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, …”

Regarding the mind, he assesses intuition as capable of extremes of honesty and dishonesty. What can lead “the mind’s pilot” into dishonesty, he suggests, are the twin poles of fears and wishes (desires, broadly defined). He considers the fear of death the most powerful of fears, and so suggests that one “trust no immortalist,” as belief in immortality is a sure sign that one has lied to oneself out of an inability to face death with honesty. As for the desires, Jeffers sees the need for love to be the most beguiling, and so goes so far as to say “trust no mother’s son”, that is to say, trust no one.

For practical measures, the poet advises that the pilgrim to avoid guides, whether they be politicians or prophets. Finally he advises that one avoid people in general.

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Advice to Pilgrims has been posted online. It has been included in the following anthologies:

  • The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, Stanford, 2001; ed. Tim Hunt
  • Robinson Jeffers: Selected Poems, Vintage Books, 1965

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