Jeffers, Robinson (Vol. 15)
Jeffers, Robinson 1887–1962
Jeffers was an American poet and playwright whose fatalistic philosophy extols the savage beauty of nature over the inadequacies of man. Drawing his themes from the Greek classics as well as from the philosophies of Nietzsche and Freud, he often set his poems against the backdrop of the California coast. His is a grim poetry of violence, incest, and revenge, placing value upon what Jeffers called "permanent things," and upon freedom. The early response to Jeffers's work was highly enthusiastic. Praise came from such critics as Babette Deutsch and Mark Van Doren, and something of a cult following developed. Since the mid-1930s, however, his work has come under critical attack, and his reputation has steadily deteriorated. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)
In Robinson Jeffers we find a poet concerned … with the cosmos in which man is but a momentary flicker, [and] the magnificent strophes of this strangely obscure poet show a [rich] maturity. This reviewer, reading Jeffers, felt somewhat as Keats professed to feel, on looking into Chapman's Homer…. The opening poem, "Tamar," is a powerful dramatic narrative on the stern Greek model, given a native setting and written in a free verse that has in it the long roll and swing of the elder seas. Jeffers has his own style, which is worthy of his high moods and gnarled thinking. For there is thinking in these lyrics, which lifts them … on to the plane of great writing. It is possible not to share the Oriental philosophy expressed in certain of his poems, but it is impossible to have strong poetry without the force of some equal conviction beating like a heart in its body….
Permanent things—bound together in a cosmic pattern, as Jeffers binds them—permanent things, edged with the light of our new knowledge of the world—permanent things torn up from the sea-floor of emotion and giving off the aromatic odors of fossil resin in the fires of the poet's mind. That is what one is granted in such work as this—work that is hard and cool and precious as amber, and like amber, charged with electricity. (p. 23)
Babette Deutsch, "Brains and Lyrics," in The New Republic (reprinted by...
(The entire section is 257 words.)
Frederic I. Carpenter
[Robinson Jeffers' poem] "Post Mortem" is a prophetic warning of the future dangers of over-population. As such it is more true, more relevant, more important now than when it was written…. The dangers of exploding population which Jeffers proclaimed in 1927 have become the crucial concern of our time. And I would suggest that the present renaissance of his poetic reputation is due, in part at least, to the accuracy and timeliness of his prophecy, and to the depth of his concern with "these evils," which he described so eloquently. Together with his deep love of the beauty of wild nature …, Jeffers' concern with the overpopulation of the earth speaks to the present more urgently even than it did to his own time.
But of course this poem would not affect us so powerfully as prophecy if it did not first succeed so brilliantly as poetry. It seems to me one of Jeffers' best—certainly it is one of his most "singular." Its point of view, its imagery, and its emotional impact are all typically "Jeffersian." And this very personal point of view, this violent imagery, and this powerful impact all make the poem not only poetically memorable, but critically important. I would direct your attention to one single line: "And dragged from between the thighs of what mothers will giggle at my ghost when it curses the axemen."
This single line is utterly imaginative: it imagines the poet to be clinically present at the birth of...
(The entire section is 844 words.)
Edward A. Nickerson
Even a casual reading leads one to conclude that much of Robinson Jeffers' poetry is profoundly apocalyptic. Fires, deluges, storms, and earthquakes menace the lives of his major characters, and serve as constant reminders of nature's catastrophic potential. There are forebodings of Armageddon and gloomy speculations about man's fate. A number of narratives result in the destruction of a small group of people in such a way as to suggest that they symbolize the human race itself. All of these facts recall strikingly the apocalyptic books and passages of the Bible. The Biblical writers, like Jeffers, thought of man as incapable of permanent self-improvement, and envisioned redemption as coming only after Armageddon and a series of natural catastrophes had destroyed mankind. Believing this, they fixed their gaze on the coming doom and on the glorious new heaven and earth that would succeed it. Calling for "the rejection of human solipsism and the recognition of the transhuman magnificence," Jeffers, too, looked beyond humanity to find redemptive splendor. He too sought not to reform but only to write down his gloomy visions. His outlook, for which he invented the word Inhumanism, lays the philosophical basis for the apocalyptic nature of his work: if one thought that man was merely a fly-speck in the universe, it was easy and even comforting to contemplate his end. But this stance does not explain the intensity of Jeffers' apocalyptic feeling. It does not...
(The entire section is 1623 words.)