Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems (1925)

The critical success of Tamar prompted the immediate publication of a volume of Jeffers’ poetry that would include everything in Tamar and Other Poems, plus a number of other poems that he’d written more recently. The newly published volume was titled Roan Stallion, Tamar, and Other Poems[1] and it was a roaring success.

Just as Tamar had done, the title poem Roan Stallion combined narrative, drama, violence, Freud, Nietzsche, religion, mysticism, and subtle, rolling rhythms in a way that stirred and invigorated the embodied mind of the reader. Where Tamar had pushed the moral envelope with incest and disembodied rapists, Roan Stallion presented the reader with intimations of what might be playfully termed “mystical bestiality.” This was not the singsong verse of traditional English poetry, nor the cold, photographic imagism of modern verse. It was not religious in the common sense, nor was it humanistic. To Jeffers, humanism was a sort of narcissism—even incest, and he strove to bring that message home to the reader with the full, flowing force of a narrative verse too serious for rhyme or arithmetic meter, and too sacred to be prose.

The new collection also included a work of dramatic verse—in the form of Greek tragedy. The drama, based on the Oresteia, took the severe drama of Greek tragedy and turned its disastrous end toward a higher, inhuman resolution.

Among the short poems was Shine, Perishing Republic. This oft-anthologized favorite strove to comfort America in her inevitable downfall while turning the Christian theme of a man-loving God on its head, making the Crucifixion more like Greek tragedy than messianic redemption. This, like a number of other Jeffers poems, reassures the reader that modern civilization, though doomed, is no less divine or beautiful than any inhuman landscape: [2]

meteors are not needed less than mountains [3]

Having said this, Jeffers still maintains in Shine that he prefers the mountains to the city, but he presents this as a parental preference rather than a universal principle.

Autumn Evening is a balanced image of a heron against an evening sky that drew the reader in enough to agree that “no matter what happens to men ... the world's well made though.”

Though the desert, being dominated by the sun, is commonly regarded most convivial to monotheism, the oscillating lyric Fog presents the sea-fog as the natural element of oneness and God.

Phenomena (SP 111) is a fine example of positive Inhumanism. It declares, “the great frame takes all creatures; / From the greatness of their element they take all beauty.” Gulls, hawks, grass, cormorants, skerries, pelicans, and so forth are observed taking beauty from their great element, but human phenomena also take beauty from “the great frame”: the dingy freightship, the air-plane, smugglers, the Point Pinos lighthouse, and even a Zeppelin. Even when Jeffers describes inhuman phenomena, he might even employ human imagery:

… sea-slime / Shining at night in the wave-stir like drowned men’s lanterns; …

Phenomena was popular with Norton and Oxford anthologies from the 1950s to the 1970s, but has since vanished from the pages of such collections.

The very short poem Science begins elegantly with “man, introverted man,” presents the difficult position that man has put himself into with the giants that he has begotten of late, and as to the discoveries that have given rise to man’s bloody technologies, Jeffers recalls the demise of Acteon after his eyes fell upon Artemis in the forest, and modestly concludes, “Who would have dreamed this infinitely little too much?”

These are impressive poems, but it gets better.

 

[1] November 1925.

[2] Shine, Perishing Republic, perhaps Jeffers’ most anthologized poem, appears to have been completed in 1923, but not published until November 1925. See Tim Hunt, Collected Poetry of Robins Jeffers, Volume V, page 312.

[3] SP 23

 

Poems previously printed in Tamar and Other Poems (1924) omitted.

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