Robinson Jeffers

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 112

How did Darwinian thought reinforce the Calvinism that Robinson Jeffers had absorbed in his youth?

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How was Jeffers’s literary work affected by his rejection of human life as central to the evolutionary scheme?

What aspects of the literary scene in the early twentieth century United States inclined Jeffers toward the kind of poetry he produced in Roan Stallion and Tamar, and Other Poems?

How do techniques such as his metrical schemes and his choice of diction contribute to the success of Jeffers’s long narrative poems?

What does Jeffers mean by “inhumanity”?

To judge from his lyric poems, what did the California coast in the vicinity of Carmel mean to Jeffers?

Other literary forms

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 118

Robinson Jeffers explained his own work and expressed his ideas on society and art in some detail in the forewords to the Modern Library edition (1935) of Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems and The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Other important prose statements are “Poetry, Gongorism, and a Thousand Years” (The New York Times Book Review, January 18, 1948); Themes in My Poems (1956); and The Selected Letters of Robinson Jeffers, 1897-1962 (1968, Ann N. Ridgeway, editor).

In addition, the poet William Everson has collected, from various forgotten pages, two volumes of poetry that Jeffers had discarded. These volumes reconstitute the work of the transitional period from 1916 to 1922. They are The Alpine Christ, and Other Poems (1973) and Brides of the South Wind (1974).

Achievements

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Many years after his death, Robinson Jeffers remains probably the most controversial American poet, with the exception of Edgar Allan Poe, who has never been termed major. A number of important writers and critics have ranked him with Walt Whitman and invoked the Greek tragedians in trying to suggest his somber power. In the early years of his fame, his books typically went into several editions, and he was the subject of a Time magazine cover story. In 1947, his free translation of Medea for the New York stage brought him new acclaim as a dramatic poet. Since the early years of his fame, however, some critics, few but influential, were hostile, and others found Jeffers merely uninteresting as the subject of critical examination. The deep division over Jeffers’s importance as a poet is seen today in college anthologies: He is given generous space in some and omitted entirely from others. The weight of criticism, however, has been consistently on the positive side. Serious studies have been published about his work that, while strongly favorable, avoid the extravagant praise of some of Jeffers’s early admirers. All but the most hostile critics are agreed that he had an unmistakably original voice, strong dramatic talents, and great descriptive ability. He is the only American poet of note since Edwin Arlington Robinson—who praised him highly—to write a large quantity of narrative poetry. Some of Jeffers’s short lyrics, moreover, notably “Hurt Hawks,” “The Eye,” “The Purse-Seine,” and “Shine, Perishing Republic,” seem destined to become classics. In addition to his poetic gifts, and indeed inseparable from them, is the force of a worldview that is unusual, coherent, and challenging, a set of reasoned attitudes that justifies classifying him as a philosophical poet of unusual interest. Jeffers’s radical skepticism about the human race, embodied in his doctrine that humans should “uncenter” themselves from the universe, is expressed in poetry that draws on considerable scientific and historical study, on thorough knowledge of religious and classical literature, and on deep resources of myth and ritual. It is the combination of poetic power and philosophical stance that argues strongly for Jeffers’s place in a twentieth century pantheon of American poets. Jeffers won a number of awards, including the Levinson Prize (1940), the Eunice Tietjens Prize (1951), and a Union League Civic and Arts Poetry Prize from Poetry magazine; the Borestone Mountain Poetry Award (1955); the Academy of American Poets Fellowship (1958); and the Shelley Memorial Award (1961). He was never given the Pulitzer Prize, even though Edna St. Vincent Millay and Louis Untermeyer, among others, repeatedly pressed his case. He served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 1946 to 1955 and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters from 1937 to 1962.

Bibliography

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Brophy, Robert J. Robinson Jeffers: Myth, Ritual, and Symbol in His Narrative Poems. Reprint. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1976. This basic study, often referred to by critics, thoroughly establishes the grounding of Jeffers’s narrative works in—among others—Judeo-Christian, Greek, Norse, and Hindu mythologies. Contains illustrations, an index, notes, and a bibliography.

Brophy, Robert J, ed. The Robinson Jeffers Newsletter: A Jubilee Gathering, 1962-1988. Los Angeles: Occidental College, 1988. A collection of the best articles from the first twenty-five years of the journal devoted to the poet and his works. Includes illustrations.

Everson, William. The Excesses of God: Robinson Jeffers as a Religious Figure. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1988. The author, himself a poet, sees Jeffers as a bardic and prophetic man and relates him to the thought of such modern theologians as Mircea Eliade. Contains notes and an index. Everson is also the author, under his previous pen name of Brother Antoninus, of an earlier study on the same subject, Robinson Jeffers: Fragments of an Older Fury (1968).

Karman, James. Robinson Jeffers: Poet of California. Brownsville, Oreg.: Story Line Press, 1995. A revised and expanded edition of Karman’s critical biography, which gives insight into the life of Jeffers, his family, and the honor he gave to hard work, self-reliance, and conservation of the environment.

Nolte, William H. Rock and Hawk: Robinson Jeffers and the Romantic Agony. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978. Relates Jeffers to the traditions of European, English, and American Romantic philosophy and poetry. Includes notes and an index.

Thesing, William B. Robinson Jeffers and a Galaxy of Writers. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995. A collection of critical essays by various authors dealing with Jeffers’s life and work. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Vardamis, Alex A. The Critical Reputation of Robinson Jeffers: A Bibliographical Study. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1972. A chronological annotated bibliography of all the books, articles, and reviews about Jeffers from the beginning of his career to 1971. Contains a critical introduction.

Zaller, Robert. The Cliffs of Solitude: A Reading of Robinson Jeffers. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983. An interpretation of Jeffers’s entire career, with particular emphasis on the long narratives. Combines the psychoanalytic and mythic viewpoints. Contains chronology, index, notes, and bibliography.

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Critical Essays