Robinson Jeffers Biography


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111226247-Jeffers.jpg Robinson Jeffers Published by Salem Press, Inc.

John Robinson Jeffers was the first son of William Hamilton Jeffers, professor of Old Testament literature at Western (Presbyterian) Theological Seminary, and Annie Robinson Tuttle, a gifted amateur musician. On both sides, Jeffers was descended from generations of strict Calvinists. For seven years an only child, he was treated as a prodigy by his father, who introduced the boy to reading Greek at five, after working on English and French. Jeffers’s early education included extended travel to England and the Continent. This home tutoring continued throughout most of his early life, while he attended various private schools near Pittsburgh and in Europe. At fifteen he entered college in Pennsylvania, transferring to Occidental College in California when his parents moved there a year later. In 1905, he began graduate studies in literature at the University of Southern California (USC).

There Jeffers met Una Call Kuster, a fellow student who was already married to a Los Angeles attorney. Jeffers, with little worldly experience, was overwhelmed by her combination of beauty, polish, and sophistication. The couple fell in love, and Una considered divorce, at that time still a radical, socially unacceptable act. The two were separated forcibly: Una went to live with relatives in the East and then in Europe, and Jeffers embarked on tour with his parents. He broke with them, however, declaring independence at the age of nineteen, and enrolled briefly in the science curriculum of the University of Zurich. From there he returned to USC, entering medical school and completing the three-year program, although he did not take his degree.

This was an eight-year span of acute emotional turmoil and social experimentation in his life, and it was the only time Jeffers pursued the bohemian lifestyle of young intellectuals. He lodged at his professors’ homes, at beachfront cottages, and at laborers’ boardinghouses, and he did things as diverse as winning the heavyweight college wrestling championship and spending a summer bumming on the beach. Two elements, however, survived this upheaval. One was his dedication to poetry; from age fifteen he had vowed to become the American equivalent of English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the leader of the nineteenth century Pre-Raphaelite movement. Though the kind of poetry Jeffers aspired to write would change, the intensity of his dedication never wavered. The second was his love for Una.

After leaving medicine, Jeffers moved to Seattle, where he spent a year studying forestry. In 1912, he returned to Los Angeles; a small bequest allowed him to publish Flagons and Apples (1912), a collection of largely derivative, competent lyrics in traditional forms. The next year he was back in Washington, where...

(The entire section is 1138 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Jeffers is unparalleled among twentieth century poets in the range of his achievements, his technical innovations, and the cast of his vision. He alone reached master status in lyric, narrative, and dramatic poetry, and he created a unique voice and idiom in each genre. Much of this eminence derived from his radical approach to the writing of poetry in English: He wrote as if poetry in his time stemmed from the same impulses that produced poetry in ancient Greece and Israel. To communicate his vision, he invented flexible five-and ten-stress lines rare in English before him. He projected a Darwinian vision of humankind as only one life form in a complex ecosystem.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

ph_0111201230-Jeffers.jpg Robinson Jeffers Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Robinson Jeffers was a child prodigy who could read Greek at age five and who was graduated from Occidental College at the age of seventeen. He rejected the Calvinistic teachings of his minister father, but Calvinistic notions of the depravity of human nature characterize much of his later writings. In the decade preceding World War I, Jeffers pursued graduate studies in medicine, foreign languages, and forestry at the University of Southern California (USC), briefly at the University of Zurich, and at the University of Washington. He did not earn a degree in any of his graduate school endeavors. In a German class at USC, Jeffers met Una Call Kuster, a wealthy, married socialite, who married Jeffers in 1913 after a divorce that was reported in West Coast newspapers.

Jeffers and his wife moved to Carmel, California, in 1914, and Jeffers began building Tor House in 1919. Tor House was a stone house and tower with woodwork and finish details that Jeffers slowly built by his own hand and with the occasional aid of hired craftsmen. He purposely never finished the tower and relished the stone house and unfinished tower both as a domicile for his family and as a metaphor in his poetry. Jeffers lived in Tor House until his death in 1962, raising twin sons with his wife, who predeceased him in 1950.

Jeffers’ first two works of poetry were conventional collections, celebrating the beauty of nature in a romantic vein. With the publication of...

(The entire section is 449 words.)