Robinson Jeffers

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Publisher: Gale
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography
Length: 10,399 words

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About this Person
Born: January 10, 1887 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: January 20, 1962 in Carmel, California, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Writer
Other Names: Jeffers, John Robinson
PERSONAL INFORMATION:

Parent(s): Annie Robinson Tuttle and William Hamilton Jeffers. Marriage: 15 August 1913 to Una Call Kuster; children: Maeve, Donnan Call, and Garth Sherwood. Education: University of Western Pennsylvania (now University of Pittsburgh), 1902-1903; B.A., Occidental College, 1905; University of Southern California, 1905-1906, 1907-1910; University of Zurich, 1906-1907; University of Washington, 1910-1911.

 
AWARDS:

D.H.L, Occidental College, 1937.

D.H.L, University of Southern California, 1939.

Levinson Prize (Poetry magazine), 1940.

Chancellor, American Academy of Poets (1945-1956).

Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize (Poetry magazine), 1951.

Union League Civic and Arts Foundation Prize (Poetry magazine), 1952.

Borestone Mountain Poetry Award, 1955.

Academy of American Poets Fellowship, 1958.

Shelley Memorial Award (Poetry Society of America), 1961.

 
WORKS:

WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:

Selected Books

  • Flagons and Apples (Los Angeles: Grafton, 1912).
  • Californians (New York: Macmillan, 1916).
  • Tamar and Other Poems (New York: Peter G. Boyle, 1924).
  • Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1925; London: Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1928; enlarged edition, New York: Modern Library, 1935).
  • The Women at Point Sur (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1927); enlarged as The Women at Point Sur and Other Poems (New York: Liveright, 1977).
  • Poems (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1928).
  • An Artist (Austin: Privately printed by John S. Mayfield, 1928).
  • Cawdor and Other Poems (New York: Liveright, 1929; London: Leonard & Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1929).
  • Dear Judas and Other Poems (New York: Liveright, 1929; London: Hogarth Press, 1930).
  • Stars (Pasadena: Flame Press, 1930).
  • Descent to the Dead (New York: Random House, 1931).
  • Thurso's Landing and Other Poems (New York: Liveright, 1932).
  • Give Your Heart to the Hawks and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1933).
  • Return, An Unpublished Poem (San Francisco: Gelber, Lilienthal, 1934).
  • Solstice and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1935).
  • The Beaks of Eagles (San Francisco: Printed for Albert M. Bender, 1936).
  • Such Counsels You Gave to Me & Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1937).
  • The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (New York: Random House, 1938).
  • Two Consolations (San Mateo: Quercus Press, 1940).
  • Be Angry at the Sun (New York: Random House, 1941).
  • Medea: Freely Adapted From the Medea of Euripides (New York: Random House, 1946).
  • The Double Axe & Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1948; enlarged edition, New York: Liveright, 1977).
  • Poetry, Gongorism and A Thousand Years (Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1949).
  • Hungerfield and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1954).
  • The Loving Shepherdess (New York: Random House, 1956).
  • Themes in My Poems (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1956).
  • The Beginning & the End and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1963).
  • Selected Poems by Robinson Jeffers (New York: Random House, 1963).
  • Cawdor: A Long Poem, Medea, after Euripides (New York: New Directions, 1970).
  • The Alpine Christ & Other Poems, edited by William Everson (Monterey: Cayucos Books, 1973).
  • Tragedy Has Obligations (Santa Cruz: Lime Kiln Press, 1973).
  • Brides of the South Wind: Poems 1917-1922, edited by Everson (Monterey: Cayucos Books, 1974).
  • What Odd Expedients and Other Poems, edited by Robert Ian Scott (Hamden, Conn.: Shoe String Press, 1981).

Play Productions

  • Medea, New York, National Theatre, 20 October 1947.
  • The Tower Beyond Tragedy, New York, ANTA Playhouse, 26 November 1950.

Other

  • "Mirrors" [short story], Smart Set, 40 (August 1913): 117-118.

Letters

  • The Selected Letters of Robinson Jeffers, 1897-1962, edited by Ann N. Ridgeway, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968).

 
BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY:

Because he thought "poets lie too much," Robinson Jeffers said in his foreword to The Selected Poetry (1938) he decided "not to pretend to believe in ... irreversible progress; not to say anything because it was popular ... unless I myself believed it; and not to believe easily." Such skepticism antagonizes some, but Jeffers's descriptions of human misery and unimportance in a divinely beautiful universe have won a remarkably large audience. His 1938 volume, The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, had eleven printings, and the 1935, Modern Library edition of Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems had seventeen (some 40,000 copies); his Medea (1946), with Judith Anderson in the title role, became a success on Broadway in 1947 and then an international success.

John Robinson Jeffers's education began early, before he was three and a half, with tutoring by his mother and then by his father, the Professor of Biblical and Ecclesiastical History and the History of Doctrine at the Western Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian institution in Pittsburgh. Jeffers then attended private schools in Pittsburgh, Germany, and Switzerland; by age twelve he had read widely in English, French, German, Latin, and Greek. In 1902, when he was fifteen, he entered the University of Western Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh), but transferred to Occidental College in 1903 when his father's health prompted a move to Los Angeles. At Occidental, Jeffers studied astronomy, geology, ethics, history, economics, rhetoric, biblical literature, and Greek, among other subjects, and edited the college's literary magazine. In 1905-1906, he took graduate courses in literature at the University of Southern California, and fell in love with a student in one of his classes, Una Call Kuster, then twenty and already married; Jeffers was eighteen. After spending the 1906-1907 academic year at the University of Zurich, where he studied literature, history, and philosophy, Jeffers studied medicine for three years at the University of Southern California (including a semester when he taught physiology) not to become a doctor but to continue preparing himself as a poet.

Jeffers went to the University of Washington in Seattle in 1910, thinking that this time separation might end the affair with Una Kuster, and that as a forester he could both save trees and have time to write. But in 1912, he inherited $9,500 and had no sooner gone home to Los Angeles than he met Una Kuster again. She got an amicable divorce, which the Los Angeles newspapers considered a scandal and gave such misleading headlines as "Parents Wash Hands of It." Jeffers married Una in August of 1913; their first child, Maeve, was born 5 May 1914 and died the next day. They had planned to live in Europe, but the outbreak of World War I and the advice of a friend, poet Frederick Mortimer Clapp, led them instead to Carmel at the northern end of the Sur coast of California that September, and there they stayed, apart from vacations in Ireland and in Taos, New Mexico, and one lecture tour around America, until Una Jeffers died in Carmel in 1950, and Jeffers died in 1962.

