Toward an Organic Philosophy

By Kenneth Rexroth 1905–1982 Kenneth Rexroth
SPRING, COAST RANGE

The glow of my campfire is dark red and flameless,   
The circle of white ash widens around it.
I get up and walk off in the moonlight and each time   
I look back the red is deeper and the light smaller.   
Scorpio rises late with Mars caught in his claw;   
The moon has come before them, the light   
Like a choir of children in the young laurel trees.   
It is April; the shad, the hot headed fish,
Climbs the rivers; there is trillium in the damp canyons;   
The foetid adder’s tongue lolls by the waterfall.
There was a farm at this campsite once, it is almost gone now.   
There were sheep here after the farm, and fire   
Long ago burned the redwoods out of the gulch,   
The Douglas fir off the ridge; today the soil   
Is stony and incoherent, the small stones lie flat   
And plate the surface like scales.
Twenty years ago the spreading gully
Toppled the big oak over onto the house.   
Now there is nothing left but the foundations   
Hidden in poison oak, and above on the ridge,   
Six lonely, ominous fenceposts;
The redwood beams of the barn make a footbridge   
Over the deep waterless creek bed;
The hills are covered with wild oats
Dry and white by midsummer.
I walk in the random survivals of the orchard.   
In a patch of moonlight a mole
Shakes his tunnel like an angry vein;
Orion walks waist deep in the fog coming in from the ocean;   
Leo crouches under the zenith.
There are tiny hard fruits already on the plum trees.   
The purity of the apple blossoms is incredible.   
As the wind dies down their fragrance
Clusters around them like thick smoke.
All the day they roared with bees, in the moonlight   
They are silent and immaculate.


             SPRING, SIERRA NEVADA

Once more golden Scorpio glows over the col   
Above Deadman Canyon, orderly and brilliant,   
Like an inspiration in the brain of Archimedes.   
I have seen its light over the warm sea,
Over the coconut beaches, phosphorescent and pulsing;   
And the living light in the water
Shivering away from the swimming hand,
Creeping against the lips, filling the floating hair.
Here where the glaciers have been and the snow stays late,   
The stone is clean as light, the light steady as stone.
The relationship of stone, ice and stars is systematic and enduring:   
Novelty emerges after centuries, a rock spalls from the cliffs,   
The glacier contracts and turns grayer,
The stream cuts new sinuosities in the meadow,   
The sun moves through space and the earth with it,   
The stars change places.
                                    The snow has lasted longer this year,   
Than anyone can remember. The lowest meadow is a lake,   
The next two are snowfields, the pass is covered with snow,   
Only the steepest rocks are bare. Between the pass   
And the last meadow the snowfield gapes for a hundred feet,   
In a narrow blue chasm through which a waterfall drops,   
Spangled with sunset at the top, black and muscular   
Where it disappears again in the snow.
The world is filled with hidden running water   
That pounds in the ears like ether;
The granite needles rise from the snow, pale as steel;   
Above the copper mine the cliff is blood red,   
The white snow breaks at the edge of it;
The sky comes close to my eyes like the blue eyes   
Of someone kissed in sleep.
                                        I descend to camp,
To the young, sticky, wrinkled aspen leaves,
To the first violets and wild cyclamen,
And cook supper in the blue twilight.
All night deer pass over the snow on sharp hooves,   
In the darkness their cold muzzles find the new grass   
At the edge of the snow.


             FALL, SIERRA NEVADA

This morning the hermit thrush was absent at breakfast,   
His place was taken by a family of chickadees;   
At noon a flock of humming birds passed south,   
Whirling in the wind up over the saddle between   
Ritter and Banner, following the migration lane   
Of the Sierra crest southward to Guatemala.
All day cloud shadows have moved over the face of the mountain,   
The shadow of a golden eagle weaving between them   
Over the face of the glacier.
At sunset the half-moon rides on the bent back of the Scorpion,   
The Great Bear kneels on the mountain.
Ten degrees below the moon
Venus sets in the haze arising from the Great Valley.
Jupiter, in opposition to the sun, rises in the alpenglow   
Between the burnt peaks. The ventriloquial belling   
Of an owl mingles with the bells of the waterfall.   
Now there is distant thunder on the east wind.   
The east face of the mountain above me
Is lit with far off lightnings and the sky
Above the pass blazes momentarily like an aurora.   
It is storming in the White Mountains,
On the arid fourteen-thousand-foot peaks;
Rain is falling on the narrow gray ranges
And dark sedge meadows and white salt flats of Nevada.   
Just before moonset a small dense cumulus cloud,   
Gleaming like a grape cluster of metal,
Moves over the Sierra crest and grows down the westward slope.
Frost, the color and quality of the cloud,
Lies over all the marsh below my campsite.
The wiry clumps of dwarfed whitebark pines   
Are smoky and indistinct in the moonlight,   
Only their shadows are really visible.
The lake is immobile and holds the stars
And the peaks deep in itself without a quiver.   
In the shallows the geometrical tendrils of ice   
Spread their wonderful mathematics in silence.   
All night the eyes of deer shine for an instant
As they cross the radius of my firelight.
In the morning the trail will look like a sheep driveway,   
All the tracks will point down to the lower canyon.   
“Thus,” says Tyndall, “the concerns of this little place   
Are changed and fashioned by the obliquity of the earth’s axis,
The chain of dependence which runs through creation,   
And links the roll of a planet alike with the interests   
Of marmots and of men.”

Kenneth Rexroth, “Toward an Organic Philosophy” from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation, www.wwnorton.com/nd/welcome.htm.

Source: The Collected Shorter Poems (1966)

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Poet Kenneth Rexroth 1905–1982

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

Subjects Animals, Philosophy, Fall, Trees & Flowers, Arts & Sciences, Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Religion, Spring

 Kenneth  Rexroth

Biography

Kenneth Rexroth was born in South Bend, Indiana and frequently moved around the Midwest during his childhood. He led a tumultuous life that included being orphaned at 14, constant traveling both in the US and abroad, intense political activism, and four marriages. Largely self-educated, he is one of the most well-read poets of the twentieth century. His poems, which influenced Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Animals, Philosophy, Fall, Trees & Flowers, Arts & Sciences, Nature, Stars, Planets, Heavens, Religion, Spring

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

SCHOOL / PERIOD Beat

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