Robinson Jeffers

The Wind Struck Music

Ed Stiles and old Tom Birnam went up to their cattle on the 
      bare hills 
Above Mai Paso; they'd ridden under the stars' white death, 
      when they reached the ridge the huge tiger-lily 
Of a certain cloud-lapped astonishing autumn sunrise opened all 
      its petals. Ed Stiles pulled in his horse, 
That flashy palamino he rode - cream color, heavy white mane, 
      white tail, his pride - and said 
'Look, Tom. My God. Ain't that a beautiful sunrise?' Birnam 
      drew down his mouth, set the hard old chin, 
And whined: 'Now, Ed: listen here: I haven't an ounce of 
      poetry in all my body. It's cows we're after.' 
Ed laughed and followed; they began to sort the heifers out of 
      the herd. One red little deer-legged creature 
Rolled her wild eyes and ran away down the hill, the old man 
      hard after her. She ran through a deep-cut gully, 
And Birnam's piebald would have made a clean jump but the clay lip 
      Crumbled under his take-off, he slipped and 
Spilled in the pit, flailed with four hooves and came out scrambling. 
      Stiles saw them vanish, 
Then the pawing horse and the flapping stirrups. He rode and 
      looked down and saw the old man in the gulley-bottom 
Flat on his back, most grimly gazing up at the sky. He saw the 
      earth banks, the sparse white grass, 
The strong dark sea a thousand feet down below, red with reflections 
      of clouds. He said 'My God, 
Tom, are you hurt?' Who answered slowly, 'No, Ed. 
      I'm only lying here thinking o' my four sons' biting the words 
Carefully between his lips 'big handsome men, at present lolling 
      in bed in their . . . silk . . . pyjamas . . . 
And why the devil I keep on working?' He stood up slowly and 
      wiped the dirt from his cheek, groaned, spat, 
And climbed up the clay bank. Stiles laughed: 'Tom, I can't tell 
      you: I guess you like to. By God I guess 
You like the sunrises.' The old man growled in his throat and 
'Catch me my horse.' 
                                         This old man died last winter, having 
      lived eighty-one years under open sky, 
Concerned with cattle, horses and hunting, no thought nor emotion 
      that all his ancestors since the ice-age 
Could not have comprehended. I call that a good life; narrow, 
      but vastly better than most 
Men's lives, and beyond comparison more beautiful; the wind-struck 
      music man's bones were moulded to be the harp for.