The Deer Lay Down Their Bones


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 brink 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 life
Is on the whole quite equally good and bad, mostly gray neutral, 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
Should 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-old 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.


Robinson Jeffers, The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Random House, 1953.