The Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers

By Patrick Dunagan

Robinson_Jeffers_LettersThe recently published multi-volume Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, with easy to read large font in generous layout, is lavish in its design, and the ongoing multi-volume Collected Letters of Robinson Jeffers follows accordingly. These volumes are resplendent with photographs and detailed footnotes, finally allowing ample opportunity for readers to discover or re-discover this exemplar poet, one of California’s strongest, an undeniably unique poetic voice.

Never comfortable identifying himself with any group, Jeffers is a poet of resolute individual will. Not in the least attracted to the experimental avant-garde lyric or collage-like long poem that was prevalent among poets of his time, Jeffers instead re-cast tales of Greek, as well as Christian, myth and literature (Cassandra, Clytemnestra, Oedipus, Tamar) onto true-to-life situations which he either personally encountered, heard tell, or imagined.

Jeffers is an ardently religious poet, but he was certainly not a church-going man — seeing the hypocrisy in religious institutions, his faith was of a more individual order. God plays a central role in all of Jeffers’ work, including his conception of “Inhumanism,” which downplays the centrality of humankind’s importance in favor of a higher deity to be found manifest in the natural world. In his view, God not only challenges the narcissism that Jeffers saw in English and American poetry (a narcissism that emerges from the traditions of Romanticism) but also overwhelms it. Jeffers’ God is individual and isolating in conception as well as practice: a God that no poet’s work is capable of encapsulating.

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