In Robinson Jeffers' poem "Hands," discuss how the poet’s use of figures of speech contribute to the poem's theme.

lit24 | Student

Tassajara is situated deep in a mountain valley in a remote part of the Ventana Wilderness in the state of California. It is the original home of the native Esselen people, the native American linguistic group which is now extinct. The Esselen were primitive hunter gatherers who lived in small communities in the caves which the poet Robinson Jeffers must have visited.

Jeffers's poem "Hands" is about the imprints of the palms of these people which are to be  seen in these caves. Jeffers tries to figure out the purpose of the imprints of the palms of the ancient Esselen people in the caves. He is unable to figure out the significance of these imprints and wonders whether they have any religious or magical significance:


There’s no one to say
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings

Jeffers offers his own explanation of the importance of these palm imprints: He says that these primitive imprints convey the important message that modern man should not look down with contempt on these imprints, for they [ the Esselen ] were also human beings like the people of today and not animals with "paws." The Esselen people praise the modern civilized man and his technological advancements and they ask the modern people to enjoy the pristine beauty of the Tassajara without polluting it and then after their death to become one with the place by being supplanted by the next generation of human beings:

a sealed message Saying: “Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws. All hail You people with the cleverer hands, our supplanters In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty, and come down And be supplanted; for you also are human.”

Jeffers's message seems to be that one should not be proud and arrogant and think poorly of one's primitive ancestors as being barbaric and uncivilized, but to remember that in the relentless march of civilization and progress one generation is supplanted by the next.

Civilization and progress are only relative. One generation of human beings is always proud and considers itself more civilized than the previous generation. Jeffers's poem "Hands" tries to correct this wrong notion.

The picturesque image which is related to the theme is the phrase a cloud of men’s palms. The painting of the palms of the Esselen people has been imprinted on the ceiling of the cave and when Jeffers sees the imprints it appears like a white cloud. The word 'cloud' could also refer to a modern man's perception of these primitive imprints as being very inartistic. Jeffers means to say that the modern man's perception has been 'clouded over' that is he is not able to see clearly and appreciate the beauty of these imprints leave alone understand their significance as to whether their purpose was religious or magical or just a means to while away the time:


Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art;


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