Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 912
In 1899 a terrible fire devastates many of the farms along the Carmel coast, but Cawdor’s farm is untouched. Early one morning he sees two figures approaching his house: a young woman leading a blind old man. They are the Martials, who hold the land bordering his and with whom Cawdor has an old feud. Martial was blinded by the fire, his farm destroyed. His daughter Fera has only Cawdor to turn to for relief. Cawdor takes them in and sends his servant, Concha Rosas, to live in a hut. When the old man is well enough to walk around, Cawdor speaks of sending the two away unless Fera will marry him. She agrees.
Hood Cawdor leaves home after a fight with his father. On the night of the wedding he dreams that the old man died, and he decides to return to the farm to see if all is well. When he reaches a hill overlooking the farm, he camps and lights a fire. His sister Michal sees him and goes to tell him of their father’s marriage. Cawdor receives his son in a friendly manner. For a wedding present, Hood gives Fera a lion skin.
Fera finds in Hood the same quality of hardness that drew her at first to Cawdor. She openly confesses to Hood that although she loved his father when she married him, she no longer cares for him. She is jealous, too, of Concha Rosas, who was Cawdor’s mistress before he married Fera, and whom he again seems to prefer to his wife. Disturbed by Fera’s advances, Hood resolves to leave. After a prowling lion kills one of the farm dogs, he decides to stay, however, until he kills the animal. A terrible storm arises that prevents his hunting for several days.
Fera’s father is dying. On the pretext that Martial wishes to talk to Hood, Fera calls him into the sick room. Openly, before her unconscious father, she confesses her passion. That night Fera asks Concha Rosas to watch with her by the old man’s bedside. Toward morning Martial dies. Instead of summoning her husband, Fera goes to Hood’s room, where Cawdor finds them. Fera tries to lull his suspicions by declaring that she tried to awaken him but could not, and so she went to rouse Hood.
The next morning the men dig a grave for the old man. Fera, who was watching them, calls Hood into the wood to help her pick laurels for the grave. Again she begs for his love. Suddenly he draws his knife and stabs himself deep in the thigh. Once more he was able to resist her. The funeral service for her father is short but painful. Afterward Fera finds her way home alone.
Desperate now, she covers herself with the lion skin Hood gave her and hides in the bushes. Hood shoots at her, his bullet entering her shoulder. He carries Fera to her room, where Cawdor attempts to set the bones that were fractured. Fera begs him to stop torturing her. Then, as if it were wrenched out of her because of the pain, she says that Hood seduced her by force. Her lie is a last resort to prevent Hood’s leaving. Hood, however, already had left the farm and is camped once more on the top of the hill. There the infuriated father finds him. In the fight that follows Hood is pushed off the cliff, his body falling upon the rocks below. Cawdor meets Michal on his way down the cliff and tells her that Hood fled. Meanwhile Fera sends Concha Rosas from the room to get some water. Quickly she unfastens the strap around her arm and slings it over the head of the bed and around her neck. When Concha Rosas returns, Fera is almost dead. For many days she lies in bed, slowly recovering. Neither George Cawdor nor Michal will visit her. They hate her for what they know were false charges against Hood.
Cawdor is haunted by his secret sin. Fera tries to destroy him with her own death wish. She tells him the truth about Hood—how, rather than betray his father, he stabbed himself with his knife. Cawdor’s grief is uncontrollable. When Fera taunts him, demanding that he kill her, his fingers fasten around her throat. When she begins to struggle, he releases her and runs into Hood’s old room. There he thinks he sees Hood lying on the bed, and for a moment he imagines all that passed was a dream.
He is aroused when Fera comes to tell him that everyone knows he killed Hood, that soon the authorities are bound to hear of his crime. Again she urges him to seek the peace that death will bring. They are walking near her father’s grave, with George and Michal nearby. Cawdor suddenly declares to them that their suspicions are correct, that he killed Hood, and that they are to send for the authorities. Then he reaches down and picks up a flint. Without warning, he thrusts it into his eyes. Then, patiently, he asks them to lead him back to the house, to wait for whatever fate his deed will merit. Fera follows him, weeping. Once again she feels that she failed. She tried to get Cawdor to kill her and then himself; instead, he showed the courage to face his crime and pay for it.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 198
Brophy, Robert J. “Cawdor.” In Robinson Jeffers: Myth, Ritual, and Symbolism in His Narrative Poems. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1976. An analysis of Cawdor as a restatement of mythic themes and patterns. Brophy has done the most work in this field. Bibliography.
Carpenter, Frederic I. “Cawdor.” In Robinson Jeffers. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1962. Analyzes Cawdor along with the rest of Jeffers’ early long narratives as part of a chapter on Jeffers’ early poetic career. Also the best short introduction to all of Jeffers’ work. Bibliography.
Coffin, Arthur B. “Cawdor.” In Robinson Jeffers: Poet of Inhumanism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971. An examination of the poem by a critic who is primarily interested in the philosophical underpinnings of Jeffers’ work, specifically such thinkers as Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche. Bibliography.
Houston, James D. “Necessary Ecstasy: An Afterword to Cawdor.” Western American Literature 19, no. 2 (Summer, 1984): 99-112. An analysis of the poem that links it to the California coast in which it was set.
Zaller, Robert. “The Bloody Sire.” In The Cliffs of Solitude. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Treats Cawdor along with a number of Jeffers’ other poems, particularly the other long narratives, from a psychological, specifically Freudian, perspective. Bibliography.
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