Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Jeffers’s themes are overt, but this does not mean they are always easy to discern or assess. In part, the reason for this is that the poet’s philosophy—the so-called Inhumanism—is so stark, bleak, and uncompromising. It is not entirely novel; Shakespeare certainly anticipated some of his negativism in Hamlet (c. 1600-1601), and Jonathan Swift devastated the notion of the inherent goodness of humankind. Jeffers, however, exceeds both in refusing to find any independent redeeming value in the species. For him, humans are simply another part of an evolved complex. Far from inheriting a right to dominate, humans will be lucky to survive. They will only survive if they recover the vision of the complex itself, to consider with clear-eyed, personal indifference the health of the whole.

This requires accepting the role of either hawk or rock without dissent. Undoubtedly this is difficult. Anyone would rather eat than be eaten. Jeffers feels that it is exactly this egocentric human-first attitude that must be overcome if the entire bio-mass is to survive. Left unchecked, humans will continually inflict damage on the system in order to pursue their private, limited objectives. Over the long term, these repeated injuries will unbalance the system to the point that everything, including humankind, is destroyed. This progressive deterioration is inevitable unless humans learn to change.

Jeffers accepted this theme as his personal poetic...

(The entire section is 517 words.)