Arthur B. Coffin

Arthur B. Coffin: On "Cassandra"

By 1948, in The Double Axe, the next to the last volume of verse published during the poet's lifetime, we are not surprised to hear Jeffers say, in Cassandra,


        Poor bitch, be wise.

No: you'll still mumble in a corner a crust of truth, to men

And gods disgusting.--You and I, Cassandra.


This, Jeffers said in a book that bore an unusual Publishers' Note, which announced that Random House felt "compelled to go on record with its disagreement over some of the political views pronounced by the poet in this volume." The Cassandra of the poem The Tower Beyond Tragedy (1925) had predicted such a war as the readers of The Double Axe volume had just come through. Furthermore, Jeffers had preached throughout the thirties that such war was inevitable, unless the United States changed its course of action in world affairs, and in Such Counsels You Gave to Me (1937) and in Be Angry at the Sun (1941) he foretold events that history was yet to record.

Jeffers' remark to Cassandra (in the later poem) came at perhaps the most trying time in his career: the principles to which he steadfastly clung had apparently been proved by the events of history, as he saw them, but there seemed to be no one listening. What was more, he had to endure, with "cheerful consent," as he generously put it, the singular treatment from his publisher. He was right from his point of view, but, when he needed the emotional support, very few of his readers gave him credit for his perspicacity.

Arthur B. Coffin: On "November Surf"

For both [Havelock] Ellis and Jeffers, insane mainkind would go down before the lasting grandeur of Nature. The restorative power of Nature, to which all things transitory and human eventually return, is described by Jeffers in November SrfConsidering the respective dates of composition and the correspondent attitudes toward Nature's regenerative capacity to absorb humanity's decay and contamination, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the poem owes a debt to the following passage from Ellis' Fountain of Life:

Alone but for a few meditative gulls, I sit among the rocks and dream of the miracle of this restless, antiseptic sea that for millions of years has been slowly and tirelessly absorbing all the rejected filth that the Earth and now Man can pour into it, and still to-day, as at the first, sends forth its fresh procession of waves in Purity and Joy, for the sacred lustration of an Evil World.

From Ellis' various statements, then, Jeffers apparently could have drawn considerable inspiration. Ellis had no fully developed philosophical system of his own from which Jeffers could borrow, but the men were emotionally compatible in their regard for Nature, they shared theories about the cycles of civilization, they recognized certain possibilities in Nietzsche's philosophy, they were equally concerned about the interrelationship of morality and art, and, though they differed somewhat on the role of science, their ideas of truth were all but identical.