Robinson Jeffers: Contribution to American Literature

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      Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was the son of a learned professor and theologian. Under the father’s tutelage, Jeffers could read Greek when he was five years old and several modem languages at fifteen. By that time he was well acquainted with the homelands of those languages, having traveled widely on the continent and having been educated in Switzerland and Germany. When he returned to the United States, he enrolled in Occidental College from which he graduated at the age of eighteen. He took several graduate courses in English and medicine at the University of South California, studied further in Zurich, and took courses in Law, Forestry, and Zoology at the University of Washington. By 1911, he became sure about his career as a poet.

      In 1912, the legacy of a cousin afforded him a small independent income which allowed him to realize his ambition. In 1914, he and his bride were deterred in Europe by the war and went instead to Carmel, the base of California’s magnificent, Monterey Peninsula. There, he found his emotional home that suited his temperament. He built a stone house himself with a tower like, “Hawk’s Tower”. His first two books of poetry are Flagons and Apples (1912) and Californians (1916). These two were followed by Tamer and Other Poems (1924), The Women of Joint Sur (1927), Poems (1928) An Artist (1928) Cawdor (1928) and Dear Judas and Other Poems (1929). Jeffers used his own free but beautifully controlled heavy rhythms to write narratives that tell of the incest, horror, solipsism, and ‘meaninglessness’ of human life and to prophesy its doom.

      Like John Steinbeck, Robinson Jeffers lived in California. He wrote of the Spanish rancheros and Indians and their mixed traditions, and of the haunting beauty of the land. Trained in the classics and well-read in Freud, he re-created themes of the Greek tragedy set in the rugged coastal seascape. He is the best known for his tragic narratives such as Tamar (1924), Rock Stallion (1924) - a re-creation of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon - and Medea (1946), a recreation of the tragedy by Euripides. In modern American poetry, no one has reacted with nihilistic hatred as has done Robinson Jeffers.

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