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P A T R IC K D . M U R P H Y University of California, Davis Robinson Jeffers’Macabre and Darkly Marvelous Double Axe Robinson Jeffers presents in “The Double Axe” a two-bladed narra­ tive poem with the first blade, “The Love and the Hate,” a macabre fantasy of a resurrected corpse seeking revenge, and the second, “The Inhumanist,” a darkly marvelous fantasy of a guardian spirit defending nature against human wantonness. Though “The Double Axe” is focused on the single thematic purpose of a poetic protest against the direction of the United States during and after World War II, it consists of two con­ trasting halves. “The Love and the Hate” reverses the cliché that dead men tell no tales by having a corpse tell the tale of war as suicidal slaugh­ ter; “The Inhumanist” provides a contrast not only to “The Love and the Hate” but also to the society which that first blade exposes and condemns. Jeffers employs in these two contrasting halves two different types of fantasy, the negative fantasy of abjection and the positive fantasy of mythopoeia, to achieve his intellectual purpose through intense emotive effect. As William Everson points out: “Political poetry speaks to the mind, certainly, but at its best it speaks through the mind to the passions. In spite of ourselves, hearing it, we are moved” (x). Jeffers combines in “The Love and the Hate” his political critique with Freudian analysis and supernatural horror to produce a negative fantasy of abjection. As T. E. Apter notes, this kind of fantasy, rather than building on the sense of wonder that C. N. Manlove emphasizes,1“discovers and aggravates disintegration” and “is not a means of consolation and recovery but of registering losses and fears. Thus such fantasy is predom­ inantly ‘negative’ in that it does not resolve problems but rather magnifies them” (6). And Julia Kristeva explains the controlling use of a corpse: “The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life. Abject. It is something rejected from which one does not part, from which one does not protect oneself as from 196 Western American Literature an object” (4). For the half of the poem that must expose and condemn the society amidst which the reader lives and dies, negative fantasy serves Jeffers well by magnifying the social disintegration and linking it with the losses of the war and the personal fear of defilement. While Jeffers centers “The Love and the Hate” on a dead man repre­ senting a dead society that has not yet found its grave, he centers “The Inhumanist” on an old man, ageless and only partly human. As Hoult Gore is a political figure, the old man is a philosophical one. With his magic axe he has become the caretaker of the Gore Place, setting for both halves of “The Double Axe.” Through him, Jeffers presents his philosophy of Inhumanism as a counter to the prevalent philosophies of the postwar United States. As the story moves toward its apocalypse, the reader realizes that the guardian is a caretaker for the planet, attempting to protect it from man but letting man nearly destroy himself through waging a third world war. The guardian meets a fugitive from the burning cities who declares: “This is the end of the world.” The old man answers: “Of yours perhaps. / The mountains appear to be on their feet still / . . . . As for the human race, we could do without it; but it won’t die.” In “The Double Axe” Jeffers offers visions in each of its halves of what the guardian calls the “two remedies,” death for humanity or life through Inhumanism. Jeffers uses negative horror fantasy to depict the first remedy, but positive mythopoeic fantasy to depict the hope of the second remedy. Here Jeffers employs what Manlove emphasizes about fantasy: “[I]n nothing is it perhaps so markedly constant as in its devotion to wonder at created things, and its profound sense that wonder is above almost everything else a spiritual good not to be lost” (Impulse 156). He also uses magic, which, like the old man figure, is a common clement...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 195-209
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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