The Poem

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

California is the daughter of a Scottish father and a Spanish and Indian mother. From her mother she has inherited a dark beauty and a passionate nature. When she is still very young, she marries a farmer named Johnny; by the time she is twenty-one, her features are already beginning to show the marks of hard work.

Johnny spends much of his time away from the farm, drinking and gambling. One evening, he brings home a splendid roan stallion he has won. It is shortly before Christmas, and California, pleased with his good fortune, decides to go in to town to buy some Christmas presents for their young daughter, Christine. Johnny delays her departure in the morning so that it is quite late before she can hitch their old mare to the buggy and set out for Monterey.

By nightfall, when she is ready to return home, a heavy rainstorm has started. The water is high when she reaches the ford, and before trying to cross in the darkness, she lashes the gifts she has bought around her body, hoping this will keep them dry. The mare refuses to cross the swollen stream and flounders back to shore. California soothes the mare and tries once more to guide her across the ford, but the animal is too frightened. Desperate, California prays for light. Suddenly, the heavens light up brilliantly and she sees in them the face of a child over whom angels are hovering. The mare, startled by the light, scrambles back to shore. Sobbing, California climbs out of the buggy, fastens the presents securely to her back, and mounts the horse. By the light of the heavens she is able to guide the mare across the stream and reach home safely.

California thinks that she hates the roan...

(The entire section is 689 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Brophy, Robert J. Robinson Jeffers: Myth, Ritual, and Symbol in His Narrative Poems. Cleveland, Ohio: Case Western Reserve University, 1973. Uses a myth-ritual approach to Roan Stallion. Equates California with a marelike earth-goddess, Johnny with a doomed year-spirit beast, Christine with a solstice-child, the stallion with a Poseidon-like steed of God, and California’s dream with a Christian-pagan conflation lighted by natural dynamism.

Coffin, Arthur B. Robinson Jeffers: Poet of Inhumanism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971. In the context of tracing Jeffers’ ideological advance toward inhumanism, Coffin regards Roan Stallion as a work of primary importance. The heroine temporarily frees herself from accustomed social behavior by shedding human attributes, seeing God’s eminence in a horse, and letting it kill her contemptible husband.

Everson, William. The Excesses of God: Robinson Jeffers as a Religious Figure. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988. Contends that Jeffers, habitually combining paganism and mysticism, regards the religious aspect of sex as a primordial force, a supernatural wrath, and an analogy of divine life and that he dramatizes this belief in Roan Stallion.

Nolte, William H. Rock and Hawk: Robinson Jeffers and the Romantic Agony. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978. Interprets the figure of California in Roan Stallion as enacting an unwilled, unconscious, beautiful microcosmic recapitulation of one of the several dark, macrocosmic myths ruling humanity.

Squires, Radcliffe. The Loyalties of Robinson Jeffers. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1956. Divides Jeffers’ poetry into diffuse, sagalike works and classically unified shorter poems. In the first category, Jeffers explores the ramifications of sinning. In the second category, best exemplified by Roan Stallion, Jeffers espouses breaking free of life as the solution to problems occasioned by sin.