Last modified on 2 November 2014, at 04:09

Robinson Jeffers

Long live freedom and damn the ideologies.

John Robinson Jeffers (January 10 1887January 20 1962) was an American poet.

QuotesEdit

Standing on that peak
Above the blinding clouds of prejudice,
Would we could see all truly as it is;
The calm eternal truth would keep us meek.
There is in me
Older and harder than life and more impartial, the eye
that watched before there was an ocean.
I believe that the Universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they are all in communication with each other, therefore parts of one organic whole.
I think that one may contribute (ever so slightly) to the beauty of things by making one's own life and environment beautiful, as far as one's power reaches.
  • O that our souls could scale a height like this,
    A mighty mountain swept o'er by the bleak
    Keen winds of heaven
    ; and, standing on that peak
    Above the blinding clouds of prejudice,
    Would we could see all truly as it is;
    The calm eternal truth would keep us meek.
    • A Hill-Top View (1904); This is one of his earliest poems, printed in the the Aurora, a student publication of Occidental College.
  • The tides are in our veins, we still mirror the stars,
    life is your child, but there is in me
    Older and harder than life and more impartial, the eye
    that watched before there was an ocean.
    • "Continent's End" in Tamar and Other Poems (1924)
  • Mother, though my song's measure is like your surf-beat's
    ancient rhythm I never learned it of you.
    Before there was any water there were tides of fire, both
    our tones flow from the older fountain.
    • "Continent's End" in Tamar and Other Poems (1924)
  • Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you fore-defeated
    Challengers of oblivion
    Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
    The square-limbed Roman letters
    Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain.
  • Happy people die whole, they are all dissolved in a moment,
    they have had what they wanted
    • "Post Mortem" in The Women at Point Sur (1927)
  • I have seen these ways of God: I know of no reason
    For fire and change and torture and the old returnings.
    • "Apology for Bad Dreams" in The Women at Point Sur (1927)
Oh pale and brittle pencils ever to try
One grass-blade's curve...
  • I believe that the Universe is one being, all its parts are different expressions of the same energy, and they are all in communication with each other, therefore parts of one organic whole. (This is physics, I believe, as well as religion.) The parts change and pass, or die, people and races and rocks and stars, none of them seems to me important in itself, but only the whole. This whole is in all its parts so beautiful, and is felt by me to be so intensely in earnest, that I am compelled to love it and to think of it as divine. It seems to me that this whole alone is worthy of the deeper sort of love and there is peace, freedom, I might say a kind of salvation, in turning one's affections outward toward this one God, rather than inwards on one's self, or on humanity, or on human imaginations and abstractions — the world of spirits.
    I think it is our privilege and felicity to love God for his beauty, without claiming or expecting love from him. We are not important to him, but he to us.
    • Letter to Sister Mary James Power (1 October 1934); published in The Wild God of the World : An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers (2003), edited by Albert Gelpi, p. 189; also partly quoted in the essay "Robinson Jeffers, Pantheist Poet" by John Courtney
Oh cracked and twilight mirrors ever to catch
One color, one glinting flash, of the splendor of things.
  • I think that one may contribute (ever so slightly) to the beauty of things by making one's own life and environment beautiful, as far as one's power reaches.This includes moral beauty, one of the qualities of humanity, though it seems not to appear elsewhere in the universe. But I would have each person realize that his contribution is not important, its success not really a matter for exultation nor its failure for mourning; the beauty of things is sufficient without him.
    (An office of tragic poetry is to show that there is beauty in pain and failure as much as in success and happiness.)
    • Letter to Sister Mary James Power (1 October 1934); published in The Wild God of the World : An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers (2003), edited by Albert Gelpi, p. 189 - 190
  • I hate my verses, every line, every word.
    Oh pale and brittle pencils ever to try
    One grass-blade's curve, or the throat of one bird
    That clings to twig, ruffled against white sky.

