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The Inhumanism of Robinson Jeffers

by Zachary Wendeln

First addressed in the 1948 preface of ?  

  J the concept of

 served as a pervasiveJ driving element throughout the poetry of nature writer

Robinson Jeffers. Primarily a philosophical codeJ Jeffers¶  

 evolved over time to

address metaphysicalJ spiritualJ and scientific concernsJ answering the questionJ ³Can man

honestly justify the pervasive sense of humanism that dominates societal normsJ that declares the

superiority of man to flora and faunaJ even to God?´ Robinson Jeffers expressed his theory of

in his letters and selected poetry²primarily ³TamarJ´ ³CawdorJ´ and ³The

Inhumanist´²as a natural philosophyJ theologyJ and scientific conjecture. FurthermoreJ this

is grounded in philosophical conceptsJ his intimate experience with the rugged

California coastlineJ his negative experience with the World WarsJ his rejection of his family¶s

devout Calvinism and his views of others religionsJ and his scientific studies.

Jeffers foremost expressed his  

 as a natural philosophy. Joy Palmer notes a

direct correlation between Jeffers¶ studies of ³LucretiusJ HerodotusJ Nietzsche and

SchopenhauerJ his four main philosophical pillarsJ´ and the development of his  

(Palmer 183). Jeffers was particularly inspired by Lucretius¶ opus 

. Like

LucretiusJ ³he studied himself and drew a distinct line expounding his image of GodJ the

universeJ and the human species´ (Milosz 232). One might consider Jeffers¶ compilation of

works and his  

as a reimagining of this classic essayJ addressing the world from a

scientific and a metaphysical standpoint that encourages an environmentalist-minded respect of

nature while proclaiming the oneness of all thingsJ humanJ nonhumanJ and divine.

Jeffers defined  
as ³a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to

notman; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence´

(Palmer 181). Through this philosophyJ Jeffers urges man to remove himself from the ego (or

self) and enter into a communal relationship with nature. He views the solipsistic human

consciousness as a dangerousJ selfish mechanism that impedes our understanding of something

outside and greater than ourselves. The ³transhuman magnificence´ speaks to the transience of

humanityJ which Jeffers almost demands humans accept as inevitable and beautiful. The clearest

outline of  
 can be found in a letter Jeffers wrote in 1942:

First: Man also is a part of natureJ not a miraculous intrusion. And he is a

very small part of a very big universeJ that was here before he appearedJ and will

be here long after he has totally ceased to exist.

Second: Man would be betterJ more sane and more happyJ if he devoted

less attention and less passion (loveJ hateJ etc.) to his own speciesJ and more to

non-human nature. Extreme introversion in any single person is a kind of

insanity; so it is in a race; and race has always and increasingly spent too much

thought on itself and too little on the world outside. (JeffersJ  291)

The first point argues insignificance of man versus the importance of natureJ the main tenet of

. While Jeffers considers humans as part of the naturalJ universal worldJ he

emphasizes how the world dwarfs their importance. The reason for nature¶s superiority is

simple: the natural world will endure all timeJ while eternity will blow the remains of man away

like sand and fog. The second point offers mankind a remedy. We can escape our inherent self-

importance and self-absorption²and ultimately our decline²by focusing our attentions on the

world without. By doing soJ humans not only achieve enlightenment or fulfillment but also ³fall

in love outwardsJ´ becoming attached to the natural world and concentrating their efforts on

preserving it instead of their own ilk (JeffersJ  196).

 concerns itself with the distinctions between and unity of nature and

manJ it is important to understand how two key encounters with each world shaped Jeffers¶

philosophy. Building Tor HouseJ his home in CarmelJ CaliforniaJ was the first formational

experience. He documented the process in a letter to Dr. Lyman Stockey: ³I spend a couple

hours nearly every afternoon at stoneJ masonry«or bringing up stone from the beachJ violent

exercise; and physically I¶m harder´ (JeffersJ  23). This physical maturation translated

into a mental and emotional metamorphosisJ ³a kind of awakening such as adolescents and

religious converts are said to experienceJ´ according to his wifeJ Una (JeffersJ  213). Like

sexual and spiritual awakeningsJ Jeffers¶ communion with stone stirred within him an awe and

reverence for the natural world. Living with and handling stone gave him greater admiration for

it; growing with the material of his home allowed him to observe and appreciate its strength and


