Please discuss the theme/philosophy of “inhumanism” in several of the following Robinson Jeffers poems:  “Carmel Point”  “Shine, Perishing Republic”  “The Answer”  “The Beaks...

Please discuss the theme/philosophy of “inhumanism” in several of the following Robinson Jeffers poems:

 “Carmel Point” 

“Shine, Perishing Republic” 

“The Answer” 

“The Beaks of Eagles” 

“The Purse-Seine”



Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Humanism is the thought which celebrates the beauty and dignity of man, epitomized by such masters as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Visualize da Vinci's famous anatomical drawing of the man with outstretched arms, a perfect representation of the glorious nature, beauty, and centricity of man. The poet Robin Jeffers has coined a phrase for something which is, perhaps not the opposite of humanism (which would be dehumanism) but an inversion of it called "inhumanism."

"Inhumanism" is the belief that, though man is extraordinary, he is no more extraordinary than any other created thing; he is also not the center of the universe nor the special object of God's attention. In short, he believes that man should "uncenter" himself, but he also believes that humans are virtually unable to do that. One of the hallmarks of Jeffers's poems which reflect this philosophy is a kind of horrible violence in which man dies a hard or gruesome death as part of this "uncentering" process.

This philosophy is perhaps best articulated in Jeffers's 1963 poem entitled "Carmel Point":

...-As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

Here Jeffers takes the clear position that mankind must learn to remove himself from the epicenter of creation and conduct his life more as one who has been created than living his life as if he were the creator of his world. The entire poem takes kind of a "before man arrived" approach, talking about the beauty of the land before man encroached and superimposed himself onto it. This does not include the violent aspect of his philosophy, but the theme of inhumanism is clear.

"Vulture" is another poem that suggests this theme, giving us the image of a man being eaten by a vulture, something Jeffers refers to as a "sublime end of one's body." While it does depict the kind of violent death of self for the greater whole, it is not the most indicative of inhumanism of the poems on this list. "The Answer" is another poem which uses violence to depict this philosophy and is perhaps more typical of Jeffers's poetry.

Though it does not contain the element of violence, the other poem on this list which perhaps best depicts Jeffers's inhumanism is "Sign-Post." In it Jeffers offers an almost step-by-step explanation of "how to be human again." The first few lines are the key:

Turn outward, love things, not men, turn right away from humanity,
Let that doll lie. Consider if you like how the lilies grow,
Lean on the silent rock until you feel its divinity
Make your veins cold; look at the silent stars, let your eyes
Climb the great ladder out of the pit of yourself and man.

This is a much softer version of his primary theme, but it still presents the basic tenet of inhumanism, which is for man to decrease so that everything else can increase. He goes on to say,

Things are so beautiful, your love will follow your eyes;
Things are the God; you will love God and not in vain,
For what we love, we grow to it, we share its nature. At length
You will look back along the star's rays and see that even
The poor doll humanity has a place under heaven.

The last lines of the poem are a reminder of what man gains when he is finally able to release himself and connect himself instead with creation.

Its qualities repair their mosaic around you, the chips of strength
And sickness; but now you are free, even to be human,
But born of the rock and the air, not of a woman.