    Oh cracked and twilight mirrors ever to catch
    One color, one glinting flash, of the splendor of things.
    • "Love the Wild Swan" (1935)
At least Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can
Hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.
  • This wild swan of a world is no hunter's game.
    Better bullets than yours would miss the white breast
    Better mirrors than yours would crack in the flame.
    Does it matter whether you hate your . . . self?
    At least Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can
    Hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.
    • "Love the Wild Swan" (1935)
I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky...
  • Here is a symbol in which
    Many high tragic thoughts
    Watch their own eyes.
    • "Rock and Hawk" in Solstice and Other Poems (1935)
  • 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.
    • "Rock and Hawk" in Solstice and Other Poems (1935)
Know that however ugly the parts appear
the whole remains beautiful.
  • Then what is the answer? — Not to be deluded by dreams.
    To know that great civilizations have broken down into violence, and their tyrants come, many times before.
    When open violence appears, to avoid it with honor or choose the least ugly faction; these evils are essential.
    To keep one's own integrity, be merciful and uncorrupted and not wish for evil; and not be duped
    By dreams of universal justice or happiness. These dreams will not be fulfilled.
    • "The Answer" (1936)
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions...
  • Know that however ugly the parts appear
    the whole remains beautiful.
    A severed hand
    Is an ugly thing and man dissevered from the earth and stars
    and his history... for contemplation or in fact...
    Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness,
    the greatest beauty is
    Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
    of the universe. Love that, not man
    Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions,
    or drown in despair when his days darken.
    • "The Answer" (1936)
  • There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew that cultures decay, and life's end is death.
    • "The Purse-Seine" (1937)
Reason will not decide at last; the sword will decide.
  • You ask what I am for and what I am against in Spain. I would give my right hand of course to prevent the agony; I would not give a flick of my little finger to help either side win.
    • Response in a pamphlet Writers Take Sides : Letters About the War in Spain from 418 American Authors (1938) by the American Writers League, which asked various authors: "Are you for or are you against Franco and fascism?".
  • Reason will not decide at last; the sword will decide.
    The sword: an obsolete instrument of bronze or steel,
    formerly used to kill men, but here
    In the sense of a symbol.
    • "Contemplation of The Sword" (1938)
  • Dear God, who are the whole splendor of things and the sacred
    stars, but also the cruelty and greed, the treacheries
    And vileness, insanities and filth and anguish: now that this
    thing comes near us again I am finding it hard
    To praise you with a whole heart.
    • "Contemplation of The Sword" (1938)
Corruption never has been compulsory; when the cities lie at the monster's feet there are left the mountains.
  • I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
    to make earth.
    • "Shine, Perishing Republic" (1939)
  • Meteors are not needed less than mountains:
    shine, perishing republic.
    • "Shine, Perishing Republic" (1939)
  • Corruption never has been compulsory; when the cities lie at the monster's feet there are left the mountains.
    • "Shine, Perishing Republic" (1939)
  • And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant,
    insufferable master.
    There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught — they say —
    God, when he walked on earth.
    • "Shine, Perishing Republic" (1939)
  • The world's in a bad way, my man,
    And bound to be worse before it mends
    ;
    Better lie up in the mountain here
    Four or five centuries,
    While the stars go over the lonely ocean...
    • "The Stars Go Over The Lonely Ocean" (1940)
Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy
And the dogs that talk revolution,
Drunk with talk, liars and believers.
I believe in my tusks.
  • Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy
    And the dogs that talk revolution
    ,
    Drunk with talk, liars and believers.
    I believe in my tusks.
    Long live freedom and damn the ideologies.
    • "The Stars Go Over The Lonely Ocean" (1940)
  • That public men publish falsehoods
    Is nothing new. That America must accept
    Like the historical republics corruption and empire
    Has been known for years.
    Be angry at the sun for setting
    If these things anger you.
    • "Be Angry At The Sun" (1941)
He is no God of love, no justice of a little city like
Dante's Florence, no anthropoid God
Making commandments: this is the God who does not
care and will never cease.
  • The gang serves lies, the passionate
    Man plays his part; the cold passion for truth
    Hunts in no pack.
    • "Be Angry At The Sun" (1941)
  • The first part of "The Double Axe" was written during the war and finished a year before the war ended, and it bears the scars; but the poem is not primarily concerned with that grim folly. Its burden, as of some previous work of mine, is to present a philosophical attitude, which might be called Inhumanism, a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to not-man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence. It seems time that our race began to think as an adult does, rather than like an egocentric baby or insane person. This manner of thought and feeling is neither misanthropic nor pessimist, though two or three people have said so and may again. It involves no falsehoods, and is a means of maintaining sanity in slippery times; it has objective truth and human value. It offers a reasonable detachment as rule of conduct, instead of love, hate and envy. It neutralizes fanaticism and wild hopes; but it provides magnificence for the religious instinct, and satisfies our need to admire greatness and rejoice in beauty.
    • Preface to The Double Axe and Other Poems (1948)
  • When I first went to Occidental College... there was a literary magazine...called the Aurora, and I remember thinking it odd that Occidental — the west, the setting sun — should be represented by a magazine called Aurora, the dawn. At least it gave us a wide range, the whole daylight sky.
    I was continually writing verses in those days. Nobody, not even I myself, thought they were good verses; but Aurora's editor accepted many of them and it gave me pleasure to see my rhymes in print. They did rhyme, if that is any value, and were usually metrical, but why was I so eager to publish what hardly anyone would read and no one would remember? I suppose the desire for publication is a normal part of the instinct for writing... the writer sits at home, and the mere fact of being printed provides his verses with a kind of audience... So, having his vanity partially satisfied, he can go ahead and try better work.
    • Letter to a group of Occidental College students (1955)
  • I will have shepherds for my philosophers,
    Tall dreary men lying on the hills all night
    Watching the stars, let their dogs watch the sheep.
    And I'll have lunatics
    For my poets, strolling from farm to farm, wild liars distorting
    The country news into supernaturalism —
    For all men to such minds are devils or gods — and that increases
    Man's dignity, man's importance, necessary lies
    Best told by fools.
    • "The Silent Shepherds" (1958)
Science and mathematics
Run parallel to reality, they symbolize it, they squint at it,
They never touch it...
  • Science and mathematics
    Run parallel to reality, they symbolize it, they squint at it,
    They never touch it
    : consider what an explosion
    Would rock the bones of men into little white fragments and unsky the world
    If any mind for a moment touch truth.
    • "The Silent Shepherds" (1958)
The great explosion is probably only a metaphor — I know
not — of faceless violence, the root of all things.
  • He is no God of love, no justice of a little city like
    Dante's Florence, no anthropoid God
    Making commandments: this is the God who does not
    care and will never cease.
    Look at the seas there
    Flashing against this rock in the darkness — look at the
    tide-stream stars — and the fall of nations — and dawn
    Wandering with wet white feet down the Carmel Valley
    to meet the sea. These are real and we see their beauty.
    The great explosion is probably only a metaphor — I know
    not — of faceless violence, the root of all things.
    • "The Great Explosion" in the posthumous publication The Beginning and the End (1973)
  • Come little ones,
    You are worth no more than the foxes and yellow
    wolfkins, yet I will give you wisdom.
    O future children:
    Trouble is coming; the world as of the present time
    Sails on its rocks; but you will be born and live
    Afterwards. Also a day will come when the earth
    Will scratch herself and smile and rub off humanity
    :
    But you will be born before that.