Jeffers wrote his first poem when he was ten. A cousin who lost it years later remembered that it concerned a snake--perhaps the garden snake which the first letter in The Selected Letters of Robinson Jeffers, 1897-1962 (1968) says he killed that year. At fourteen he read and imitated the poems of Thomas Campbell and Dante Gabriel Rossetti , and at sixteen he first had his poems published--two in the December 1903 issue of Aurora, Occidental College's literary magazine. One of them, the sonnet "The Measure," concludes that compared to the immensity of the universe, only space, eternity, and God are "truly great," a point he continued to make for the rest of his life. In June 1904 Jeffers first received payment for a poem, twelve dollars for "The Condor," by winning a contest sponsored by the Youth's Companion. It was the first of Jeffers's many poems admiring condors, vultures, eagles, hawks, pelicans, and gulls, all capable fliers (in 1899, when twelve years old, Jeffers had tried to fly with homemade wings).

When he inherited money in 1912, Jeffers paid a Los Angeles printer to publish his first book, Flagons and Apples , which no one reviewed; its thirty-three embarrassingly naive and stilted love poems later made Jeffers wish that he had destroyed the whole edition. His marriage and his move to the Sur coast ended such foolishness; there for the first time he saw "people living--amid magnificent unspoiled scenery--essentially as they did in Homer's Ithaca," he said, and he made those people and that coast his subject for the rest of his life, setting most of his long narratives in actual places there (see the map at the end of Robert Brophy's Robinson Jeffers, Myth, Ritual and Symbol in His Narrative Poems or the earlier, less complete map at the end of Lawrence Clark Powell's Robinson Jeffers, The Man and His Work).

Jeffers first began describing that coast and its people in his second book, Californians , published by Macmillan in 1916. In the introduction to his 1974 edition, William Everson argues that Jeffers could not feel free to express his view of the universe as God and of humanity as tragically foolish until his father died in December 1914. The violence, insanity, and sex in Jeffers's narratives might have shocked his father--they have certainly shocked some reviewers--but Jeffers did not begin to write these narratives until his mother had died, in 1921, and after he had discovered the universality of human suffering and conceived of the universe as the God which both creates us and saves us from such suffering. Californians shows little sign of either discovery; Jeffers's realization of the suffering in World War I apparently came suddenly, between the summer of 1916 and the spring of 1917, provoking his next and longest poem, the long-lost "The Alpine Christ." Ten years afterward, Jeffers called it "useless and absurd," naive in its "use of Christian mythology," and refused to permit the publication of even a part of it, but with this poem his later success began. He wrote the poem before the United States had entered the war, but after the miseries of trench warfare and the German invasion of Belgium had become widely known. Jeffers reacted with horror, pity, and disgust, a mixture of feelings which helped provoke what Jeffers later called "the accidental new birth" of his mind. As his wife explained it, "The conflict of motives on the subject of going to war or not was probably one of several factors that, about this time, made the world and his own mind much more real and intense to him. Another was building Tor House [the Jeffers's home]. As he helped the masons shift and place the wind and water-worn granite I think he realized some kinship with it and became aware of strengths in himself unknown before. Thus at the age of thirty-one there came to him a kind of awakening such as adolescents and religious converts are said to experience." Jeffers became thirty-two on 10 January 1919 and helped build his house the following summer.

In the winter of 1971-1972, William Everson found 147 of the 227 typed pages of "The Alpine Christ" in the collection of Jeffers's papers at the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin; Jeffers had used the blank sides of those pages for later poems. That find reveals what seems to be Jeffers's first written response to the universality of human suffering. Unlike his later poems, "The Alpine Christ" (which Everson included in The Alpine Christ & Other Poems , 1973) accepts Christianity as literally true. The poem begins with a conference in heaven in which Satan congratulates God for having had World War I make life on earth worse than Hell. God cannot disagree, so Christ returns to earth to save mankind from itself again, only to vanish at the end, having accomplished nothing as the war continues. Jeffers seems to have written the poem because the suffering distressed him, turned to Christianity for some help or explanation, but found in writing the poem that Christianity could not help or explain away the misery for him. The poem remains naive and much too long, but it was a fortunate failure because from it Jeffers learned to become an original poet. In just four years, the deaths of his first child, of his father, and then of millions in World War I had led him from imitating Rossetti (while writing about himself in Flagons and Apples ) to imitating Wordsworth (while writing about ranch families and hermits in Californians) to imitating "Prometheus Unbound" and Paradise Lost (while writing about whole countries suffering in "The Alpine Christ"). He apparently took the next step--to writing tragedies that consider the human species and the universe as a whole--because, unlike Shelley, Jeffers could not believe any revolution would end human suffering and because, unlike Milton, Jeffers did not think Christianity could justify it. As a result, Jeffers found an unchristian way in which mankind might suffer less by learning more.

Jeffers's concern with suffering began his conversion in 1916-1917, but it remained distractingly incomplete until he helped build his home in the summer of 1919. Then, as he came to admire its granite and the rest of the universe for their unhuman beauty and permanence, he gained a peaceful self-surrender and increased awareness. By so expanding his awareness beyond himself and humanity, he had made his troubles seem vanishingly small, and had found the detached yet compassionate awareness which makes the poems he wrote from that summer on unlike anyone else's. He went on to write more than three hundred poems, almost all of them praising what he repeatedly called "the enormous beauty of the universe." As he explained to a reader years later, "When you are excited by something that seems beautiful or significant, you want to show it to others." He had discovered for himself the basic point of Buddhism--that selfishness blinds us, causing misery which we can and should avoid--and that he could transcend that selfishness by looking beyond himself to suffering humanity, as he did in his tragedies, and to the universe.

Jeffers said that he rejected Buddhism as well as Christianity, apparently because the misleading descriptions of Buddhism then available in the European languages made Jeffers think of Buddhism as self-centered. In "Theory of Truth," the poem with which Jeffers chose to end The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, he describes Buddha as "willing to annihilate Nature ... to annul the suffering" of mankind, as if Buddha thought that he could make the universe not exist, a delusion which Jeffers understandably rejected. In "Credo," with which Jeffers ended the Modern Library edition of Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems, he made that contrast clearer still. His "friend from Asia ... believes that nothing is real except as we make it," but Jeffers believed (as he also said in Themes in My Poems, 1956) exactly the opposite: the world makes us, and its "heartbreaking beauty will remain when there is no heart to break for it." Jeffers's misunderstanding of Buddhism was apparently caused by Western mistranslations of the Buddhist term nirvana, the state of mind which Buddhists want to achieve. Despite such translations, nirvana does not mean oblivion or any annihilation of the universe; it means a detached yet compassionate awareness of much more than the self, much like the cosmic perspective which Jeffers's poems advocate and display.

