Robinson Jeffers, “Poet of the Pacific”

Big Sur

 

The below poems are among my all-time favorites. I have a book of Jeffers poems accompanied by photographs of the Big Sur coast, by Ansel Adams. The book is called “Not Man Apart.” It is one of my very few bibles. The first poem has one of the most beautiful examples of onomatopoeia/rhyme/assonance (obviously) I have ever read: beginning with “when the long….” As for the reference to deity in the second poem, I read it loosely. I don’t think Jeffers was religious, traditionally. Now, Jeffers was profoundly saddened by what mankind is doing to the planet. Though it was said by Auden that poetry makes nothing happen – implying that good poetry should not – I tend to disagree: here is Auden:

“For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

In the valley of its making where executives

Would never want to tamper, flows on south

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,

A way of happening, a mouth.”

 

If poetry is a mouth, and is valuable, it cannot be so, without ears to hear, and, I think, persons to be motivated. Not all good poetry is a call to action; I just do not see that a call-to-action poem (and these, actually, are not the best examples of such from Jeffers) – is necessarily a bad thing. This is to say that poetry can be political. I think the second poem is interesting, because we are always scolding ourselves, admonishing, re the love of things. Things. One mustn’t love things. But here, you see a twist: instead of trying to love humanity, which all religions advocate, it is actually by turning away that, perhaps, we can make our way back to our cherished spiritual ideals. Of course, in this instance, Jeffers is not talking about material possessions; that is true.I still like the “peripheral vision” advocacy in the poem. And it reminds me of one of the greatest short stories of all time (well, according to some) — Flannery O’Connor’s “A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud.” Perhaps you will see why.

 

 

Compensation

Solitude that unmakes me one of men
In snowwhite hands brings singular recompense,
Evening me with kindlier natures when
On the needled pinewood the cold dews condense
About the hour of Rigel fallen from heaven
In wintertime, or when the long night tides
Sigh blindly from the sand dune backward driven,
Or when on stormwings of the northwind rides
The foamscud with the cormorants, or when passes
A horse or dog with brown affectionate eyes,
Or autumn frosts are pricked by earliest grasses,
Or whirring from her cover a quail flies.
Why, even in humanity beauty and good
Show, from the mountainside of solitude.

Signpost

Civilized, crying: how to be human again; this will tell you how.
Turn outward, love things, not men, turn right away from humanity,
Let that doll lie. Consider if you like how the lilies grow,
Lean on the silent rock until you feel its divinity
Make your veins cold; look at the silent stars, let your eyes
Climb the great ladder out of the pit of yourself and man.
Things are so beautiful, your love will follow your eyes;
Things are the God; you will love God and not in vain,
For what we love, we grow to it, we share its nature. At length
You will look back along the star’s rays and see that even
The poor doll humanity has a place under heaven.
Its qualities repair their mosaic around you, the chips of strength
And sickness; but now you are free, even to be human,
But born of the rock and the air, not of a woman.

– Julie Shavin

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