Mal Paso Bridge

Included in Tamar and Other Poems (1924) and Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems (1925).

Describes a man’s sexual encounter at Mal Paso Bridge, south of Carmel. Probably written in spring 1917, at the time the United States entered the Great War. Thus, the turbulence of the time is offered as a reason for the man’s promiscuity. Having self-referential phrases such as “my father who is dead” and “I  … have only verse,” this poem is generally thought to be autobiographical, though Jeffers was married with two infant sons and would never go to war.

Though this poem is unrhymed (and proudly declares it), it retains the florid, contorted, archaic, “poetic” style of Jeffers’ early work. It is far from “inhumanist” in view, as depicts a personal, anthropocentric universe wherein the deer and gulls look in to an axis of human drama. 


Under the lovely Santa Lucian hills
Between the steep-up slopes and storm-piled sea’s
Green turbulence I rode northward, beneath
Armies of cloud on the headlands. Garapatas
Passed, over Soberanes Canyon hung
A Sierran condor on spread sails, the storm
Moved him not, the massed body of heaven above him
Moved and he solitary in the great wind
That slighter wings could not endure abode.
Under Mal Paso bridge the long-maned sea-waves
Beat up into the stream, on the other bank
A woman with a little child was standing,
Her daughter three years old, the woman’s face
Though it seemed white against the storm was brown,
Her body and face I thought were beautiful,
Her eyes and hair were stormier than the cloud,
I trembled when she turned her eyes upon me.
Turbulent loveliness did you know then,
Or only a fortnight later the full storm
Of male desire? You are the shallow creek-mouth
The surf of all my seas converged upon.
Were I that mountain vulture, solitary
And unmoved under the rush of monstrous heavens,
You would have been the arrow and brought me down.
But when I bought you with a smile and whispers
And secret gifts of wine then the arrow was blunted.


This is the year when young men cannot guess
From night to night what bed they’ll sleep in.
But I in yours dark beauty of new desire,
Yours under Santa Lucian hills
Near the rough water; but beyond that nor moon
Nor guess candles the remnant nights.
Therefore I swore to drink wine while I could,
Love where I pleased, and feed my eyes
With Santa Lucian sea-beauty, and moreover
To shear the rhyme-tassels from verse.


No doubt God kept the cows away
To let the grass grow long and dry
Under the white oak up the canyon.

And frightened with a noise of dogs
Those moonlighters the misty deer,
He made the bed, he kept it sacred.

O keep it hidden and holy still,
Let nothing, bird nor beast nor man,
Touch our joy’s chamber under the oaktree.


Iron is the world’s want now,
The desire of the nation’s adventurous iron
Running ahead in the front of the violence,
And war-making steel the hard-visaged adventurer.

Let us give two nights to love
And one to the beautiful goodness of wine,
Stars we will gather you, hills you shall dance with us
To meet the grave brows of the morning high-heartedly.


The war-cruisers well-steerable and steel-belted
Traversing the prone sea
From eloquent round mouths in their mailed towers
Profess a metal language
Beyond the remote horizon ponderously
Significant; the broad storm-cloud
Can kill far off with hazardous quick-flaming
And crooked spears; the Sierras
Have white and roaring lances that they fling
When rose-awakening May
Fondles them, blue-eyed temptress; but I that walk
Ill-armed this dangerous earth
Have only verse, a light weapon, that leaves
In the wound seeds of live fire.


In dream I hunted the latest vessel of the old desire
Across an ancient foreign city
Through coiling streets, a city at war, for every moment
Enemy fire and metal death
Dropped messages from the doubtful twilight; still I sought,
But found not whom I sought, she eluded
Desire and death also. I stood before the sculptured
Gateway of an old dingy house.
My father who is dead stood in the door and beckoned,
And on the granite of the lintel
A serpent dragged its polished body, the color of stone.
… It will be years before I can enter.


Dark pearl, rose of the hills, star of the sea,
Dark star, angel of hell, I am mad for your body,
I am sick for the smell of your hair, I have burning for heart
And the sun for my hatred, and you.
Slim deer grazing at night knew that you lied.
Gray gulls gossip about us, they scream in the fountains
Of the surf, “He believed in her beauty, he is fooled like a boy
Who will spaniel a mile and a braid.”


White bird beating between the hilltops
Rises the dawn at the head of the valley,
The hush of the stars.
The redwoods shake their columns of shadow,
Deep in darkness whisper the waters
An adorable word.
Through the cool calm and the secret twilight
Silver-foreheaded, saintly, a maiden,
Wonderfully move
Light, and the waters nightlong wakeful
Whenever we listened, and the sacred hilltops
Whitening in heaven.