrieking

With ape excitement, flinging sharp flints in vain, and the stench of their bodies

Stained the white air of dawn; but presently one of them

Remembered the yellow dancer, wood-eating fire

That guards the cave-mouth: he ran and fetched him, and others

Gathered sticks at the wood’s edge; they made a blaze

And pushed it into the pit, and they fed it high, around the mired sides

Of their huge prey. They watched the long hairy trunk

Waver over the stifle trumpeting pain,

And they were happy.

Meanwhile the intense colour and nobility of sunrise,

Rose and gold and amber, flowed up the sky. Wet rocks were shining, a little wind

Stirred the leaves of the forest and the marsh flag-flowers; the soft valley between the low hills

Became as beautiful as the sky; while in its midst, hour after hour, the happy hunters

Roasted their living meat slowly to death.

These are the people.

This is the human dawn. As for me, I would rather

Be a worm in a wild apple than a son of man.

But we are what we are, and we might remember

Not to hate any person, for all are vicious;

And not be astonished at any evil, all are deserved;

And not fear death; it is the only way to be cleansed.

Robinson Jeffers

Robinson Jeffers (1887 – 1962) was an American poet, known for his work about the central

California coast. Much of Jeffers's poetry was written in narrative and epic form. However, he is also known for his shorter verse and is considered an environmental movement icon.

I discovered this fascinating poem when I first went teaching and it became one of my ‘teaching’ poems. It was very successful in generating discussion about the nature of poetry, the nature of us as humankind and a poem that often began in those very early days of environmental concerns and what we were doing to the planet.


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