The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Place for No Story” is a short free-verse lyric of twelve lines varying in length from ten to two words. Despite its brevity, the poem is one of Robinson Jeffers’s most important, expressing succinctly and in concentrated form a major theme of his poetry: the supremacy of unconscious nature over the human social worlds of culture and civilization. In this poem, Jeffers returns to the majestic coastal California landscape of his long narrative poems but without the tragic passions of their human characters. That is the significance of the poem’s title; in this lyric, the rocky California coast which provides setting for most of Jeffers’s narrative poems and for the actions of his human characters is now treated as a subject in its own right.

In both Thurso’s Landing and Other Poems (1932) and The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (1938), “The Place for No Story” immediately follows the long title narrative of Thurso’s Landing, an especially sanguine story of infidelity, insanity, and murder. This positioning suggests that “The Place for No Story” is to be understood as a kind of palinode, a poem of apology or recantation, offered by Jeffers as a partial corrective for the fury and violence of his narrative.

The poem begins, as many of Jeffers’s poems do, with the place name of a real site along the California coast—in this case, Sovranes Creek, south of Monterey. Jeffers believed that poetry should conform to physical realities, and he expressed a reverence for the spiritual significance of specific...

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Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

A distinguishing aspect of Jeffers’s poetic style is his extensive use of a form of personification called the “pathetic fallacy,” which is the ascription of human characteristics and emotions to material things such as trees, water, and rocks. This kind of personification, especially characteristic of Romantic poets, is evident in “The Place for No Story.” Jeffers describes the ocean surf as “violent” and credits the landscape with both “nobility” and a form of consciousness which makes possible its “self-watchful passion.”

For many poets, this form of personification is only a convention, a bit of poetic license not to be taken seriously. For Jeffers, however, and for his Romantic predecessors such as William Wordsworth, this use of the pathetic fallacy is seriously meant. Like the Romantics, Jeffers was something of a pantheist—one who believes that consciousness, even a divine consciousness, is distributed throughout the whole of nature. Jeffers describes the landscape of the Sovranes estuary as “noble” because for him it is, in a real sense, alive and aware. Jeffers bases this belief upon a combination of mysticism and science, arguing that since all things are composed of the same material (atomic) constituents, they must all share a fundamentally common nature. This aspect of Jeffers’s poetic vision, sometimes called panpsychism, is likely to seem most strange to a reader unfamiliar with the philosophical backgrounds of his work.

In addition to the use of personification, Jeffers incorporates two important symbols common to his poetry: the rock and the hawk. They represent the fierce integrity of nonhuman nature; both are embodiments of impassive and impersonal forces dividing between them the animate world of focused energy and the inanimate world of stolid calm. Elsewhere in his poetry, Jeffers frequently contrasts humankind, with its anxiety and doubt-ridden consciousness, unfavorably with the unitary strength and simplicity of the rock and hawk. The consciousness of nature, the pantheistic sentience of things, is symbolized for Jeffers in the bird and stone. Nature’s consciousness, which they share, is whole, while the human consciousness is divided. Rock and hawk in harmony with natural forces possess an organic completeness, a “nobility,” that humans lack. In “The Place for No Story,” humankind is only significant by its absence; neither the soaring hawk nor the ocean beaten stone need it; they are sufficient in themselves.


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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