Jeffers poem predicted global warming

jeffers pictureJeff McMahon at True/Slant has recently reported on an under-read global warming-predicting poem by one of America’s great under-read poets. 15 years before the advent of the term “global warming,” Jeffers–who famously favored nature over mankind–wrote, “The polar ice caps are melting, the mountain glaciers / Drip into rivers; all feed the ocean; / Tides ebb and flow, but every year a little bit higher. / The will drown New York, they will drown London.”

Here is the poem:

The polar ice-caps are melting, the mountain glaciers
Drip into rivers; all feed the ocean ;
Tides ebb and flow, but every year a little bit higher.
They will drown New York, they will drown London.
And this place, where I have planted tree and built a stone house,
Will be under sea. The poor trees will perish,
And little fish will flicker in and out the windows. I built it well,
Thick walls and Portland cement and gray granite,
The tower at least will hold against the sea’s buffeting ; it will become
Geological, fossil and permanent.
What a pleasure it is to mix one’s mind with geological
Time, or with astronomical relax it.
There is nothing like astronomy to pull the stuff out of man.
His stupid dreams and red-rooster importance : let him count the star-swirls.

Jeffers composed the poem at age 73, according to McMahon. It was the early 1960s during a 20-year cooling trend, and there was no scientific consensus of any kind that the polar ice caps would melt. There were scientists who believed–surely Jeffers didn’t invent the possibility–but it is significant that he composed a poem about it so long before it became a national headline, and it is an interesting footnote to the career of a man who always defamed mankind’s arrogance and self-importance.

Of course the poem isn’t exactly a new discovery; one need only buy the Jeffers Selected to find a copy. But it’s interesting that it hasn’t risen to the surface in the years since global warming first became big business.

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