The Double Axe (1948)

Robinson Jeffers struck a shrill new high note in political offensiveness at age 61. Even with the most controversial content removed, The Double Axe turned public and critical opinion against Jeffers, which perhaps was just as well so far as he was concerned, and nearly consigned his name to obscurity.

Drama

The year 1947 turned out to be the height of Jeffers' fame and financial success, thanks to the Broadway success of Medea.

Narratives

The Double Axe narratives are good, though generally stained with preaching, sometimes even about particular details of the war.

The Love and the Hate, though angry, grotesque, and violent, is quite a good reconstruction of the Passion of the Christ, and one of Jeffers's more creative and crafty narratives.

A little too abstract, a little too wise, ...

The Inhumanist, stuffed to the gills with wisdom—to a fault—and lacking in craft, probably has more humorous one-liners than the rest of Jeffers's work combined. My view is that it could have been a great parable had it abstained from gratuitous sex-violence and preaching about particular issues of the time.

Lyrics

None of the poems first published in 1948 has ever been anthologized so far as I'm aware, except in Jeffers-only collections. The several poems published in 1944 fared a bit better. The Eye was particularly well received.

I can't help but love Cassandra (1944) in spite of one serious contextual issue: when one discovers just how dark and hateful some of Jeffers' war-time work was, the whole vat of apples is at risk of being spoiled.

The Inquisitors (1947) is a strangely grotesque and beautiful poem. I don't know why it isn't more popular. Too dark, perhaps.

Of the 1948 lyrics, I find Dawn and The King of Beasts most inspired. The King of Beasts ends with a prediction, but the prediction is presented modestly. Original Sin builds on an appealing concept, but wastes the concept on insults of the species. As with many other Jeffers poems, it stumbles into misanthropy.

Rantings

"On that great day the boys will hang Hitler and Roosevelt in one tree, ..." Jeffers prophesied in June 1941, allowing that these devils would hang together in effigy only. In What Odd Expedients, Jeffers spoke of "the cripple's-power-need of Roosevelt." By 1942, Jeffers had Woodrow Wilson castigating FDR in Hell, saying, "You have too much murder on your hands. I will not speak of lies and connivings." In Pourvou Que Ça Doure, Jeffers, noting FDR's affinity for gin and vermouth, bemoans statecraft having been corrupted "into the democratic gestures of a gin-muddled butcher-boy ..." Jeffers, for his part, was more inclined to be wine-muddled. Vive la difference!

By mid-1943, Robinson Jeffers was advising Nazi Germany in a "suppressed poem" to fight nobly in defeat, like a hawk or a wolf. By early 1944, Jeffers, claiming to simply be quoting a broadcast, was contrasting violence-minded American broadcaster-bombers against noble-minded German scientists. It is perhaps fair to depict the violence of Americans in poetry, but when does so while making Nazi “scientists” look innocent and progressive, there may be legitimate grounds for concern.

How can such obsession with the evils of America and such hatred for FDR be sold as, in Jeffers' words, a "recognition of the transhuman magnificence?" It seems more like the solipsistic "incest" that he so often denounced. For a writer so sold on the beauty of nature, Jeffers spilled a remarkable amount of ink on human sin.

Furthermore, what of all the temporal detail that Jeffers injects into his war poetry? What ever happened to eternal phenomena? Jeffers seemed to have lost his way during the war.

Add to that the narcissicism of our photogenic celebrity prophet. In another suppressed poem, Jeffers conceded a bit of "blood-guilt" as a price he must pay for his prophetic foreknowledge of events.

It's little wonder Jeffers didn't attempt to publish these words until well after the end of the war. None of the above remarks, it turned out, was ever published until long after his death. He didn't seem to feel a desire to advocate for those suppressed poems. Perhaps he was embarrassed by them? He ought to have been.

Contents

  • New Poetry (1944)
  • Poetry Magazine (1947)
    • Their Beauty Has More Meaning (text)
    • Real and Half Real (text)
    • Greater Grandeur (text)
    • Orca (text)
  • University of Kansas Review (1947)
  • The Double Axe (1948)
  • Poems suppressed until 1977
    • Miching Mellecho
    • Fantasy
    • Wilson in Hell (wr. 1942)
    • Tragedy Has Obligations
    • An Ordinary Newscaster
    • The Blood-Guilt
    • Staggering Back Toward Life
    • What Odd Expedients
    • Curb Science?
    • War-Guilt Trials
    • Pourvou Que Ça Doure

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