Fame and Distraction

In 1925, Robinson Jeffers finally received the recognition he deserved. He was discussed by critics throughout America. By the early 1930s he became the subject of the renowned sculptor Jo Davidson. He was raved over in Vanity Fair as “the next Walt Whitman.” He even made the cover of Time Magazine. He was more than a prophet: he was a celebrity.

 
    Photos by Dan Jensen

Jeffers continued to work on the family tavern and compose through the late 1920s, but with the completion of the tavern stonework, he put aside stonemasonry (though he would return to it later). Now Tor House was receiving a stream of friends and admirers. Celebrities like Langston Hughes, George Gershwin, Martha Graham, Charlie Chaplin, and Ansel Adams dropped by, and even stayed overnight in the guest room.

The family began to visit to the British Isles in 1929. Jeffers was invited by Mabel Dodge Luhan to visit her bohemian retreat at Taos Mountain, New Mexico, and he and the family would visit Taos on an annual basis throughout the 1930s. [1]

Jeffers continued to write, and his first book of the decade Thurso’s Landing proved a good one. It included the titles New Mexican Mountain, Fire on the Hills, and The Bed by the Window. His work after Thurso was not as impressive. Some of the notable poems he published during the next ten years were Return, Love the Wild Swan, Rock and Hawk, The Purse-Seine, and Shiva. Judging from statements in the posthumously published poem, “I have been warned,” Jeffers considered this period to have been past his prime.

Jeffers family at Taos, 1938
Jeffers family at Taos, 1938. Courtesy of Tor House Foundation

Robinson Jeffers had long shown an inclination toward depression, and in Spring 1938 he began to settle into an emotional decline. He was now 51 years old, and as if that weren't bad enough, he was compiling an anthology of his career work. He began to seriously doubt his future as a poet. The Jefferses visited Taos that June. Mabel Dodge Luhan, the story goes, hatched a plot that she presumably thought would lift Jeffers's spirits and uncage his muse: she found him a girlfriend. When Una found about the affair, she pistol-whipped the mistress and shot herself in the chest. Una survived somehow, but her health would soon decline.

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1. The first visit to Taos was in 1930. Jeffers first published New Mexican Mountain in 1931. An account exists of a brief, final visit in 1939.

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