Descent to the Dead Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Descent to the Dead, occasioned by a visit Jeffers and Una paid to Ireland, the land of their ancestors, and England in 1929, is the major sequence of short poems composed by the poet. Most of the works commemorate monuments of ancient cultures—cairns, cromlechs, graves, and standing stones—attempting to re-create the human consciousness that entered into their construction. Jeffers is most concerned with drawing connections between disparate moments of time, both to bridge the immense gulf between them and to mark humankind’s beautiful insignificance in the context of cosmic time. It is another means of disclosing Inhumanism.

Because Jeffers had chosen the Carmel coast—the final West—as his inevitable place and had accepted as his vocation the revelation of humanity’s triviality in that context, he had symbolically turned his back on the culture of his own country—thus his need to forge new poetic forms. By that same measure, he had rejected even more the culture of the Old World. This is the “dead” to which he descends, dead in two ways: It represents a rejected or transcended culture, and it is the culture of his ancestors, dead in a real sense. His object is both to reveal its irrelevance and to record its paradoxical beauty.

The poems focus on monuments of internment—“Shane O’Neill’s Cairn,” “Ossian’s Grave,” “In the Hill at Newgrange,” “Iona: The Graves of the Kings,” “Shakespeare’s...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

Descent to the Dead Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Brophy, Robert J. Robinson Jeffers: Myth, Ritual, and Symbol in His Narrative Poems. Reprint. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1976.

Brophy, Robert J., ed. The Robinson Jeffers Newsletter: A Jubilee Gathering, 1962-1988. Los Angeles: Occidental College, 1988.

Everson, William. The Excesses of God: Robinson Jeffers as a Religious Figure. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988.

Karman, James. Robinson Jeffers: Poet of California. Brownsville, Oreg.: Story Line Press, 1995.

Nolte, William H. Rock and Hawk: Robinson Jeffers and the Romantic Agony. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978.

Thesing, William B. Robinson Jeffers and a Galaxy of Writers. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.

Vardamis, Alex A. The Critical Reputation of Robinson Jeffers: A Bibliographical Study. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1972.

Zaller, Robert. The Cliffs of Solitude: A Reading of Robinson Jeffers. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.