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University of Delaware E D W A R D A. N I C K E R S O N Robinson Jeffers: Apocalypse and His “Inevitable Place” Even a casual reading leads one to conclude that much of Robinson Jeffers’ poetry is profoundly apocalyptic. Fires, deluges, storms, and earthquakes menace the lives of his major characters, and serve as constant reminders of nature’s catastrophic potential. There are fore­ bodings of Armageddon and gloomy speculations about man’s fate. A number of narratives result in the destruction of a small group of people in such a way as to suggest that they symbolize the human race itself. All of these facts recall strikingly the apocalyptic books and passages of the Bible. The Biblical writers, like Jeffers, thought of man as incapable of permanent self-improvement, and envisioned redemption as coming only after Armageddon and a series of natural catastrophes had destroyed mankind. Believing this, they fixed their gaze on the coming doom and on the glorious new heaven and earth that would succeed it. Calling for “the rejection of human solipsism and the recog­ nition of the transhuman magnificence,”1 Jeffers, too, looked beyond humanity to find redemptive splendor. He too sought not to reform but only to write down his gloomy visions. His outlook, for which he invented the word Inhumanism, lays the philosophical basis for the apocalyptic nature of his work: if one thought that man was merely a xThe Double Axe and Other Poems (New York, 1948), vii. 112 Western American Literature fly-speck in the universe, it was easy and even comforting to contemplate his end. But this stance does not explain the intensity of Jeffers’ apoca­ lyptic feeling. It does not explain the extraordinary frequency with which the characters in his narratives are menaced by the same agents of destruction found in Biblical apocalyptic: fire, earthquake, wind, rain. Such an explanation is the purpose of this study; it requires the considera­ tion of Jeffers in his geographical setting.2 The choice of a homesite was important to Jeffers from the begin­ ning. In an autobiographical note for the prospectus of the first edition of Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems (New York, 1925), he wrote, “. . . when the stage-coach topped the hill from Monterey, and we looked down through pines and seafogs on Carmel Bay, it was evident that we had come without knowing it to our inevitable place.” The attraction may have been beauty at first, but, as time went on and Jeffers achieved his mature poetic voice, it soon involved more than that. From his house on Carmel Point he could look to the west and almost directly to the south and north to see the ocean not 200 yards away. Every clear evening he could contemplate from his living-room window the setting of the sun into this vast presence. It is small wonder, then, that he named the California shore “the world’s end” and the sea “the final Pacific” or the “last ocean.” But such perceptions, reinforced by experience, were also grounded in his theory of history. In “The TorchBearer ’s Race,” he explained: Here is the world’s end. When our fathers forded the first river in Asia we crossed the world’s end; And when the North Sea throbbed under their keels, the world’send; And when the Atlantic surge rolled English oak in the sea-trough: always there was farther to go, A new world piecing out the old one: but ours, our new world? 2Very little published criticism has focused on Jeffers’ apocalyptic qualities. Among the book-length studies, Radcliffe Squires’ The Loyalties of Robinson Jeffers (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1965) mentions Jeffers in passing as being apocalyptic, and Frederic I. Carpenter briefly suggests the same thing in his Robinson Jeffers (New York, 1962). In the Robinson Jeffers Newsletter (No. 32, July, 1972, 4-7) Robert J. Brophy cites the occurrence in the narratives of a number of moments in which a vision is suddenly presented of some world-wide catastrophe. These epiphanic occur­ rences, Brophy explains, seem not to have a good reason for existence unless one interprets them as a manifestation of an apocalyptic dimension that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 111-122
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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