William Everson also recovered parts of Jeffers's next book, Brides of the South Wind (1974), which several New York publishers had rejected in 1921-1922. Not even Jeffers seems to have kept a copy of it, perhaps because he used much of it in later books. Apparently it contained Jeffers's earliest tragic narratives, in which unbridled selfishness brings misery to families on the Sur coast, thus demonstrating how not to behave, or so some of the fragments and Jeffers's later tragedies suggest. In both his tragedies and his short poems, Jeffers suggested that seeing the world's enormous beauty and our own unimportance should console us, and keep us from the mistakes which cause so much misery. Radcliffe Squires has claimed that Jeffers's view echoes that of Arthur Schopenhauer 's The World as Will and Idea (1819), which expresses precisely that Western misunderstanding of Buddhism which Jeffers explicitly rejects in "Credo" and "Theory of Truth," among other poems, and in his comment in Themes in My Poems. Arthur Coffin and others have seen Jeffers as following Friedrich Nietzsche 's philosophy, though apparently only the comment in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883-1892)--that poets lie too much--had much effect on Jeffers. His awareness of the cycles of life, including the decline and extinction of whole cultures and species, ours included, came not from Nietzsche, but from his knowledge of archaeology, history, and evolution. Jeffers seems to have been most influenced by scientific discoveries from Copernicus on, by Greek tragedy, by the bitingly realistic early Greek lyric poet Archilochus , and by the philosophies of Lucretius and Baruch Spinoza. Like Lucretius, Spinoza, and many scientists, Jeffers described the universe as one interconnecting, infinite, and eternal system which we can and need to understand. He believed, as Stuart Hampshire has said Spinoza did, that "If we would improve human beings, we must study the natural laws of their behavior as dispassionately as we would study the behavior of trees and horses ...." Hampshire adds that in the seventeenth century only Spinoza "seems somehow to have anticipated modern conceptions of the scale of the universe, and of man's relatively infinitesimal place within the vast system ..." while other philosophers and literary people, except perhaps Pascal, "still implicitly thought in terms of a man-centered universe ...." Hampshire concludes that "To Spinoza it seemed that men can attain happiness and dignity only by identifying themselves ... with the whole order of nature, and by submerging their interests in this understanding.... it is this aspect of Spinoza's naturalism, the surviving spirit of Lucretius against a greater background of knowledge, which most shocked and baffled his contemporaries and successors."

Such factually accurate humility still shocks and baffles many. Jeffers expressed this cosmic perspective in vividly sensed metaphors and examples, rather than in the abstractly logical language of Spinoza's philosophy, but the moral remains the same despite the difference in methods. As Bertrand Russell noted when writing about Spinoza during World War II, "it is comforting to reflect that human life, with all that it contains of evil and suffering, is an infinitesimal part of the life of the universe. Such reflections ... may not constitute a religion, but in a painful world ... [they] are a help toward sanity and an antidote to the paralysis of utter despair." Such reflections may not constitute a supernatural religion, but like Lucretius and Spinoza, Jeffers made them the basis for a more modestly matter-of-fact religion which notices and tries to do something to alleviate human suffering; because he mentions evil and suffering, however, some critics called Jeffers a sadist. Near the end of his life, in Hungerfield and Other Poems (1954), he recapitulated his view in "De Rerum Virtue," a title that emphasized its resemblance to the world view Lucretius had expressed in De Rerum Natura. Both Jeffers and Lucretius believed that virtue comes from an accurate knowledge of the world, including an unflattering recognition of human mistakes, their causes and their results, and not from pious ignorance, no matter how good we may think our intentions.

Jeffers saw his poems as expressing not just a scientifically accurate knowledge of the universe (as they do), but also a mystical experience of the universe as God, appreciating its size and beauty and our unimportance--a view he felt humanity in general needs. As he said in Themes in My Poems , his poems "also express a protest against human narcissism .... If a person spends all his emotions on his own body and states of mind, he is mentally diseased .... It seems to me ... that the whole human race spends too much emotion on itself. The happiest and freest man is the scientist investigating nature, or the artist admiring it; the person who is interested in things that are not human. Or, if he is interested in human beings, let him regard them objectively, as a very small part of the great music. Certainly humanity has its claims, on all of us; we can best fulfill them by keeping our emotional sanity; and this by seeing beyond and around the human race" to the universe which Jeffers thought "so beautiful that it must be loved." Jeffers used the clinical term narcissism accurately here, perhaps as a result of his medical training; and, according to Christopher Lasch 's The Culture of Narcissism (1978), this emotional affliction is becoming increasingly common in our culture.

Perhaps because no publisher had accepted Brides of the South Wind, the book he wrote before Tamar, Jeffers had Tamar and Other Poems published at his own expense in April 1924 by the New York City printer Peter G. Boyle; Jeffers had noticed Boyle's advertisement in the New York Times Book Review. Six months later, enthusiastic reviews by Babette Deutsch , James Rorty, and Mark Van Doren suddenly made Jeffers famous, leading Boni and Liveright to publish a larger volume, Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems, in 1925. These reviewers hardly mentioned Jeffers's cosmic perspective and his protest against narcissism, but they did admire his ability to tell a story vividly. "Tamar" retells chapter thirteen of the second book of Samuel, setting the title character's story on the California coast by Point Lobos, two miles south of Jeffers's home, from December 1916 to the following August.

Jeffers's version begins when Tamar's brother drunkenly rides his horse over a cliff; she nurses and then seduces him, becomes pregnant, seduces a neighbor to force a marriage, and then in her disgust with everyone involved, provokes a confrontation which ends when her family's farmhouse burns, killing them all. In his foreword to The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, the poet says the poem grew from the biblical story, from Shelley's "The Cenci," and from the "introverted and storm-twisted beauty of Point Lobos," presumably including the burned-out house which actually stood where the poem ends; the owner reputedly read the poem and said it was "a hell of a thing to write about a fellow's ranch!" The places and local legends of the Sur coast suggested many of Jeffers's poems. The isolation of its people made destructive emotional behavior easy, and the wilderness and weather provided metaphors and a backdrop for those emotions.

The seductions, incest, insanity, and violence of "Tamar" horrified some readers. An anonymous editorial writer for the 9 January 1926 issue of the San Francisco Monitor complained that "Jeffers has the power of Aeschylus , the subtlety of Sophocles ," and so is "intrinsically terrible," without seeming to notice that terror may have a moral purpose and result. Not until Robert Brophy's Robinson Jeffers, Myth, Ritual and Symbol in his Narrative Poems appeared in 1973 did a critic show just how closely Jeffers had followed Aeschylus , Sophocles , and Euripides . Jeffers's long poems repeatedly use the five-part plot structure of Greek tragedies (introduction, complication, crisis, catastrophe, denouement) and their seasonal metaphors; both describe suffering and death as necessary for knowledge and new life. Jeffers divided "Tamar" into seven numbered sections: one and two introduce Tamar's brother's fall and recovery; three through five present the complicating seductions; six describes the crisis and catastrophe in which Tamar symbolically dies to be reborn as a willfully selfish child, who bullies her family until she indirectly causes their death by fire in part seven, the denouement which completes the plot and solves their problems by ending the characters. The poem dates these stages of its plot by the moon and tides, stars and weather, to show its characters' lives as both parts and products of the world's much larger cycles, cycles Jeffers repeatedly called "the great music" we need to hear. Tamar's loves begin in spring and end in a fire in the sterile heat of August, the dead season in California's Mediterranean climate. That end seems both the epitome and the result of reckless passions in a situation so corrupt that perhaps only fire could purify it and so let new lives start. As Gilbert Murray explained in the second chapter of The Classical Tradition in Poetry (1927), tragedies celebrate the cycle of the seasons and sacrifice human scapegoats to ensure the continued survival of life in general, and so does "Tamar."