For JeffersJ ³rocks [served both] as teachersJ revealing much«about the meaning and the

mystery of the worldJ´ and as a gateway to the miraculous truths of nature (Karman 8). His work

on Tor House opened his eyes to the intransience of the nonhuman universe and diminished the

passing existence of humanity. In ³To the HouseJ´ he refers to stone as ³bones of the old

motherJ´ the ³mother´ in this context being Mother Earth (Karman 14). Stone is the foundation

upon which the rest of the natural world restsJ its life-force. From hereJ Jeffers developed his

love of all things outside humanity. In his ³De Rerum VirtuteJ´ or ³On the Virtue of ThingsJ´ a

clever homage to Lucretius¶ famous workJ Jeffers writes:

One light is left us: the beauty of thingsJ not men;


The immense beauty of the worldJ not the human world.

Look²and without imaginationJ desire nor dream²directly

At the mountains and the sea. Are they not beautiful?

«is the earth not beautiful? (JeffersJ ³De Rerum Virtute´ 21)

This excerpt speaks to Jeffers¶ core poetic themeJ that natureJ not humanityJ contains immense

beautyJ and that it is through communion with this beauty that humans will find their salvation.

Like Henry David Thoreau wroteJ ³NatureJ the earth herselfJ is the only panacea´ (Hoagland 19).

embodies this notion that only the earth offers a remedy for all the ills of

mankind. HenceJ the poet calls humans to discard their mortal flaws and adopt the majestic

fortitudeJ the glorious freedomJ and the divine beauty of the natural world. Jeffers goes further

to say that ³the beauty of things is the face of God«labor to be like it´ (Palmer 184). The

morning sun shining on the flanks of the mountainsJ the dazzling azure sky mirrored in the seas

belowJ all the intrinsic pulchritude of the earth²all nature reflects the face of God. In urging

humans to be one with natureJ Jeffers encourages union with some divine power greater than

humanity that could allow for a certain level of redemption.

Jeffers¶ struggle to reconcile his conscious with the World Wars was a second major

influence on his philosophy. Between the WarsJ Jeffers developed a sense that ³Western

civilization was poised for an inevitable slide into decadence and barbarism´ (Hunt 4). While he

initially viewed humanity only as a scar on the flesh of the universeJ JeffersJ during the WarsJ

began seeing his kind as a cancerJ criminal and ignorant for giving into propaganda and violence.

ThusJ his writing became ³consumed by a pessimisticJ fatalistic sense of human self-destruction´

(O¶Leary 353). Because war is unnatural yet very human in characterJ it stands in the way of our

communion with natureJ diminishing both the virtue of the human race and the physical beauty

of the natural universe. MoreoverJ such conflict stems from human prideJ the antithesis of


In his writingJ Jeffers warns against prideful human consciousnessJ while emphasizing

the importance of human values as key to our salvation. To JeffersJ the human consciousness is

a double-edged sword. On the one handJ ³it enables transcendent awarenessJ´ but if one ³simply

contemplates nature¶s flux rather than identifying with it and recognizing one¶s final and

inevitable participation in itJ´ he or she cannot truly be one with nature (Hunt 7). While the

human consciousness potentially allows one to transcend his or her narrowJ human focus to see

the wholeness of the universeJ it more often alienates humanity from such insight. Thus Jeffers

presents this consciousness as self-centeredness that ³encourages people to believe they are the

raison d¶etre of the universe´ (Karman 15). This egocentricity is the cause of the decline of

humanity. The mind entraps man in concern for selfJ for temporal and human thingsJ and blinds

him to the truth and divinity manifested in the natural world. In this wayJ man ³is like a new

born babeJ conscious almost exclusively of its own processes«As the child grows up its

attention must be drawn from itself to the more important world outside it´ (JeffersJ  159).

Jeffers hopes that as humanity matures it will begin to break out of itselfJ recognizing its

insignificance in the grand scheme of things. While ³we can¶t turn back the civilizationJ not at

least until it collapsesJ´ humans can move forward and better themselves individually (JeffersJ

 159). The only way to attain salvation for the race is to achieve it as individuals. By

purging ourselves of the collective human consciousness and emerging as individualsJ we can

also enter into a synthetic relationship with nature.

