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Desire as Will

The fire that consumes Tamar’s world is more than a sacrificial fire offered up to “magic horror away.” It is a fire of primal yearning. When Tamar says, “I have my desire,” that narcissistic lust is what aches to set her family’s house ablaze, and correspondingly, in Apology for Bad Dreams, it is a fire—represented by the flammability of the California coast—that ignites Jeffers’ world over and over again. The poem returns to the notion of return, and then it returns again (SP 143–4):

… Beautiful country burn again, …

Jeffers in an Existential Nutshell

One of Jeffers' most characteristic passages occurs in his narrative "Mara" (CP 3:45):

... He smelled the wet delight of the dawn-wind
Dropping down the deep canyon to the dark sea, and saw the
       pearl-tender rose-flood
Lining high distant ridges, while still deep night
Slept in the canyon-trough, a thousand feet down
Under the shoulder of his horse; he felt a fountain of hysterical sadness
Flow up behind his breast-bone through the net of nerves:
      "This is so beautiful:
We are so damned. ..."

Advice to Pilgrims

In 1944, Jeffers’ Cassandra proclaimed “religion, vendors, and political men” the greatest of liars, though he noted that poets are hardly bastions of honesty. Advice to Pilgrims, apparently written before Cassandra, briefly addresses the machinery of dishonesty. It could hardly be more concise. Jeffers begins by admitting that the senses and the mind both deceive us, yet he maintains that we may “trust them a little; the senses more than the mind, …”

In the Hill at New Grange

In the Hill at New Grange is the longest of the poems in Descent to the Dead. It looks as though Jeffers might have conceived it as a narrative project at some point, though it takes the form of a conversation.

In the Hill at New Grange has been included in Robert Hass’ anthology Rock and Hawk (1987) and also Tim Hunt’s Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (2001).

The Giant's Ring

The Giant’s Ring grapples deeply with the various delusions of immortality, declaring that the secular immortalities of name and achievement are just as vacuous as the old spiritualist immortality of soul.

… Homer and Shakespeare are names,
Not of men but verses, …[1]

The Giant’s Ring was included in Robert Hass’ anthology Rock and Hawk.

Antrim

Antrim is perhaps the most fitting example of how Robinson Jeffers’ view of old Ireland differed from that of William Butler Yeats. This poet sees no romance in any side. For him, green and orange are butchers equally, and fit well into Jeffers’ view of mankind. The poem closes powerfully:

The Low Sky

The Low Sky is an odd little lyric of four somber triplets, with all but the first ending in dark vowels: tomb, tomb, ground. Though simple, it is an effective tone-setter, reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe. But this is more than music. The stifling yet pacifying “low-lidded soft sky” is a compelling image, whether haunting or calming.

The mind dissolves without a sound,
The flesh drops into the ground.[1]

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