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3 July 2019

We misread a quote by the American poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) last night before dinner as we collapsed onto the couch. "The heads of strong old age are beautiful beyond all grace of youth," is what he actually wrote in the poem Promise of Peace.

Old Hand. Canon XTi with 18-55mm kit lens at 55mm captured at f5.6, 1/20 second and ISO 400. Processed in Adobe Camera Raw.

We read it as "The hands of strong old age are beautiful beyond all grace of youth." Which, in our outrageous opinion, is a stronger argument. And image.

Here's Jeffers's poem.

Promise Of Peace

The heads of strong old age are beautiful
Beyond all grace of youth. They have strange quiet,
Integrity, health, soundness, to the full
They've dealt with life and been tempered by it.
A young man must not sleep; his years are war,
Civil and foreign but the former's worse;
But the old can breathe in safety now that they are
Forgetting what youth meant, the being perverse,
Running the fool's gauntlet and being cut
By the whips of the five senses. As for me,
If I should wish to live long it were but
To trade those fevers for tranquillity,
Thinking though that's entire and sweet in the grave
How shall the dead taste the deep treasure they have?

A little later, we were watching Dream With Me on the local PBS station, which describes the show:

Saba is one of the more than 800,000 "Dreamers" who took advantage of the DACA program in 2012. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama era program, provided some temporary protections to undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children. In 2017, the Trump administration made the decision to rescind DACA. With her immigration status once again in limbo, Saba must now face a new set of challenges.

Her father, reflecting on a life at the mercy of ICE, observes only the dead know what's going to happen next. And like Jeffers, he wonders how they can enjoy that advantage?

Our fate is not to know how life unravels toward its conclusion.

Jeffers, incidentally, was a friend of Ansel Adams. But not because of his photography. The story of their first meeting is illustrative.

One day Jeffers agreed to see his friend Albert Bender, who had been driven down from the city by a youthful Ansel Adams. It would be Adams's first visit to Carmel.

We'll let Adams tell it:

I passed time by absorbing the conversation and inspecting the beautiful simple furnishings of the room, including a fine Steinway grand piano. Later Albert asked me to play for the Jefferses. I was tense, but I knew my notes. I played a section of a Bach Partita, then a Mozart sonata, and I recall the performance as credible. Una was touchingly appreciative and Albert was beaming. Jeffers said, "Good." The glacier began to melt; Jeffers brought out a copy of Roan Stallion and inscribed it to me, June 26, 1926. The fog thickened and Una set out candles. Jeffers thawed a little more. When we departed for San Francisco at dusk, I felt I was leaving new and truly warm friends.

We can imagine seeing the hand of strong old age signing Roan Stallion for Adams after his graceful hands had flown over the Steinway keyboard. Their heads, in the candle light, quite dim.

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