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Robinson Jeffers Portrait

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Robinson Jeffers's father was a minister and a professor of biblical literature. The family moved to northern California in 1903, before the area was fully settled. Jeffers himself was educated at Occidental College in Los Angeles. His initial interests were in medicine and forestry, which he studied, respectively, at the University of Southern California and at the University of Washington. In 1914, he went to Carmel, California, where he built with his own hands a stone tower near his house overlooking the Pacific Ocean and devoted himself to writing poetry. Many of the landscapes that figure in his work are from the area in which he lived. Jeffers developed a philosophy he called "inhumanism," in which he urged us to "uncenter the human mind from itself," to turn away from technology and incapacitating social regulation and look toward nature as a proper model of consciousness. Sometimes didactic, he is also capable of very effective exhortation and is often capable of handling large themes with unusual dexterity. In nature he found a way of combining a fierce will with stoical endurance, twin values symbolized by the hawk and the rock; he also found an indifference to human struggle that seemed to him the only spiritually sound and rational response to a world obsessed, alternatively, with mass murder and commodification. Although he is justly famous for his lyrics about nature, which use a Whitmanesque line to celebrate nature and decry its destruction by civilization, he also wrote many poems about national and international politics. "Fantasy," for example, is one of a group of long suppressed poems intended for The Double Axe (1948); his publisher insisted on removing them from the book, and they were only published years later. He also wrote a number of long narrative poems that were popular in the late 1920s and early 1930s, as well as several verse plays adapting Greek myths. Many of his late, apocalyptic poems, several included here, remained little known until his 5-volume Collected Poems began appearing in the 1980s.