The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Fire on the Hills” is a short description and meditation in a sonnetlike form—that is, it is in fourteen lines of free verse. It depicts a brushfire along the mountainous coast of the Monterey Peninsula, contemplates the animals caught up in it, and suggests the cosmic indifference of the context in which this takes place. Ultimately, Robinson Jeffers considers the intellectual attitude that humankind must cultivate to adapt to the universe.

The poem begins by establishing the scene of the brushfire, as observed by the speaker. Those animals that can escape range ahead of the raging blaze, which pursues them as if it were an incarnate being; yet it is all part of a mechanical process. The observer considers the myriad other animals and birds that could not escape.

The simple cinematic opening establishes the initial perspective, much like a wide panning shot at the beginning of a film. The reader is caught by the energy of the event, admiring the movement and the color—especially since the first note struck is of exhilaration at the escape of the deer fleeing the advancing flames. Then, however, the reflection that less fortunate animals are trapped brings the reader up short. In this way, Jeffers catches the readers in his ideological net, seducing them into perceiving beauty in an event of death and destruction.

Jeffers forces that recognition by injecting the reflective note that “beauty is not always lovely” into...

(The entire section is 483 words.)