Chapter 7: Early Twentieth Century
and Modernism

Robinson Jeffers
1887-1962

© Paul P. Reuben
June 23, 2014
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Outside Link: | Jeffers Studies |

Page Links: | Primary Works | Achievement | Selected Bibliography 1980-Present | Study Questions | MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

| A Brief Biography |

Site Links: | Chap. 7: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page |


Source: USPS RJ Stamp 1973

Not "to open up new fields of poetry, but only to reclaim old freedom." - RJ

Compared to Whitman for his long and melodic lines, Jeffers is influenced by his study of classical literature and by the deterministic doctrines of late nineteenth-century science. He is critical of American capitalism as morally bankrupt and defacing the landscape. His doctrine of Inhumanism - "a shifting of emphasis from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence" - makes humans to become "uncentered" from themselves. He wrote: "This manner of thought and feeling is neither misanthropic nor pessimistic ... it has objective truth and human value." 

Primary Works

Poetry

Flagons and Apples. Los Angeles: Grafton, 1912.

Californians. New York: Macmillan, 1916.

Tamar and Other Poems. New York: Peter G. Boyle, 1924.

Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925.

The Women at Point Sur. New York: Liveright, 1927.

Cawdor and Other Poems. New York: Liveright, 1928.

Dear Judas and Other Poem. New York: Liveright, 1929.

Thurso's Landing and Other Poems. New York: Liveright, 1932.

Give Your Heart to the Hawks and other Poems. New York: Random House, 1933.

Solstice and Other Poems. New York: Random House, 1935.

Such Counsels You Gave To me and Other Poems. New York: Random House, 1937.

The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. New York: Random House, Be Angry at the Sun. New York: Random House, 1941.

Medea. New York: Random House, 1946.

The Double Axe and Other Poems. New York: Random House, 1948.

Hungerfield and Other Poems. New York: Random House, 1954.

The Beginning and the End and Other Poems. New York: Random House, 1963.

Robinson Jeffers: Selected Poems. New York: Vintage, 1965.

Critical Essays

Poetry, Gongorism and a Thousand Years. Los Angeles: Ward Richie, 1949.

Themes in my Poems. San Francisco: Book Club of California,1956.

Letters

The Selected letters of Robinson Jeffers. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968.

Collections

The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, IV: Poetry 1903-1920, Prose, and Unpublished Writings. Hunt, Tim (ed.). Stanford: Stanford UP, 2000.

The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, V: Textual Evidence and Commentary. Hunt, Tim (ed.). Stanford: Stanford UP, 2001.

The Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers, with Selected Letters of Una Jeffers: Volume I, 1890-1930. Karman, James. ed. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2009.

Selected Bibliography 1980-Present

Adamic, Louis, Robinson Jeffers: A Portrait Written. Covelo, CA: C. and J. Robertson, 1983. Case PS3519.E27 Z55

Allen, Gilbert. Passionate Detachment in the Lyrics of Jeffers and Yeats. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1995.

Beers, Terry. '... A Thousand Graceful Subtleties': Rhetoric in the Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. NY: Peter Lang, 1995.

Falck, Colin. Robinson Jeffers: American Romantic? Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1995.

Hart, George. Inventing the Language to Tell It: Robinson Jeffers and the Biology of Consciousness. NY: Fordham UP, 2013.

Karman, James. Robinson Jeffers: Poet of California. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1987. PS3519 .E27 Z64

---. Critical Essays on Robinson Jeffers. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1990. PS3519 .E27 Z578

Karman, James, and Morley Baer. eds. Robinson Jeffers: Stones of the Sur. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2001.

Pattison, Eugene H. God and Humanity at Continent's Western Edge: Robinson Jeffers and Annie Dillard. Alma, MI: Alma College/ARIL Colloquium, 1995.

Slovic, Scott. Going Away to Think: Engagement, Retreat, and Ecocritical Responsibility. Reno: U of Nevada P, 2008.

Zaller, Robert. Robinson Jeffers and the American Sublime. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2012.

| Top |Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962): A Brief Biography
A Student Project by Tyleen Williams  

Robinson Jeffers was truly an interesting man. He loved simple things but yet was a very complex man. Jeffers lived and loved life like what people see today in the movies. He could be eccentric one minute and ordinary the next. Jeffers had a lot of praise in his lifetime and a lot of blame too, unlike many literary figures of his time. Trying to research this man is very easy and very complicated at the same time.