With this poem, Jeffers began a series of experiments with tragedy. Five years after "Tamar" appeared, Joseph Wood Krutch claimed in The Modern Temper (1929) that the scientific discoveries which diminish our sense of our own importance make any modern tragedy impossible; but Jeffers's tragedies repeatedly mention these discoveries: his characters' tragic mistakes result from selfishly ignoring the human unimportance these discoveries reveal, and the misery these mistakes cause shows how dangerous ignorance can prove to be.

In 1925 Jeffers's tragedy "Roan Stallion" made that unimportance more explicit, but it became notorious for another reason: some misread it as describing a sexual relationship between a horse and a woman. In fact, it does not; it describes her glimpse of the more than merely human beauty of the universe which the horse exemplifies, as she realizes when she briefly escapes the degrading circumstances of her life. When her husband tries to abuse her again, she runs to the horse for protection; the horse has become her god. It kills the husband, and then, moved by "some obscure human fidelity," she shoots the horse, only to realize too late that she has destroyed what had meant god and power, glory and freedom, to her. As the poem suggests in an often noticed but generally misunderstood reference to releasing energy by splitting atoms, she has had her chance to learn and change by suffering, to grow beyond her depressingly human limitations, but like most of us, she wastes that chance, a point Jeffers went on to make again.

Also in Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems, in "The Tower Beyond Tragedy," Jeffers rewrote a Greek tragedy for the first time, to show how to escape tragedy. Tamar's narcissism kills her and five others; the woman in "Roan Stallion" survives, but without the liberation she might have had. In "The Tower Beyond Tragedy," his version of Aeschylus 's Oresteia, Jeffers has his Orestes grow beyond the blind emotions which cause such tragedies. He begins with Agamemnon's triumphal return from the Trojan War, a situation Agamemnon's wife Clytemnestra complicates by killing him, causing her son Orestes to kill her, a crisis resolved by a catastrophe. Orestes then regains his sanity by realizing that his feelings do not matter. He escapes what might otherwise have become an endless and pointless cycle of tragedy after tragedy by learning from tragedy, and giving up the political power he won by killing his mother and her lover. Jeffers's Cassandra foresees not just individuals but whole cultures caught in such cyclic tragedies. If we have such a cosmic perspective, we might avoid the delusions of importance which cause tragedies, or might learn from tragedies not to repeat such mistakes, or so Jeffers kept suggesting, a hope apparently provoked by World War I, and made to seem more desperate by World War II. Jeffers had not intended "The Tower Beyond Tragedy" for the stage, but it appeared with some success on Broadway in 1950, with Judith Anderson as Clytemnestra. Apparently the granite tower Jeffers built next to his house in 1920-1924 provided the title and central metaphor of the poem, which suggested that a selfless sense of kinship with the universe, which includes granite and stars, birds, and the ocean (what Jeffers saw from his tower), can help us escape the all-too-human emotional blindnesses which cause so much misery. So Jeffers found, as he built and lived in his house and tower, and wrote about those subjects. His house and tower still stand, a national literary historical monument defying the real estate developers who have planned to demolish the house and tower and subdivide what little remains of Jeffers's property.

In 1927 Jeffers's next book, The Women at Point Sur , confused even his friends. This 175-page poem concerns a Reverend Dr. Barclay, whose name and delusion seem a parody of Bishop George Berkeley (whose name is pronounced "Barclay") and his philosophy that the world exists only as and because God perceives it. Jeffers's Barclay is so upset by his only son's death in World War I that he renounces his country and Christianity. Failing to notice anyone else's suffering, he comes to think of himself as the prophet of some new religion, and then as God. When an earthquake shakes him, it surprises him, but he claims that he created it and controls the world, when, in fact, he cannot control anything, himself included. When he looks at the universe of millions of galaxies which astronomers were then just beginning to photograph, Barclay sees all that immensity as only his own eye reflected, looking back at itself. Like Narcissus, he thinks the world exists only as his mirror when in fact, like an eye, he exists only as a dependent part which cannot survive alone; he dies because he will not learn that lesson. He behaves so immorally because he cannot imagine how anyone else might feel. He rapes his daughter--Jeffers repeatedly used incest as a metaphor and example of narcissism--and wanders off into the wilderness, hopelessly lost, to die of exhaustion while claiming that he is God, and inexhaustible, as if his words could cause miracles. Like the logical positivists, semanticists, C. S. Peirce (but very few other poets apart from Lucretius and the German Christian Morgenstern), Jeffers regarded words as only words, inevitably abstract, at best approximate, and quite unmagical, a skepticism which seems a part of his humility for himself and mankind in general.

Apparently to avoid the confusion caused by The Women at Point Sur, Jeffers promptly made his next tragedy, "Cawdor," shorter and simpler, using the plot of Euripides ' already proven Hippolytus (he used it again for his play "The Cretan Woman," published in 1954 in Hungerfield and Other Poems). In its first section, the poem "Cawdor" introduces the dangerously beautiful and resentful Fera, first seen emerging from a range fire leading her blind and dying father; they have nowhere to go and no money. Her name means "wild," and she is: she cynically marries the smugly self-confident fifty-year-old rancher Cawdor to save her father, and proceeds to complicate Cawdor's life disastrously when her father dies. Cawdor's son (Jeffers's Hippolytus) will not let Fera seduce him (parts two through seven), and, in a spiteful refusal to accept such limitations or to consider anything but her own emotions, she provokes a crisis by claiming the son has raped her. In his bewildered innocence, he flees from his father's anger only to fall to his death in the dark (parts seven through ten). Fera then provokes a catastrophe by telling the truth (parts eleven through fifteen); like Oedipus, Cawdor then blinds himself when he realizes how blind he has been (part sixteen). The poem celebrates the world's cycles by depicting fires that destroy old lives to make new life possible--as in "Tamar," a metaphor suggested perhaps by the fires California ranchers used to set, burning the old grass each fall to make more new grass grow the next spring, as at the beginning of "Cawdor"; Fera's emotions obviously resemble that fire.

The poem's fire metaphors also include two descriptions of dreams caused by death. In section seven, Fera's father's remembered failures produce a series of increasingly self-indulgent and simpleminded fantasies as his brain cells decompose, disconnecting first from the world and then from one another, a process Jeffers compares to the slow fire of decaying wood as it shines weakly in the dark; the process soon ends in a numb dark silence. In section fifteen, a caged eagle dies, and dreams of soaring up as the earth dwindles beneath it--a remarkable anticipation of the view astronauts began having as their rockets took off some forty years later--until it finds its peace in the very heart of light and fire, the source of life, the sun. The bird's dream explodes outward, making it more aware of the universe beyond itself; the man's fantasies collapse inward, ignoring everything but his own self-pity and the contemptibly petty greediness which his life kept frustrating. Like many of Jeffers's other women, Fera proves fearlessly emotional, and spectacularly destructive as a result; though Jeffers deplores the misery they cause, he seems to admire such characters, as well as finding the misery they cause morally instructive.

