The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Robinson Jeffers’s poem “Pearl Harbor” expresses the poet’s perspective on America’s response to the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the U.S. fleet in Oahu, Hawaii. Jeffers begins the first of the two sections of twenty-four and twenty-six lines, respectively, that make up this poem by belittling the attack, calling it no more than “fireworks.”

The attack, which signaled the entrance of Japan on the side of Germany and Italy in World War II and the entrance of the United States on the side of the Allies, is for Jeffers the result of men who “conspired” to “embroil this republic in the wreck of Europe.” Jeffers feels that, in a sense, the Japanese attack is a fitting punishment for these men. Jeffers wonders what he can do as a response to the attack. He feels the only thing he can do is to fly the national flag from the top of the tower that is his home. Only the flag, as a symbol of the entire nation, can express America, for America does not have a single race or religion or language.

Jeffers’s attention then turns to his “little” tower, which stares “Confidently across the Pacific.” He built the tower at the end of World War I, “the other war’s end.” Calling the interwar period a “sick peace,” Jeffers suggests he built the tower to express his contempt for a sick “Civilization.” By contrast, the tower is built of living granite. Jeffers believes the gray stones, which are “quiet and drink...

(The entire section is 554 words.)