Preface

What follows is an account of the life and work of Robinson Jeffers, 20th Century poet, secular prophet, eco-mystic, and stonemason.

Robinson Jeffers can be seen as a poet of a mystical tradition; a disciple of the sublime beauty of nature, what Jeffers called the inhuman. He saw inhuman beauty as the optimal focus of consciousness and the primary subject of poetry, so much so that it transcends good and evil; moreover Jeffers seems to have seen this beauty as spawning good and evil. The inhuman beauty, thus, is by Jeffers’ lights, the face of God.

“Whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God”

— Qur’án[1]

This is a personal account—as are all. My particular experience with the work of Robinson Jeffers is from the perspective of nature mysticism. I was raised on an Iranian Sufi tradition wherein the panentheistic dictum “Nature is God’s Will” is definitive.

By the time I was introduced to the work of Robinson Jeffers, I had abandoned the Islamic mystical tradition because of what I still believe to be unresolvable contradictions. Others have chosen to work with those obstacles and remain within the fold—to each his own. I do retain some attachment to Iranian religion, Zoroastrianism in particular.

I was drawn to Jeffers’ “mysticism of stone” because I had become convinced that the mystic “wayfarer” must first and foremost embrace mortality. He must renounce all supernatural powers, and he must transcend compensation, “karma” not excluded. The freedom he seeks while living mortally is freedom from human self-consciousness. He is not seeking a higher consciousness but rather a simpler consciousness, not self-awareness or self-discovery but, perhaps, no self at all.

This focus on denial of self seems quite in line with Buddhism and much of Sufi thought, but Jeffers’ playing down of the importance of “the human”—even his abhorrence of the same—might seem a distraction from this greater theme; yet it can be argued that we humans are such prisoners of our own human perspective that to be able deny our illusory “selfhood” we must actively strive to see the world from outside of our human perspective, though it may ultimately be impossible to do so:

We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, …[2]

Or, to put it more clinically:

… to see the human figure in all things is man’s disease …[3]

Furthermore, it might be observed that Jeffers’ sustained reverence for “the beauty of God” [4] is reminiscent of the Sufi tradition of adoration for the divine “beloved.” Sufis use the human form as a metaphor for the beauty of God. For Jeffers, God’s beauty is not intended particularly for us, and as such Jeffers’ Venus is no jealous goddess but rather an indifferent evening star; yet not devoid of anthropomorphism, she is something of a sultry, veiled dancer:

As if we had not been meant to see her; rehearsing behind

The screen of the world for another audience.[5]

We must love her. We cannot own her.

 

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A true Muslim worships only God and rejects idolatry in all its forms, even idolatry of the verses that he holds sacred. I do not intend to avoid unpleasant or controversial material in this book. More often than not, such pampering serves only to devitalize our image of the artist and his work. On the other hand, I do not wish to titillate with scurrilous conjecture.

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The present book is intended to be a work-in-progress. The reader is advised to note the date and draft number of the printing, as I expect to make corrections, add details, and forsake opinions in the future.

A note on source references: Verses of Robinson Jeffers that can be found in Tim Hunt’s Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (Stanford University Press, 2001) will be referred herein to that volume (SP page #). Other Jeffers verses will be referred to Hunt’s Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (CP volume:page #). This is done to maximize the number of references that can be checked without great expense to the reader.

 

[1] Sura 2, “the Cow,” verse 115. Arberry English translation. Also see the Sahíh International English translation.

[2] Carmel Point, SP 676

[3] CP 3:479

[4] Birds and Fishes, SP 687; Hellenistics, CP 2:526; also see CP 3:420, 463

[5] Evening Ebb, SP 298

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