As Jeffers told his bibliographer S. S. Alberts, the title poem of his next book, Dear Judas and Other Poems (1929), "was written in 1928, with the thought of presenting the only divine figure still living in the minds of people of our race, as the hero of a tragedy. The Japanese No plays, in which the action is performed by ghosts revisiting the scenes of their passions, no doubt influenced my conception."

In this poem, the ghosts of Judas, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary comment on what happened almost twenty centuries ago, just before and after the Crucifixion, giving the audience the benefit of their hindsight and three firsthand points of view. Their comments make Judas's behavior seem understandably human, and perhaps even admirable: Judas prudently and compassionately foresaw that any attempt at rebellion against the occupying Romans would cause widespread misery, and so tried to prevent it by having its most probable leader detained. In this attempt to avoid still worse oppression, Judas succeeds disastrously well: he becomes a tragic fool as his well-meaning mistake makes possible not just the human sacrifice with which Christianity began, but also the misery which Christianity has helped cause since then, a mistake Jesus forgives because it made his glorification possible. Judas remains unconsoled, because his mistake has consequences which go on for centuries, consequences he did not want and cannot prevent. His betrayal is an impressive example of how good intentions can lead straight to Hell, when a seemingly small act has enormous and mostly unexpected consequences. Jeffers had not imagined that anyone would ever produce "Dear Judas" as a play, and seemed quite unsurprised when a production of it was banned in Boston in 1947 because, the mayor said, it might stir up religious feelings.

Jeffers's success with an unchristian view of the world and humanity predictably offended some critics, most notably Yvor Winters , who wrote that because Jeffers saw the world as God, and in terms of a textbook in physics, Jeffers had "abandoned narrative logic" as well as ethics. Winters seems to have meant that nothing which did not agree with his own view could make sense. He claimed that Jeffers's poems are "defective" because they have no rational plots or structures, and so cannot be paraphrased, though Winters did paraphrase two of them, both inaccurately. Winters claimed that Jeffers's poems only repeat images, "with no rational necessity for any order ... the order being determined wholly by the author's feeling about the graduation of importance or intensity." Such a comment may describe The Waste Land accurately, but not any of Jeffers's more than 440 poems except one twenty-line lyric Winters did not mention, "The Maid's Thought," which first appeared in Tamar and Other Poems in 1924. That poem begins with the girl saying, "listen, even the water is sobbing for something"; seventeen lines later she says what she wants, having progressed step by step from the ocean to plants to animals to herself, with each example of longing more intense and important to her than the one before. The whole series neatly recapitulates the evolution of life which she epitomizes, and which will continue if she gets what she wants, not an act without consequences despite Winters's claim that none of Jeffers's characters do anything that has any meaning or consequence. Winters said literature should be judged by the accuracy of its perceptions, a principle which may also apply to the criticism of literature. Winters claimed Jeffers used "the terminology of modern physics" but mentioned no examples, perhaps because Jeffers used so few such terms, and he seemed unable to admit how vividly and accurately Jeffers described the world, a point Horace Lyon documented in Jeffers Country (1970), a collection of some of Jeffers's previously published poems illustrated by Lyon's photographs. Though Winters says Jeffers does not describe the world as a botanist would, "The Maid's Thought" mentions precisely what a botanist would notice in that particular place and season: the "sulphury pollen dust" of the pines, the broom, deerweed, wild iris, globe tulips, and bronze bell in blossom, and all referred to by nontechnical names.

Though Winters managed to ignore them almost totally in his survey of the methods of organizing poetry, Jeffers used the rhetorical structures--tragic plots and other sequences, seasonal metaphors and other comparisons--which have been basic to poetry at least since Aeschylus . Winters's argument that Jeffers's poems have no moral meaning or coherence depends upon the curious assumption that because scientific discoveries reveal the causes, results, and circumstances of what we do, such knowledge leaves us unable to make choices or to understand anything, as if we can be free, moral, and intelligent only when ignorant. From "Tamar" on, Jeffers's poems say and show why we need to escape such self-pitying and irresponsible ignorance, and to know what misery it causes, a matter-of-fact morality Winters ignored. For instance, he called such plots as that of "The Loving Shepherdess" in Dear Judas and Other Poems "non-narrative" because "reversible," and paraphrased that poem as about "a girl who knows herself doomed to die ... in childbirth ... [who] wanders over the countryside ... turned cruelly from door to door ... until finally the girl dies...." The plot depends on two obviously irreversible changes, pregnancy and death, and shows that the girl dies as a result of her self-centered ignorance, including the delusion that her baby is the world and God, so she thinks that she contains it rather than it containing her. The result seems the opposite of the Odyssey. The male Odysseus returns home with great success by cheating and killing others; the shepherdess wanders from her home to her death alone, hurting no one but herself and failing at everything she tries, which makes her delusion of importance as the creator of the world and God pathetically understandable but no less dangerous as a compensation for her failures. As Aristotle said of the Odyssey, the rest is anecdote. In both cases, all the anecdotes describe and explain the central character's behavior, and help to determine what happens next in memorably vivid ways.

Jeffers wrote little criticism, but as The Selected Letters of Robinson Jeffers shows, he answered questions from readers. He wrote a helpful foreword to The Selected Poetry (1938), as well as Themes in My Poems (1956) for his only lecture tour, and Poetry, Gongorism and A Thousand Years for the 18 January 1948 New York Times (republished as a book in 1949). As his poem "Self-Criticism in February" shows, he knew what critics said, and why he thought them wrong:

And now
For the worst fault: you have never mistaken
Demon nor passion nor idealism for the real God.
Then what is most disliked in those verses
Remains most true. Unfortunately. If only you could sing
That God is love, or perhaps that social
Justice will soon prevail. I can tell lies in prose.

The "more massive violence" he had predicted promptly came in World War II. While much modern poetry became notorious for its obscurity and its retreat from public subjects, Jeffers apparently thought he had something important to say to mankind about mankind and the world we inhabit, and so tried to say it clearly, offending some.

By 1929 Jeffers had written nine tragedies in seven years and thirty or more shorter poems, establishing himself as one of the most widely read and discussed American poets. He was the first to appear on the cover of Time, the 4 April 1932 issue, some twenty years before T. S. Eliot did. As Jeffers later said, he felt tired by 1929 and wanted to rest by "playing dead for a few months. Foreign travel is like a pleasant temporary death; it relieves you of responsibilities and familiar scenes and duties." Jeffers and his wife and twin sons went to Ireland and Britain for the second half of 1929; the result was Descent to the Dead, sixteen short poems about the dead of those islands, published as a separate book in 1931 and included in Give Your Heart to the Hawks in 1933.

