Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A legacy from an uncle allowed Jeffers to move with his wife, Una, to Carmel, California, where he built for himself a granite house and an observation tower overlooking the ocean. This tower figures as a central image in his poem “Pearl Harbor.” Robinson and Una Jeffers’s own Irish ancestry, their interest (Una’s particularly) in Irish round towers, and their admiration for the Irish poet William Butler Yeats led them naturally to build Hawk Tower, which ultimately incorporated a stone from Yeats’s own tower at Thoor Ballylee. In Jeffers’s later poetry, Hawk Tower became a symbol of sanctuary in ways that related it toYeats as well as earlier Romantics, though Jeffers looked forward to the day it would be reabsorbed into the coastal shore from which it had been quarried.

“Pearl Harbor” expresses Jeffers philosophy of “pantheism” or “inhumanism,” which he characterized as a shift of emphasis from human to not human or the rejection of human-centered concerns in favor of transhuman magnificence. Like philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, Jeffers held that a superior reality exists behind appearance, a reality that is hidden but still discoverable. Jeffers, like D. H. Lawrence, was elated by the new physics and theories of evolution on one hand and disgusted with historical humanity on the other—in particular, with Christian, self-important, warring humanity. This led both poets to a religion of the inhuman universe. Look without, look...

(The entire section is 460 words.)