poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

About this poet

Robinson Jeffers was born on January 10, 1887, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, a town which is now part of Pittsburgh. His father, a professor of Old Testament Literature and Biblical History at Western Theology Seminary in Pittsburgh, supervised Jeffers's education, and Robinson began to learn Greek at the age of five. His early lessons were soon followed by travel in Europe, which included schooling at Zurich, Leipzig, and Geneva. When the family moved to California, Jeffers, at age sixteen, entered Occidental College as a junior. He graduated at eighteen.

Jeffers immediately entered graduate school as a student of literature at the University of Southern California, where, in a class on Faust, he met another strong influence on his intellectual development: Una Call Kuster, who would later become his wife. By the spring of 1906, he was back in Switzerland studying philosophy, Old English, French literary history, Dante, Spanish romantic poetry, and the history of the Roman Empire. Returning to USC in September 1907, he was admitted to the medical school. The last of his formal education took place at the University of Washington, where he studied forestry.

After marrying in 1913, Jeffers and Kuster moved to Carmel, California, and in 1919 Jeffers began building a stone cottage on land overlooking Carmel Bay and facing Point Lobos. Near the cottage, he built a forty-foot stone tower. Both the structures and the location figure strongly in Jeffers's life and poetry. Jeffers's verse, much of which is set in the Carmel/Big Sur region, celebrates the awesome beauty of coastal hills and ravines. His poetry often praises "the beauty of things" in this setting, but also emphasizes his belief that such splendor demands tragedy.

Jeffers brought a great knowledge of literature, religion, philosophy, language, myth, and science to his poetry. One of his favorite themes was the intense, rugged beauty of the landscape set in opposition to the degraded and introverted condition of modern man. Strongly influenced by Nietzsche's concepts of individualism, Jeffers believed that human beings had developed a self-centered view of the world, and felt passionately that they should learn to have greater respect for the rest of creation.

Many of Jeffers's narrative poems also use incidents of rape, incest, or adultery to express moral despair. The Woman at Point Sur (Liveright, 1927) deals with a minister driven mad by his conflicting desires. The title poem of Cawdor and Other Poems (Liverlight, 1928) is based on the myth of Phaedra. In Thurso's Landing (Liverlight, 1932), Jeffers reveals, perhaps more than in any of his other collections, his abhorrence of modern civilization.

During the late 1930s and the 1940s, Jeffers's genius was judged to have faded, and many of his references to current events and figures (Hitler, Stalin, FDR, and Pearl Harbor, for instance) raised questions about his patriotism in a period of national strife. The Double Axe (Random House, 1948) even appeared with a disclaimer from the publisher. However, Jeffers's adaptation of Euripedes' Medea (Random House, 1946) was a great success when it was produced in New York in 1948.

Robinson Jeffers died in 1962.




Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (Stanford University Press, 2001)
The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Vol. II: 1928-1938 (Stanford University Press, 1989)
The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Vol. I: 1920-1928 (Stanford University Press, 1988)
Rock and Hawk: A Selection of Shorter Poems by Robinson Jeffers (Random House, 1987)
What Odd Expedients and Other Poems (Shoe String Press, 1981)
Brides of the South Wind: Poems 1917-1922 (Cayucos Books, 1974)
Selected Poems (Vintage Books, 1965)
The Beginning and the End and Other Poems (Random House, 1963)
The Loving Shepherdess (Random House, 1956)
Hungerfield and Other Poems (Random House, 1954)
The Double Axe and Other Poems (Random House, 1948)
Be Angry at the Sun (Random House, 1941)
Such Counsels You Gave to Me and Other Poems (Random House, 1937)
Solstice and Other Poems (Random House, 1935)
Give Your Heart to the Hawks, and Other Poems (Random House, 1933)
Thurso’s Landing and Other Poems (Liveright, 1932)
Descent to the Dead: Poems Written in Ireland and Great Britain (Random House, 1931)
Dear Judas and Other Poems (Liveright, 1929)
Cawdor and Other Poems (Liveright, 1928)
The Women at Point Sur (Boni & Liveright, 1927)
Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems (Boni & Liveright, 1925)
Tamar and Other Poems (P. G. Boyle, 1924)
Californians (Macmillan, 1916)
Flagons and Apples (Grafton Publishing, 1912)

Plays

Medea (Random House, 1946), first produced on Broadway in 1948.

 

Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Rock and Hawk

Robinson Jeffers, 1887 - 1962
Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final
Disinterestedness;

Life with calm death; the falcon's 
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.

From The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Three Volumes, edited by Tim Hunt. Used with the permission of the publishers, Stanford University Press. Copyright 1995 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Further reproduction of this material in any form requires the written permission of the publishers.

From The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Three Volumes, edited by Tim Hunt. Used with the permission of the publishers, Stanford University Press. Copyright 1995 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Further reproduction of this material in any form requires the written permission of the publishers.

Robinson Jeffers

Robinson Jeffers

Drawing on the "beauty of things" in nature, Robinson Jeffers wrote poetry that highlighted the difference between the natural world and the condition of the modern man

by this poet

poem
In scornful upright loneliness they stand,
     Counting themselves no kin of anything
     Whether of earth or sky. Their gnarled roots cling
Like wasted fingers of a clutching hand
In the grim rock. A silent spectral band
     They watch the old sky, but hold no communing
     With aught. Only, when some lone
poem
When the sun shouts and people abound
One thinks there were the ages of stone and the age of
     bronze
And the iron age; iron the unstable metal;
Steel made of iron, unstable as his mother; the tow-
     ered-up cities
Will be stains of rust on mounds of plaster.
Roots will not pierce the heaps for a time,
poem

Drink deep, drink deep of quietness,
    And on the margins of the sea
Remember not thine old distress
    Nor all the miseries to be.
Calmer than mists, and cold
As they, that fold on fold
Up the dim valley are rolled,
    Learn thou to be.

The Past—it was a feverish