Once home again in 1930, Jeffers began a series of narratives whose painful ends still demonstrate the need for an unselfish detachment from otherwise blinding emotions. Most of them are without the plot structure of Greek tragedy, as if he had decided to avoid repeating himself and to find new forms for tragedy by writing something like naturalistic novels in verse. In "Thurso's Landing," published in 1932, a stupidly jealous husband and a resentfully unfaithful wife destroy each other. His strength and courage and her passion prove worse than useless without some detached intelligence, a moral point obscured by so much misery and their confusion.

In "Margrave," also in Thurso's Landing and Other Poems , Jeffers contrasts the useless self-pity of a condemned medical student's last hours with the outward-looking discoveries about the universe which astronomers make. The student's consciousness only makes him more miserable--he knows precisely what hanging will do to him--and more pathetic as well as despicable; he kidnapped a little girl to get money to continue his education, and then killed her, a plot suggested by the then famous but now forgotten Hickman case. Considering how miserably we behave, Jeffers said, no wonder the whole universe seems to be recoiling from us as if in horror. Astronomers had then just discovered the red shift in the light from galaxies which indicates that other galaxies are moving away from us as the universe expands--a staggering metaphor, but readers may refuse to consider so depressing and despicable a character as the medical student a representative example of humanity, and may not appreciate Jeffers's disgust as a result of a long-tried compassion.

In "Give Your Heart to the Hawks," Jeffers seems less exasperated, perhaps because he has made his characters more likable. The poem presents a family on the Sur coast destroyed by their reactions to a single disastrously emotional moment, and here Jeffers at least began with a Christian organizing archetype to replace the plot structure and seasonal metaphors of Greek tragedy. The poem begins with Michael Fraser's playfully putting a harmless snake up his sister-in-law's leg as she picks apples, as if they were Adam and Eve in Eden, and Jeffers meant to invite Freudian interpretations. Their happy time soon ends: in the next scene, at a drunken party on the beach below, her husband kills a rattlesnake and then either jealously kills his brother Michael or helplessly watches him fall from the cliff (in emotional moments he cannot distinguish between his guilty fantasies and fact). Because he cannot "give his heart to the hawks" (cannot detach what he sees from his blindly human emotions), he loses his sanity and then his life while trying to escape from his fantasies. His pregnant wife survives because she can and does love unselfishly, caring for others while knowing that the world does not depend on her. Her husband had thought his guilt ruined everything, making the whole world hate him, and so he slaughtered the cattle he thought were pursuing him. His wife has only one such self-important delusion, that the child she carries "will change the world," and so the tragedy may happen again.

In 1933 Jeffers returned to Greek plots: "At the Fall of an Age," in Give Your Heart to the Hawks and Other Poems. shows the dead of the Trojan War come back from Hades to take Helen of Troy to the woman with whom she grew up. Blaming Helen for the war, in which the woman's husband died, that woman has Helen killed, and kills herself, the last of Helen's many victims. In "Resurrection," in Solstice and Other Poems (1935), a soldier who died in World War I temporarily returns from death to haunt the guilty, a dramatic device Jeffers used again in "The Love and the Hate," the first half of the title poem about World War II in The Double Axe & Other Poems (1948). Jeffers wrote about ghosts as early as 1924, in "Tamar," and seemed to like to think of his ghost haunting his granite home for centuries to come. Despite Yvor Winters 's claims, Jeffers was not altogether a determinist; he had his inconsistent and often moving moments of belief in the supernatural.

In the title poem of Solstice and Other Poems Jeffers also used a Greek plot, retelling Euripides ' Medea as he would again more successfully in his Medea (1946). After his successes from "Tamar" to "The Loving Shepherdess" in 1924-1929, Jeffers seemed to need to find new sources and forms for tragedy, and he used the supernatural more often in his narrative poems, as if he had begun to find a strictly naturalistic world view too bleak, or too limiting for what he wanted to say.

Solstice and Other Poems also includes "At the Birth of an Age," Jeffers's one tragedy using a Teutonic legend. It describes a stupidly petty and suicidal squabble between three brothers, leaders of a minor Germanic tribe, and their sister, who became Attila's consort because they had murdered her husband. The squabble has results they cannot even imagine: because it also kills the general who might otherwise have conquered the disintegrating Roman empire, Attila suffers his only defeat (as in fact he did, near Châlons, a hundred miles east of Paris, in the year 451) and Europe remains Christian. The victims seem dwarfed by the enormous consequences of their passionate ignorance, and at the end of the poem Jeffers makes them seem still smaller, still more pathetically limited and foolish in their pride, by contrasting them with the universe as a whole, as personified by Odin (the god of wisdom, conflict, and death in Teutonic and Norse mythology), who tortures himself in order to discover everything, which is to say, his own identity. Here Jeffers restates the traditional moral of Greek tragedies--to know who you are by knowing your limits, and so to do nothing excessively--not just in terms of another mythology, but also in terms of scientific discoveries about the universe that limits and creates us. He seems to suggest that if we discover enough we may save ourselves from the often miserable effects of ignorance. As scientists have from Newton or Galileo on, Jeffers sees the universe as one totally interconnecting network of forever-changing yet forever-balancing forces; he also sees those changes as producing not just the consciousness of his universe-as-God, but ours as well. At its most intense, consciousness becomes painful, but without it we cannot learn, so like Jeffers's Odin we must keep on balancing between opposing forces to survive.

Jeffers's view parallels the Buddhist and Taoist view of the universe as yin and yang, a perpetual balancing of mutually dependent opposites, and the Buddhist and Hindu metaphor of the universe as Indra's net (Indra is the Hindu god of the heavens). In his net, every part of the universe reflects and affects every other. Jeffers never mentions Indra, and may have independently rediscovered the world-as-God-as-net metaphor which he used at least sixty times. He might also have borrowed it from Newton's law of gravitational attraction, in which every particle of the universe reflects every other, a point made clear in the astronomy textbook which Jeffers read at Occidental. As the physicist Fritjof Capra has since said in The Tao of Physics (1975), apparently without knowing about Jeffers, this view is basic to physics and astronomy, and to both Eastern and Western mysticism, as in William Blake 's "Auguries of Innocence," which starts

To see a World in a grain of sand
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

The net metaphor and Newton's law suggest that every part of the universe is what it is, does what it does, because of all the rest, and so (as these lines may say) each part in part reflects the whole universe. These lines also seem a recipe for mystical experience; innocence may mean that selflessly detached compassionate awareness which Jeffers and Buddhists advocate. Jeffers saw the sheer size and beauty of the universe as both revealing our unimportance and consoling us: see the planet as a grain of sand or as an eyeball (as Jeffers did in "The Eye," 1948) and mankind becomes too small to see and our individual troubles vanish--a liberation resented by those who prefer to cling to their self-important miseries, and misunderstood by critics who called Jeffers nihilistic, inhuman, and immoral. But if we see the universe as a net of cause--result relationships, as Jeffers did, we may choose what we do much more carefully, knowing that every act has its consequences, some of them irreversible, and so become more morally and ecologically responsible. The word ecology means the net of relationships between each species or individual and his environment, and, as with a net, disturbing any part inevitably affects all the rest. Thus, for Jeffers, if we see our feelings as only our feelings, and relatively unimportant, and as often misleading distractions, we may become less selfish, less harried by such misery-causing emotions as ambition and greed, and so become more compassionate and responsible because more aware of individuals and of the universe beyond ourselves.