    Time will come, no doubt,
    When the sun too shall die; the planets will freeze,
    and the air on them; frozen gases, white flasks of air
    Will be dust: which no wind ever will stir: this very
    dust in dim starlight glistening
    Is dead wind, the white corpse of wind.
    Also the galaxy will die; the glitter of the Milky Way,
    our universe, all the stars that have names are dead.
    Vast is the night. How you have grown, dear night,
    walking your empty halls, how tall!
    • The Double Axe and Other Poems, including eleven suppressed poems (1977) II.The Inhumanist XLV
  • Poetry is bound to concern itself chiefly with permanent aspects of life.
    • As quoted in Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century (1981) edited by Leonard S. Klein, Vol. 2, p. 504
  • I decided not to tell lies in verse. Not to feign any emotions that I did not feel.
  • 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 towered-up cities
    Will be stains of rust on mounds of plaster.
    Roots will not pierce the heaps for a time, kind rains will cure them,
    Then nothing will remain of the iron age
    And all these people but a thigh-bone or so, a poem
    Stuck in the world's thought, splinters of glass
    In the rubbish dumps, a concrete dam far off in the mountain...
    • "Summer Holiday"
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.
  • The extraordinary patience of things!
    This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses —
    How beautiful when we first beheld it,
    Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
    No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing...
    • "Carmel Point"
  • Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
    Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
    That swells and in time will ebb, and all
    Their works dissolve.
    Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
    Lives in the very grain of the granite,
    Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff. — As for us:
    We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
    We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
    As the rock and ocean that we were made from.
    • "Carmel Point"
Against the outcrop boulders of a raised beach
We built our house when I and my love were young.
  • Against the outcrop boulders of a raised beach
    We built our house when I and my love were young.
    • "The Last Conservative"
  • The rock-cheeks have red fire-stains.
    But the place was maiden, no previous
    Building, no neighbors, nothing but the elements,
    Rock, wind, and sea; in moon-struck nights the mountain
    Coyotes howled in our dooryard; or doe and fawn
    Stared in the lamplit window, We raised two boys here
    All that we saw or heard was beautiful
    And hardly human.

    Oh heavy change.
    The world deteriorates like a rotting apple, worms and a skin.
    They have built streets around us, new houses
    Line them and cars obsess them — and my dearest has died.
    The ocean at least is not changed at all,

    Cold, grim, and faithful; and I still keep a hard edge of forest
    Haunted by long gray squirrels and hoarse herons.

