‘Pearl Harbor’ (Jeffers, 1948)

Pearl Harbor

    I Here are the fireworks. The men who conspired and labored To embroil this republic in the wreck of Europe have got their bargain— And a bushel more. As for me, what can I do but fly the national flag from the top of the tower? America has neither race nor religion nor its own language: nation or nothing.                                                                               Stare, little tower, Confidently across the Pacific, the flag on your head. I built you at the other war’s end, And the sick peace; I based you on living rock, granite on granite; I said, “Look, you gray stones: Civilization is sick: stand awhile and be quiet and drink the sea-wind, you will survive Civilization.”               But now I am old, and O stones be modest. Look, little tower: This dust blowing is only the British Empire; these torn leaves flying Are only Europe; the wind is the plane-propellers; the smoke is Tokyo. The child with the butchered throat Was too young to be named. Look no farther ahead.

    II The war that we have carefully for years provoked Catches us unprepared, amazed and indignant. Our warships are shot Like sitting ducks and our planes like nest-birds, both our coasts ridiculously panicked, And our leaders make orations. This is the people That hopes to impose on the whole planetary world An American peace.                    (Oh, we’ll not lose our war; my money on amazed Gulliver And his horse-pistols.)                      Meanwhile our prudent officers Have cleared the coast-long ocean of ships and fishing-boats, the sky of planes, the windows of light; these clearings Make a great beauty. Watch the wide sea; there is nothing human; its gulls have it. Watch the wide sky All day clean of machines; only at dawn and dusk one military hawk passes High on patrol. Walk at night in the black-out, The firefly lights that used to line the long shore Are all struck dumb; shut are the shops, mouse-dark the houses. Here the prehuman dignity of night Stands, as it was before and will be again. O beautiful Darkness and silence, the two eyes that see God; great staring eyes.

—Robinson Jeffers (published 1948)