In 1937 Jeffers continued his experiments with sources and forms for tragedy by writing one based on the old Scots border ballad "Edward," whose last line gave Jeffers his title for the poem and for the book containing it: Such Counsels You Gave to Me . In the ballad, a man with wife and children takes his mother's counsels and kills his father but is then forced to go into exile and curses her. Jeffers makes the young man an unmarried medical student whose health and sanity break down from overwork after his father refuses to go on paying for his education. He murders his father, but refuses to avoid punishment or to let his mother seduce him. Like many of Jeffers's tragic fools, he seems haunted by a ghostly counterpart of himself which tells him what he could have done, increasing his anguish without helping him succeed; he cannot see beyond that projection of himself to see anything objectively.

In 1938 Jeffers put together The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers and then, just before flying over the Sierra Nevada to Death Valley that Easter as the passenger in an open cockpit biplane with his younger (and only) brother Hamilton, left his wife a note in which he anticipated his possible death on that flight. He included his will and directions for his funeral, asking "to be cremated as cheaply, quickly, and quietly as possible, no speech, no meeting nor music, no more coffin than may be necessary, no embalming, no flowers ... Put the ashes a few inches deep ... near our little daughter's ashes" in the yard by the house. Meanwhile, he said that he had "no desire to die before writing another poem or two," and that he "should love to know" his wife and sons "for hundreds of years," but he neither shrank from nor welcomed death. When he did die, in 1962, his directions were followed.

In the summer of 1938, perhaps because he would not become Mabel Dodge Luhan's pet poet in Taos to replace D. H. Lawrence , Luhan encouraged a younger woman to try distracting Jeffers. Una Jeffers shot herself, perhaps by accident, and not seriously; the Jeffers avoided Luhan after that. The incident had its aftermath, as Jeffers's note later that year reveals. It begins,

Una, I can't write ... and writing--during the past 30 years--has become one of the conditions of life for me ....
I believe I'll have a new birth ... something will happen, and life through this hell come home to me ....
as it had in 1917-1919 in "the accidental new birth" of his mind which made his original poetry possible.

Apparently Jeffers turned to Buddhism for that rebirth, because his next long narrative, "Mara" in Be Angry at the Sun (1941), is named for the temptress who tried unsuccessfully to distract Buddha from enlightenment. With Jeffers's tragic fool, she succeeds, and his self-pity and disgust with World War II drive him to suicide. Jeffers's Mara may owe something to Sir Edwin Arnold's best-selling biography of Buddha, The Light of Asia, first published in 1879. Buddha's distractions begin with

The Sin of Self, who in the Universe
As in a mirror her fond face shown,
And crying "I," would have the world say "I"
--the narcissistic mistake Jeffers's tragic fools, especially Barclay and the loving shepherdess, repeatedly make.

In his foreword to Be Angry at the Sun, Jeffers apologized for his "obsession with contemporary history" before and during World War II. It threatened his detachment and his patience, and left many of his poems from 1939 on pinned to particular events and dated. In one, "The Day is a Poem (September 19, 1939)," Jeffers calls Hitler

A man of genius: that is, of amazing
Ability, courage, devotion, cored on a sick child's soul
.........................
a sick child
Wailing in Danzig; invoking destruction and wailing at it.

Hostile reviewers sometimes quoted "genius" out of context while calling Jeffers a fascist, and not adding that genius can mean "the evil spirit dominating a situation" or that Jeffers also described Hitler as a dangerous and contemptible psychotic. Hitler disgusted but also interested Jeffers as a spectacular example of the sort of delusion best avoided. In poem after poem, Jeffers tried to make such delusions unattractive by showing their ignoble causes and painful results.

"The Bowl of Blood," the other long poem in Be Angry at the Sun, shows Hitler in April 1940 consulting a fortune-teller because his invasion of Norway seems about to fail and he does not know what to do next (it is now known that Hitler did consult an astrologer then for that reason). But as a compulsive talker, Hitler tells his own fortune only to ignore it, thus helping make it come true. He says he will not repeat Napoleon's mistake of getting trapped by invading Russia before finishing England and will shoot himself rather than surrender as Napoleon did. Hitler did shoot himself in April 1945 just as Jeffers predicted in May or June 1941, when or just before Hitler invaded Russia. The popular impression of Jeffers as a misanthropic hermit hiding in his tower has misled many a hostile critic; in fact, few other poets in America have taken such risks to comment on current public events to predict the culture's future in order to warn and help their readers, or been so resented for trying.

Jeffers could neither ignore the war nor suppose his warnings could prevent it. He regarded it as a "tragic farce," with millions of victims but no heroes. Any tragedy he might have written about the whole war would have been bewilderingly long and complicated, and worse, might have made Hitler seem sympathetic as its central figure and victim. "The Bowl of Blood" solves both problems: it concentrates on a few minutes in which Hitler seems contemptible in his stupidity and self-pity while so many others die, and doomed because he will not learn even when he unwittingly happens to tell the truth, a poetically just fate for so compulsive and lavishly rewarded a liar.

As the poems about the war which Jeffers left out of his books show even more clearly (see the posthumous collection What Odd Expedients , 1981), the war left Jeffers often more disgusted and despairing than detached because mankind suffers so much, while learning so little. Many of his poems of 1933-1961 read like choruses for a tragedy never written, a tragedy he might have felt no one would want to read, because the tragic fools and victims are whole countries and cultures, the readers included. He spent the war years writing shorter poems and smaller tragedies, including the adaptation of Euripides ' Medea Judith Anderson requested.

Medea made Jeffers wealthy enough to keep his house as Carmel's taxes kept increasing; the play opened on Broadway on 20 October 1947 with Judith Anderson as Medea, and has since been produced in Scotland, England, Denmark, Italy, France, Portugal, Australia, and on Broadway again in 1982, and translated into four languages. Jeffers had seen only five plays before he wrote it, one of them his own The Tower Beyond Tragedy, but he made Medea move quickly from the first speech, in which Medea's nurse wishes Medea had never met the Greek adventurer Jason, to Jason's utter humiliation an hour later. As in Euripides ' tragedy, Jason plans to marry a princess and exile his first wife, Medea, and their two sons, although he knows she killed members of her family to save him and so cannot go home. She arranges for sanctuary elsewhere, gives the princess a golden robe which burns her and her father alive, and kills Jason's sons. In Euripides ' version, the gods then carry Medea away; in Jeffers's, she walks away, leaving an utterly defeated Jason to live on in misery, forever discredited for having so violated her love and trust.

