Sunday Poem – The Deer Lay Down Their Bones

The Deer Lay Down Their Bones

by Robinson Jeffers

I followed the narrow cliffside trail half way up the mountain
Above the deep river-canyon. There was a little cataract crossed the path,
flinging itself
Over tree roots and rocks, shaking the jeweled fern-fronds, bright
bubbling water
Pure from the mountain, but a bad smell came up. Wondering at it I
clambered down the steep stream
Some forty feet, and found in the midst of bush-oak and laurel,
Hung like a bird’s nest on the precipice bank a small hidden clearing,
Grass and a shallow pool. But all about there were bones lying in the
grass, clean bones and stinking bones,
Antlers and bones: I understood that the place was a refuge for wounded
deer; there are so many
Hurt ones escape the hunters and limp away to lie hidden; here they have
water for the awful thirst
And peace to die in; dense green laurel and grim cliff
Make sanctuary, and a sweet wind blows upward from the deep gorge. —
I wish my bones were with theirs.
But that’s a foolish thing to confess, and a little cowardly. We know that
Is on the whole quite equally good and bad, mostly gray netural, and can
be endured
To the dim end, no matter what magic  of grass, water and precipice, and
pain of wounds,
Makes death look dear We have been given life and have used it — not a
great gift perhaps — but in honesty
Shoud use it all. Mine’s empty since my love died — Empty? The flame-
haired grandchild with great blue eyes
That look like hers? — What can I do for the child? I gaze at her and
wonder what sort of man
In the fall of the world…I am growing old, that is the trouble. My
children and little grandchildren
Will find their way, and why should I wait ten years yet, having lived
sixty-seven, ten years more or less,
Before I crawl out on a ledge of rock and die snapping, like a wolf
Who has lost his mate? — I am bound by my own thirty-year-decision:
who drinks the wine
Should take the dregs; even in the bitter lees and sediment
New discovery may lie. The deer in that beautiful place lay down their
bones: I must wear mine.

Featured photo by Suzette A Paduano

Found in “The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers: Volume Three, 1939-1962”.

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