Study Guide

Robinson Jeffers

Robinson Jeffers Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226247-Jeffers.jpgRobinson Jeffers Published by Salem Press, Inc.

John Robinson Jeffers was the first son of William Hamilton Jeffers, professor of Old Testament literature at Western (Presbyterian) Theological Seminary, and Annie Robinson Tuttle, a gifted amateur musician. On both sides, Jeffers was descended from generations of strict Calvinists. For seven years an only child, he was treated as a prodigy by his father, who introduced the boy to reading Greek at five, after working on English and French. Jeffers’s early education included extended travel to England and the Continent. This home tutoring continued throughout most of his early life, while he attended various private schools near Pittsburgh and in Europe. At fifteen he entered college in Pennsylvania, transferring to Occidental College in California when his parents moved there a year later. In 1905, he began graduate studies in literature at the University of Southern California (USC).

There Jeffers met Una Call Kuster, a fellow student who was already married to a Los Angeles attorney. Jeffers, with little worldly experience, was overwhelmed by her combination of beauty, polish, and sophistication. The couple fell in love, and Una considered divorce, at that time still a radical, socially unacceptable act. The two were separated forcibly: Una went to live with relatives in the East and then in Europe, and Jeffers embarked on tour with his parents. He broke with them, however, declaring independence at the age of nineteen, and enrolled briefly in the science curriculum of the University of Zurich. From there he returned to USC, entering medical school and completing the three-year program, although he did not take his degree.

This was an eight-year span of acute emotional turmoil and social experimentation in his life, and it was the only time Jeffers pursued the bohemian lifestyle of young intellectuals. He lodged at his professors’ homes, at beachfront cottages, and at laborers’ boardinghouses, and he did things as diverse as winning the heavyweight college wrestling championship and spending a summer bumming on the beach. Two elements, however, survived this upheaval. One was his dedication to poetry; from age fifteen he had vowed to become the American equivalent of English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the leader of the nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelite movement. Though the kind of poetry Jeffers aspired to write would change, the intensity of his dedication never wavered. The second was his love for Una.

After leaving medicine, Jeffers moved to Seattle, where he spent a year studying forestry. In 1912, he returned to Los Angeles; a small bequest allowed him to publish Flagons and Apples (1912), a collection of largely derivative, competent lyrics in traditional forms. The next year he was back in Washington, where...

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Robinson Jeffers Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Jeffers is unparalleled among twentieth century poets in the range of his achievements, his technical innovations, and the cast of his vision. He alone reached master status in lyric, narrative, and dramatic poetry, and he created a unique voice and idiom in each genre. Much of this eminence derived from his radical approach to the writing of poetry in English: He wrote as if poetry in his time stemmed from the same impulses that produced poetry in ancient Greece and Israel. To communicate his vision, he invented flexible five-and ten-stress lines rare in English before him. He projected a Darwinian vision of humankind as only one life form in a complex ecosystem.

Robinson Jeffers Biography (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111201230-Jeffers.jpgRobinson Jeffers Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Robinson Jeffers was a child prodigy who could read Greek at age five and who was graduated from Occidental College at the age of seventeen. He rejected the Calvinistic teachings of his minister father, but Calvinistic notions of the depravity of human nature characterize much of his later writings. In the decade preceding World War I, Jeffers pursued graduate studies in medicine, foreign languages, and forestry at the University of Southern California (USC), briefly at the University of Zurich, and at the University of Washington. He did not earn a degree in any of his graduate school endeavors. In a German class at USC, Jeffers met Una Call Kuster, a wealthy, married socialite, who married Jeffers in 1913 after a divorce that was reported in West Coast newspapers.

Jeffers and his wife moved to Carmel, California, in 1914, and Jeffers began building Tor House in 1919. Tor House was a stone house and tower with woodwork and finish details that Jeffers slowly built by his own hand and with the occasional aid of hired craftsmen. He purposely never finished the tower and relished the stone house and unfinished tower both as a domicile for his family and as a metaphor in his poetry. Jeffers lived in Tor House until his death in 1962, raising twin sons with his wife, who predeceased him in 1950.

Jeffers’ first two works of poetry were conventional collections, celebrating the beauty of nature in a romantic vein. With the publication of...

(The entire section is 449 words.)

Robinson Jeffers Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)

John Robinson Jeffers’s life, milieu, and work are of one piece. From his early adulthood, one can see him choosing a place of living and a way of life that are strongly reflected in his poetry and in his occasional prose statements about his work.

When Jeffers was born in Pittsburgh in 1887, his father was forty-nine, his mother twenty-seven. His father’s occupation as well as his age set the boy apart; the senior Jeffers had been a Presbyterian minister and was professor of Old Testament literature and exegesis at Western Theological Seminary. Young Robin was an only child for seven years, and he spent much of his time in solitary wandering or reading on the relatively isolated family property. He was later educated in Switzerland for nearly four years, in schools in which the language of instruction was either French or German. His father had introduced him to Greek at the age of five, and he also acquired Latin and some Italian. After his parents moved to Los Angeles, he entered Occidental College, where he continued his classical and literary education and supplemented his childhood religious training with courses in biblical literature and theology.

Although popular with his fellow students, Jeffers already was establishing the pattern of his life through his interest in camping and mountain climbing on one hand, and in reading and writing on the other. Graduating at eighteen, he then pursued medical studies at the University of...

(The entire section is 548 words.)

Robinson Jeffers Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201230-Jeffers.jpgRobinson Jeffers Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Born in 1887, John Robinson Jeffers spent a great deal of his childhood traveling about Europe with his parents. Some of their stops included Zurich, where he went to kindergarten, London, and Edinburgh. At the age of fifteen, he returned to the United States; the next year his family moved to California, the region Jeffers later chose as the background of his poetry. At eighteen he graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles. After that, according to Jeffers’s account, came desultory years at the University of Southern California (USC), the University of Zurich, the USC Medical School, and the University of Washington, all with faint interest. As he stated, “I wasn’t deeply interested in anything but poetry.”

In 1912, he published Flagons and Apples, a volume that contained little hint of his later distinctive and powerful style. The next year he married Una Call Kuster, and the following summer they planned a trip to England. World War I broke out, however, so they turned back to the village of Carmel, on the California coast. The country around Carmel Bay, wild and rugged, possessed a beauty that appealed to Jeffers. It was there that he built a stone house (Tor House) and, with his own hands, an observation tower. They lived there in virtual seclusion.

After Californians, Jeffers brought out in 1924 the book that brought him fame, Tamar, and Other Poems. The volumes came swiftly afterward: Roan...

(The entire section is 501 words.)