With The Double Axe & Other Poems (1948), Jeffers offended the patriotic by describing World War II as a slaughter best avoided, and possibly also by his "rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence" of the universe on which our lives depend. He said we need his "philosophical attitude," which he unfortunately called Inhumanism, because "It seems time that our race began to think as an adult does, rather than like an egocentric baby or insane person. This manner of thought and feeling is neither misanthropic nor pessimist, though two or three people have said so and may again. It involves no falsehoods, and is a means of maintaining sanity in slippery times.... It offers a reasonable detachment instead of love, hate and envy" which cause tragedies, including "The Love and the Hate," the first half of the title poem. The second half shows how to survive by having so skeptical a detachment. Like Bodhidharma (470-543), who began Zen Buddhism, Jeffers's Inhumanist lives alone in the mountains and turns away would-be disciples by challenging them with riddles to make them think and to make them see the beauty of the universe beyond themselves.

In the summer of 1948 Jeffers and Una made their third trip to Ireland, where Jeffers nearly died of pleurisy; they got back to California to find that Una had cancer. She died in his arms in September 1950, leaving Jeffers desolate. He survived to write Hungerfield and Other Poems, published in 1954, and the poems his son Donnan and his biographer Melba Berry Bennet collected in The Beginning & the End and Other Poems, published in 1963, the year after Jeffers's death. He began "Hungerfield" by hoping that somewhere, somehow, Una might still live, but he admits in a few lines that he knows she has died, so he thinks of Hungerfield, the man who temporarily defeated death. Watching his mother die of cancer, Hungerfield decides to wrestle with death, and stop him, as Hungerfield thinks he did when wounded in World War I. He does, and, for a few agonizing hours no one appreciates, no one dies. Then the dam bursts: Hungerfield's wife, child, and brother die, and Hungerfield burns his house, killing himself, but his mother escapes to live two more years. The poem portrays death as a needed mercy, as Jeffers apparently needed to think then; he also thought of Una living serenely on as a part of the lovely natural world. After 1958, he suffered illness after illness and died in his sleep on 20 January 1962.

 
Papers:

The bulk of the Jeffers papers are at the Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin.

 
FURTHER READINGS:

FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bibliographies:

  • S. S. Alberts, A Bibliography of the Works of Robinson Jeffers (New York: Random House, 1933).
  • Alex A. Vardamis, The Critical Reputation of Robinson Jeffers (Hamden, Conn.: Shoe String Press, 1972).

Biography:

  • Melba Berry Bennett, The Stone Mason of Tor House: The Life and Works of Robinson Jeffers (Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1966).

References:

  • Newton Arvin, "The Paradox of Jeffers," New Freeman 1 (17 May 1930): 230-232.
  • Joseph Warren Beach, The Concept of Nature in Nineteenth Century Poetry (New York: Macmillan, 1936), pp. 542-546.
  • Robert Boyers, "A Sovereign Voice: The Poetry of Robinson Jeffers," Sewanee Review, 77 (Summer 1969): 487-507.
  • Robert J. Brophy, afterword to Dear Judas and Other Poems (New York: Liveright, 1977), pp. 131-153.
  • Brophy, Robinson Jeffers, Myth, Ritual and Symbol in His Narrative Poems (Cleveland: The Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1973).
  • M. Webster Brown, "A Poet Who Studied Medicine," Medicine Journal and Record, 130 (6 November 1929): 535-539.
  • Frederic Ives Carpenter, Robinson Jeffers (New York: Twayne, 1962).
  • Carpenter, "The Values of Robinson Jeffers," American Literature, 11 (January 1940): 353-366.
  • Arthur B. Coffin, Robinson Jeffers: The Poetry of Inhumanism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971).
  • James Daly, "Roots Under the Rocks," review of Tamar and Other Poems, Poetry, 26 (August 1925): 278-285.
  • Babette Deutsch, "Brains and Lyrics," review of Tamar and Other Poems, New Republic, 43 (27 May 1925): 23-24.
  • James Dickey, "First and Last Things," Poetry, 103 (February 1964): 320-325.
  • Fraser Bragg Drew, "The Gentleness of Robinson Jeffers," Western Humanities Review, 12 (Autumn 1958): 379-381.
  • William Everson (Brother Antoninus), foreword to The Double Axe and Other Poems (New York: Liveright, 1977), pp. vii-xix.
  • Everson, Introduction to Californians (Monterey: Cayucos Books, 1974), pp. vii-xxvi.
  • Everson, Introduction to Cawdor: A Long Poem, Medea after Euripides (New York: New Directions, 1970), pp. vii-xxx.
  • Everson, Preface, Introduction, and Afterword to Brides of the South Wind (Monterey: Cayucos Books, 1974), pp. ix-xxxiii, 119-137.
  • Everson, Robinson Jeffers: Fragments of an Older Fury (Berkeley: Oyez, 1968).
  • Horace Gregory, "Poet Without Critics: A Note on Robinson Jeffers," New World Writing: Seventh Mentor Selection (New York: New American Library, 1955), pp. 40-52.
  • "Harrowed Marrow," Time 19 (4 April 1932): 63-64.
  • William Savage Johnson, "The 'Savior' in the Poetry of Robinson Jeffers," American Literature, 15 (May 1943): 159-168.
  • Benjamin Miller, "The Demands of the Religious Consciousness," Review of Religion, 4 (May 1940): 401-405.
  • William H. Nolte, "Robinson Jeffers as a Didactic Poet," Virginia Quarterly Review, 47 (Spring 1966): 257-271.
  • Nolte, Rock and Hawk: Robinson Jeffers and the Romantic Agony (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1975).
  • "Pagan Horror from Carmel-by-the-Sea," San Francisco Monitor, 9 January 1926, p. 8.
  • Lawrence Clark Powell, Robinson Jeffers, The Man and His Work (Pasadena: San Pasquel Press, 1940).
  • Robinson Jeffers Newsletter (1962- ).
  • James Rorty, "In Major Mold," review of Tamar and Other Poems, New York Herald and Tribune Books, 1 March 1925, pp. 1-2.
  • Robert Ian Scott, "Robinson Jeffers' Tragedies as Rediscoveries of the World," Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, 29 (Autumn 1975): 147-165.
  • Radcliffe Squires, The Loyalties of Robinson Jeffers (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1956).
  • Mark Van Doren, "First Glance," review of Tamar and Other Poems, Nation, 120 (11 March 1925): 268.
  • Hyatt H. Waggoner, The Heel of Elohim: Science and Values in Modern American Poetry (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959), pp. 74-180, 201-202.
  • Yvor Winters, In Defense of Reason (New York: Swallow Press/William Morrow, 1947), pp. 30-74.
  • Winters, "Robinson Jeffers," Poetry, 35 (February 1930): 279-286.

 

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200001437