    • "The Last Conservative"
This is the staring unsleeping
Eye of the earth; and what it watches is not our wars.
  • If you should look for this place after a handful of lifetimes:
    Perhaps of my planted forest a few
    May stand yet
    , dark-leaved Australians or the coast cypress, haggard
    With storm-drift; but fire and the axe are devils.
    Look for foundations of sea-worn granite, my fingers had the art
    To make stone love stone, you will find some remnant.

    But if you should look in your idleness after ten thousand years:
    It is the granite knoll on the granite
    And lava tongue in the midst of the bay, by the mouth of the Carmel
    River Valley; these four will remain
    In the changes of names. You will know it by the wild sea-fragrance of the wind.
  • Here from this mountain shore, headland beyond stormy headland
    plunging like dolphins through the blue sea-smoke
    Into pale sea — look west at the hill of water: it is half the planet:
    this dome, this half-globe, this bulging
    Eyeball of water, arched over to Asia,
    Australia and white Antarctica: those are the eyelids that never close;
    this is the staring unsleeping
    Eye of the earth; and what it watches is not our wars.
    • "The Eye"

Quotes about JeffersEdit

He has inspired mankind to see the world anew as the ultimate reality … he perceived and described the physical universe itself as immanently divine. ~ John Courtney
Something utterly wild had crept into his mind and marked his features … The sea-beaten coast, the fierce freedom of its hunting hawks, possessed and spoke through him. It was one of the most uncanny and compete relationships between a man and his natural background that I know in literature. ~ Loren Eiseley
Alphabetized by author
  • His spiritual insights were in three major areas: First, he has inspired mankind to see the world anew as the ultimate reality. Second, he perceived and described the physical universe itself as immanently divine. And finally, he challenged us to accept the ultimate demands of modern science which assign humanity no real or ultimate importance in the universe while also aspiring us to lives of spiritual celebration attuned to the awe, beauty and wonder about us.
  • Robinson Jeffers was no scientist, but he expressed better than any other poet the scientist's vision. Ironic, detached, contemptuous like Einstein of national pride and cultural taboos, he stood in awe of nature alone.
  • I met and spoke with Robinson Jeffers on the road beyond his door. The circumstances have long faded from my mind except for the haunting presence of his features, lined and immobile as a Greek mask. I have also a rough memory that he spoke casually and without heat, of being called for jury duty in a homicide case, and having been rejected by the defense because of the cruelty of his countenance. The eyes looked at me as he spoke, not with amusement, but with the remote, almost inhuman animal contemplation that marks his work and that very obviously had aroused the mistaken animus of the defense counsel.
    I felt in his presence almost as if I stood before another and nobler species of man whose moods and ways would remain as inscrutable to me as the ways of the invading Cro-Magnon man would have seemed dark to the vanishing Neanderthals. In later and more mature years I have met cleverer vocalizers and more ingenious intellects, but I have never again encountered a man who, in one brief meeting, left me with so strong an impression that I had been speaking with someone out of time, an oracle who would presently withdraw among the nearby stones and pinewood. Jeffers had always been different from others, but in Carmel something happened that exaggerated the differences.
    What was the source of the lightning that struck him? Whatever it was, it came from a cloud that settled over him soon after he moved to Carmel. … Something utterly wild had crept into his mind and marked his features. I cannot imagine him as having arisen unchanged in another countryside. The sea-beaten coast, the fierce freedom of its hunting hawks, possessed and spoke through him. It was one of the most uncanny and compete relationships between a man and his natural background that I know in literature.
    • Loren Eiseley, in an essay in the Sierra Club Bulletin (1965) as quoted in Not Man Apart : Lines from Robinson Jeffers (1974) by David Ross Brower, p. 146; also in Robinson Jeffers : Poet of California (1995), p. 32, and Yuga : An Anatomy of Our Fate (2005) by Marty Glass, p. 239
  • The sheer magnificence and vastness of the coastal environment — an epitome of the true wilderness of the world — stood as a reminder that all human life is a mere flicker within something unimaginably greater. Jeffer's western wilderness was a key to perceiving the essential wildness of the universe as a whole, in which human personality is only something like a lichen on a rock. No tall heroics for Jeffers.
    • Thomas J. Lyon, as quoted in The Oxbow Man : A Biography of Walter Van Tilburg Clark (2006) by Jackson J. Benson, p. 77
  • To Robinson Jeffers the earth was hopelessly prostrate.

External linksEdit

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