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R O B E R T Z A L L E R Drexel University “Home”:A ‘Lost’Jeffers Narrative In 1926, Robinson Jeffers was preparing the contents of a new book, The Women at Point Sur and Other Poems. This book was to be the follow-up to Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems, the vol­ ume that had catapulted him to fame. It was to consist of the long title poem, a narrative about a deranged preacher and his band of disciples; a shorter narrative; and a group of lyric and meditative poems. This format was to serve Jeffers as a model in several later volumes. When the new book appeared the following year, it was entitled The Women at Point Sur, and consisted simply of the title narrative. The omission of the remainder of the manuscript was perhaps a question of sheer length. At 175 pages, “The Women at Point Sur” was a book in itself, and Jeffers’s publisher, Boni and Liveright, may have demurred at lengthening it further. Jeffers, with his usual accommodating attitude to publishers, simply asked for the return of the unpublished material. The lyric and meditative poems found their way into subsequent volumes, but the excised narrative, called “Home,” did not. Did Jeffers change his mind about the publishability of “Home”? We have no evidence to indicate it. He might, perhaps, have included it in his next volume, Cawdor, but the title narrative of this book too was lengthy. Cawdor’s successor, Dear Judas, con­ tained a verse drama and a narrative, linked thematically, and “Home,” with its very different subject matter, might have seemed out of place with them. Jeffers planned his books with care, and it may be that “Home” seemed incongruent with his later style or interests, too much the product of a particular time and mood. “The Women at Point Sur” had been criticized for its morbidity, and 116 Western American Literature “Home” shared much of its tone, though not its melodramatic excess. With “Cawdor,” Jeffers deliberately reined in the headlong intensity of “Point Sur,” and made, in effect, a new beginning. “Home,” perhaps, had simply missed its moment. When Jeffers died in 1962, his executor, Melba Berry Bennett, published a posthumous collection of late poems, but she did not include “Home.” Instead, it was bundled up with a miscellany of other, mostly early manuscript materials, and deposited at Occidental College with the stipulation that they not be opened until the centennial of Jeffers’s birth in 1987. Only then did the lit­ erary world learn of the existence of “Home.” Because of the clear importance of this find, Tim Hunt, the edi­ tor of Jeffers’s Collected Poetry, published it with a brief, threeparagraph foreword in the November/December 1987 issue of The American Poetry Review. It was included the following year in Volume One of The Collected Poetry, without critical comment. None has followed since. This neglect is surprising. If “Home” were a bad or uninterest­ ing poem, it would still be of significance as the missing link between “Roan Stallion,” Jeffers’s most admired poem, and “The Women at Point Sur,” his most controversial one. It does indeed shed important light on both of these poems. But it is also a com­ pelling work in its own right, written with verve and authority. The plot is simply told. Rachel Devine, a schoolteacher engaged to young Phil Maybrick, leaves her fiancé and, on a sudden but compelling impulse, returns to her childhood home in the Carmel canyons. Rachel’s mother has died, and the thought of marriage and breeding, “the anxious fable,” as she puts it, is suddenly intolerable to her. Home, however, is a deserted, snake-infested ruin, the place in the woods where, nine years earlier, her father had committed suicide after being disgraced for cattle stealing. She nonetheless settles into the house, bringing provisions from a neighbor, leaving milk for the snakes, and cutting herself a rough bed of willow branches from the grove her father’s blood had stained, as if prepar­ ing a bridal couch. Here she meets Charlie McCandless, the local rancher who had exposed her father and who now owns...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 115-124
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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