Humankind at the Edge
Humankind at the Edge
Humankind at the Edge
the start of the race; I say
Humanity is the mold to break away from, the crust to break through, the coal to break into fire,
the atom to split.
Fittingly, at the end of
thisannus horribilis, I'm reading "Robinson Jeffers, The
Poet of California," a biography by a local professor, James
Karman. In the 1920's, Jeffers' poetry was considered
"unsurpassed by any other poet writing today in English," in
the words of a leading reviewer of the time, "equaled only
by the very great," added another from the New York
Writing in the wake of World War I,
Jeffers felt he was literally and metaphorically standing at
the end of Western civilization in Hawk's Tower, which he
built with his own hands. The four-story granite addition to
Tor House, in now moneyed Carmel, sits at the edge of the
continent overlooking the Pacific, on a site favored by
Native Americans for thousands of years.
noteworthy that Jeffers built his famous house on top of an
Indian midden, which is the term archeologists use for
ancient garbage heaps. To a large extent, he saw humankind
that way, which is perhaps why, shortly after he suddenly
became famous, he just as quickly fell into obscurity.
Jeffers was not a cynic however. A cynic is a person
who stands apart from the humanity he derides, feeling, in
his derision, superior to that from which he is
Though I had read some of Jeffers
poetry when I was young, and was deeply moved by his vision
of humanity, much of it is new to me. There is a great deal
with which I feel deep congruence, although Jeffers'
approach was to diminish humankind to the point of
insignificance, rather than try to resolve 'the riddle of
man.' As such, he was one of the first proponents of the
'specks on a speck in space' worldview.
was correct when he wrote,
...don't be fooled--
It is all truly one life, red blood and tree sap,
Animal, mineral, sidereal, one stream, one organism,
His conception of God strikes a deep chord
in any mystic, which Jeffers certainly was, though one of
the harshest kind.
God is a hawk gliding among the stars--
If all the stars and the earth,
and the living flesh of the night that
flows in between them,
and whatever else is beyond them,
Were that one bird.
Not being content to leave things there, he added in the
same poem, "The Double Axe:"
He has a bloody beak and harsh talons,
he pounces and
Jeffers drives home his view in
another poem, "At the Birth of an Age:"
He has no righteousness,
no mercy, no love.
Jeffers would mock, with his indomitable
poetry, the words of Harvard's chaplain, Reverend Peter J.
Gomes: "Jesus cares, God cares about this world, and is
determined to help us do something about it." Such
sentiments deserve mocking, for there is no God that cares
about us, only God that cares through us. Even so, Jeffers'
God is one that has no place for Jesus, no matter how we
It is simply not enough to say
"On other globes/ Throughout the universe, much greater
nerve endings" of the universe are being born. We are the
nerve endings of the universe on this beautiful planet, and
until the collective human heart becomes a cinder, there is
still a chance to realize, in the words of Elijah, that "the
god who answers with fire is God indeed."
Jeffers felt the infinite emptiness of being, but didn't
see the relationship between God (which was the universe as
a whole to his mind), and the finite dimension of being,
much less the dreadful world of man.
beings are the finite expressions, in individual form, of
the infinite energy, wholeness, and mystery of the universe.
We can consciously touch the ground of death and life from
which this and all universes spring.
Are we to
believe that such mystery has no meaning in its
apprehension, no love in its labor, and no mindfulness in
No, meaninglessness is far more
irrational than the dawning of cosmic meaning that our
groping minds comprehend through the fog of knowledge. This
world, as all previous worlds of history and prehistory, may
well end badly, with our children's children's children
forgetting that we ever existed, except to shake their heads
in disgust and dismay, sorrow and sadness.
This age may even mark the beginning of a long
deterioration of human life on this marvelous earth. But as
long as the flame of life and light burns in some anonymous
corner of the human heart, the human being will stand, even
if the human experiment fails.
Should that day
come, and our resilient species, having plundered the earth,
is unable to be resilient anymore, Life will go on. And as
sure as there is life, other sentient, potentially
harmonious species will make the turn, through
transmutation, that humankind is refusing to make.
That day has not come, though this year has brought us
closer to it, despite, indeed in part because of all the
empty talk of a shift in consciousness. Hope for nothing;
prepare for the worst...and the best.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: martinlefevre_AT_sbcglobal_DOT_net. The author welcomes comments.