Robinson Jeffers was born in 1887 to William and Annie Jeffers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Jeffers' father was forty-nine years old and a minister. His mother, Annie was twenty-seven years old. Jeffers' parents ages are very significant due to the fact that there's a twenty-two year age gap between them. When you read Jeffers first portion of poems he makes a lot of references often bitter comments on "'The useless beauty of young brides' married to older men.'" (Carpenter 21) One does not need to be a psychologist to see in his poems how an older father or younger mother betrays the heroes. This is why when you read his poetry much of it is autobiographical.

Jeffers' education consisted of learning Greek by the age of five, attending private schools, and traveling through Europe with his family. It was during his young childhood that Jeffers developed a significant trait of being what is referred to today as a loner. He loved nature; he would take hikes and camp out all by himself throughout his whole life. Nature also is a key theme in his poetry.

Carpenter states that in 1903, at the age of sixteen the Jeffers family moved to California because his father's health required the warmer climate (24). It was here in California that Jeffers felt at home, so much so that he left only to take small trips and then not for very long. He attended Occidental College where he continued to thrive on nature and the California atmosphere. California became another key ingredient to Jeffers poetry; he one day wrote in a poem that California was "the world's end." (Carpenter 24)

In 1905, Jeffers attended University of Southern California for his graduate studies in medicine. It was here that Jeffers had a problem that would plague his life for eight years. He fell in love with a married woman named Una Call Kuster, two years his senior. Both families tried to break them up but they were so in love that she divorced her husband and married Jeffers in 1913.

In 1912 Jeffers published his first book, Flagons and Apples, with a small inheritance he had from his grandfather's death. During in the year of 1913 Jeffers and Una began building 'Tor House' in Carmel. This home would become their permanent residence till both passed away.

In 1916 he wrote Californians and in 1924 Tamar and Other Poems. Both were greeted with great enthusiasm. Then in 1925 Roan Stallion was published followed by Cawdor and Dear Judas in 1928 and 1929. During this time Jeffers popularity soared. He had become so popular that when he would lecture at schools, classrooms would be filled and people would be standing out in the halls just to hear him speak. Jeffers was even compared to Whitman during this time. This period of great acclaim would not last very long.

Jeffers first period of poetry dealt with his parents, nature, California, and love. His second would ruin his reputation. During World War II and the 1940's, Jeffers would take on politics in his writing. This proved to be his downfall, so much so he would be compared, by one critic, to Adolf Hitler and his publishing company Random House wrote a letter on how they did not share his views on politics, according to Carpenter (49).

Jeffers never fully recovered from the backlash he received from the 1940's. He had mixed reviews when he rewrote Medea in 1947, but on Broadway the play became a success. In 1950 Una died. Many believed that this was the end of his life also. All his poetry after her death was either about or dedicated to Una. In 1962 Robinson Jeffers died in 'Tor House' alone. He wrote very little up to the time of his death.

From a historical standpoint, Jeffers remains an important poet before the great depression (Hunt 95). From a literary standpoint, Jeffers would have stayed in good favor if he stuck with the things he loved most: nature, California, and love itself. He is one of the few literary figures who have been praised to no end and then torn down to disdain in their own lifetime. The irony of it all is that you would not know that any of this affected him because he was watching humanity in motion from his rock tower at "the world's end."

Works Cited

Carpenter, Frederic. Robinson Jeffers. New York: Twayne Publishers Inc, 1962.

Hunt, Tim, ed. The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers Volume Two 1928-1938. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989.

Study Questions

1. After reading the Jeffers poems included in the Heath Anthology, write two or three pages of response to them. In your brief paper assume that you are a developer, or an environmentalist, or a TV evangelist, or some other role of your choice. You should imagine how you think the person you choose to be in your paper would most likely respond to Jeffers's work.

2. You have just been reading Jeffers and your friend comes and says, "Reading Jeffers? What does he have to say Should I read his poems?" Write a compact essay summarizing what Jeffers says and include in your response to the last question why you make the recommendation you give.

3. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Jeffers locates his poems in an actual place-the central California coastline. Study his references to Point Lobos, Carmel, and Monterey. Then, closely analyze "Carmel Point," paying particular attention to the significance of a place.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 7: Robinson Jeffers." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL:http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap7/jeffers.html (provide page date or date of your login).
 

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