Lyell’s Hypothesis Again


An Attempt to Explain the Former
Changes of the Earth's Surface by
Causes Now in Operation 
        —subtitle of Lyell: Principles of Geology


The mountain road ends here,   
Broken away in the chasm where   
The bridge washed out years ago.   
The first scarlet larkspur glitters   
In the first patch of April
Morning sunlight. The engorged creek   
Roars and rustles like a military   
Ball. Here by the waterfall,   
Insuperable life, flushed
With the equinox, sentient   
And sentimental, falls away
To the sea and death. The tissue   
Of sympathy and agony
That binds the flesh in its Nessus' shirt;   
The clotted cobweb of unself   
And self; sheds itself and flecks   
The sun's bed with darts of blossom   
Like flagellant blood above   
The water bursting in the vibrant   
Air. This ego, bound by personal   
Tragedy and the vast
Impersonal vindictiveness
Of the ruined and ruining world,   
Pauses in this immortality,
As passionate, as apathetic,
As the lava flow that burned here once;   
And stopped here; and said, 'This far   
And no further.' And spoke thereafter   
In the simple diction of stone.

Naked in the warm April air,   
We lie under the redwoods,   
In the sunny lee of a cliff.   
As you kneel above me I see   
Tiny red marks on your flanks
Like bites, where the redwood cones   
Have pressed into your flesh.   
You can find just the same marks   
In the lignite in the cliff
Over our heads. Sequoia
Langsdorfii before the ice,   
And sempervirens afterwards,   
There is little difference,   
Except for all those years.

Here in the sweet, moribund   
Fetor of spring flowers, washed,   
Flotsam and jetsam together,   
Cool and naked together,   
Under this tree for a moment,   
We have escaped the bitterness   
Of love, and love lost, and love   
Betrayed. And what might have been,   
And what might be, fall equally   
Away with what is, and leave   
Only these ideograms
Printed on the immortal   
Hydrocarbons of flesh and stone.

Kenneth Rexroth, “Lyell’s Hypothesis Again” from The Collected Shorter Poems. Copyright © 1966 by Kenneth Rexroth. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation,
Source: The Collected Shorter Poems (1966)
More Poems by Kenneth Rexroth