The Inhumanist

A little too abstract, a little too wise, ... — RJ, Return

The Inhumanist (SP) comes off as a kind of cross between a typical Jeffers tragedy—complete with assault, adultery, step-incest, gang rape, and matricide, and a wise man parable based on Thus Spoke Zarathustra. These two make odd bedfellows.

There is an abundance of wisdom in The Inhumanist, for example (XLV, XLVII; SP 640, 641):

“There is one God, and the earth is his prophet” ... “And as to love: love God ... whoever loves or hates man is fooled in a mirror” ... “And those,” he said, “to whom the word is God, their God is a word.”

Also, The Inhumanist might just sport more humor than the rest of Jeffers’ work combined.

But the wisdom, as fine as it is at times, seems forced. It does not flow from the narrative, but resembles more a series of sermons with a heaping serving of sex-violence wrapped within.

The axe man in The Inhumanist often feels like a mouthpiece for Jeffers’ lecturing, and the lectures often brood over political details that are far from the eternal stuff of poems that Jeffers—as a dedicated Shelleyite—claimed to be committed to.

In my opinion, Jeffers could have made The Inhumanist better (and shorter) by dropping much of the political detail, and I think the poem would have worked better as a parable—without the ostensibly obligatory storm of sin. We had seen enough sex and violence from Jeffers by 1948, and in this case I don’t think it did much for the narrative. Perhaps he could have had the protagonist respond to a different sort of sin such as a slaughter of innocent animals, the misery of a hungry child, or the devastation of Hiroshima.

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