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Robinson Jeffers

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John Robinson Jeffers (January 10 1887January 20 1962) was an American poet who, after extensive travel in his youth, spent most of his life in Carmel, California, USA in a granite house he built for his family with his own hands ("Tor House"), which included a large stone tower ("Hawk Tower").

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Early life

Jeffers was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a seminary dormitory, the son of a Presbyterian minister. His family was generally supportive of his interest in poetry. He traveled throughout Europe during his youth and attended school in Switzerland. He was something of a child prodigy, interested in classics and Greek and Latin language and literature. At sixteen he entered Occidental College with a transcript that would rival many of today's graduate students. At school, he was an avid outdoorsmen, but also active in the school's literary society.

Robinson Jeffers and Una Call Kuster

After he graduated from Occidental, Jeffers went to the University of Southern California to study medicine. There he met Una Call Kuster and the two became friends- a relationship that would alter the course of his life. Kuster was also a graduate student, as well as the wife of a respected Los Angeles attorney. She and Jeffers began an intense affair that later became public: a scandal garnering the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Jeffers then left the Los Angeles area and found refuge as a forestry student at the University of Washington for a short time. Jeffers and Una eloped and eventually ended up in Monterey County, California, on one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the world.

Poetic career

In Carmel, California, Jeffers built a home for his wife and the two had two sons. Although he hired a contractor to build the initial house, he later contracted himself to the builder and learned the trade of stone masonry. Construction on Tor House continued into the late 50s and early 60s and was completed by his oldest son. The completed residence was used as a family home until descendents decided to turn it over to the Tor House Foundation, formed by Ansel Adams, for historic preservation.

Because Una was fascinated with the sea, Jeffers hauled huge stones up from the beach and built the four story Hawk Tower for her pleasure. The romantic, gothic tower was named after a mysterious hawk that appeared while Jeffers was working on the structure and which disappeared the day it was completed. Both Tor House and Hawk Tower are open to the public for tours.

During this time Jeffers published volumes of poetry in long narrative verse that shook up the national literary scene. These poems, including Tamar and Roan Stallion, introduced Jeffers as a master of the epic form, reminiscent of ancient Greek poets. These poems were also full of controversial subject matter like incest, murder and parricide. It was during this time that Jeffers built Tor House and Hawk Tower, which are now nationally registered landmarks. Robinson Jeffers' short verse includes "Hurt Hawks", "The Purse-Seine", and "Shine, Perishing Republic". His intense relationship with the physical world is described in often brutal and apocalyptic verse and demonstrates a preference for the natural world over what he sees as the negative influence of civilization.

Many books followed Jeffers' initial success with the epic form, including an adaptation of Euripides "Medea," which became a hit Broadway play starring Dame Judith Anderson. Jeffers cultivated relationships with other poets and authors of the day. D.H. Lawrence, Edgar Lee Masters, Benjamin De Cassseres and George Sterling were close friends of Jeffers, George Sterling having the longest and most intimate relationship with him. Jeffers was also a friend and inspiration to some of the top western U.S. photographers of the early Twentieth Century, including Ansel Adams and Edward Weston.

While living in Carmel, Jeffers became the focal point for a small, but devoted group of admirers.

At the peak of his fame Jeffers was one of the few poets to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine. He was also asked to read at the Library of Congress and was posthumously put on a U.S. Stamp. His poems have been translated in many languages and published all over the world. He is most popular in Japan and the Czech Republic.

William Everson, Edward Abbey and Mark Jarman are just a few recent authors who have been influenced by Jeffers. He was also an influence on the poetic work of Polish poet Czeslaw Milosc.

Robinson Jeffers' brother was Hamilton Jeffers, a well-known astronomer who worked at Lick Observatory.


Quotes

  • "There is no reason for amazement: surely one always knew that cultures decay, and life's end is death" (The Purse-Seine, 1937)
  • "Long live freedom and damn the ideologies" (The Stars Go over the Lonely Ocean 1940)
  • "Corruption never has been compulsory; when the cities lie at the monster's feet there are left the mountains" (Shine, Perishing Republic, 1941)

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