This synthesis is realized through the persistence and evolution of human valuesJ

specifically freedom and integrity. While it may seem paradoxical that our escape from

humanity should come from 

valuesJ Jeffers makes a point to distinguish these virtues

from our vices. To JeffersJ humanity refers to human viceJ our introversion and gluttonyJ and he

believes we must rid ourselves of this in order to commune with nature and bring harmonyJ

enlightenmentJ and peace to the universe. Unlike humanityJ human values are long-lasting. As

Jeffers wrote about valuesJ ³The states of the next age will no doubt remember youJ and edge

their love of freedom with contempt of luxury´ (CarpenterJ 

359). ValuesJ like the natural

worldJ are permanentJ and therefore deserve our reverence. The greatest values are freedomJ

³the cornerstone of [Jeffers¶] house of human valuesJ´ and its evolutionJ integrityJ the

transcendental value of the unity of man and nature (CarpenterJ 

 355). Jeffers saw

freedom as the liberation of oneself from the human self and the embracing of the natural world.

Through the acceptance of  

J man might find freedomJ which in turn leads to

integrityJ ³the wholeness of living thingsJ the divine beauty of the universe´ (CarpenterJ 

362). Once mankind integrates with the rest of the worldJ it can become part of that divinityJ

completing the universal puzzle.

Robinson Jeffers¶  
also carries strong spiritual overtones. Jeffers¶ fatherJ Dr.

William Hamilton JeffersJ was a Calvinist minister and heavily educated his son in theology.

HoweverJ the son felt at an early age a certain tension and animosity between his father¶s faith

and himself. Robinson¶s wifeJ UnaJ cites the emphasis on what Jeffers realized to be ³the

unimportance of loving humanity in toto´ as the root of this ill-fated relationship with religion

(JeffersJ  265). Jeffers could not accept a faith that idolized humanity as God¶s direct

offspring and dominant over the earth. MoreoverJ the concept of a Savior sent to redeem

mankind baffled JeffersJ who believed man must save himself. Because of this disagreementJ

³he turned to a faith diametrically oppositeJ to a conviction of the utter insignificance of


man«and of the folly and futility of a devotion to man¶s preservation and salvation´ (Johnson

159). He saw in CalvinismJ and in most other religionsJ the subtle manifestation of that same

self-consciousness and self-adoration against which he wrote and lived. Hinduism serves as

another antithesis of his message. In a letter to Lawrence Clark PowellJ Jeffers wroteJ ³the

Indian feeling that the world is illusory and the soul²the m²makes itJ is very foreign to me. The

world seems to me immeasurably more real´ (JeffersJ 184). m 

developedJ in a

senseJ as a philosophical alternative to such humanistic ways of thoughtJ proposing that the soul

is a transitory illusionJ while the outer world is real and divine.

What faithJ thenJ did Jeffers subscribe toJ if any? A letter to Sister Mary James PowerJ a

Carmelite nunJ suggests the poet most closely aligned himself with Deism:

I believe that the universe is one beingJ all its parts are different expressions of the

same energyJ and they are all in communication with each otherJ influencing each

otherJ therefore parts of one organic whole. (JeffersJ  221)

JeffersJ like DeistsJ believed in a God who flows through every living beingJ natural and human

alike. This divine connection binds humanity and natureJ but is weak enough for solipsism to

knot and constrict it. SalvationJ according to JeffersJ can only be found ³in turning one¶s

affections outward toward this one GodJ rather than inward on one¶s selfJ or on humanity´

(JeffersJ  221). Only men attuned to nature deserve God¶s forgiveness and love. God

does not give preference based on supplication and sacrificeJ but based on respect for Him as He

appears in nature. FurthermoreJ it is necessary for man to commune and empathize with the

universe outside his own race in order to end the world¶s²and God¶s own²suffering. Jeffers

reasoned that ³if God is allJ he must be sufferingJ since an unreckoned part of the universe is

always suffering´ (JeffersJ  240). Because humans and nature are one beingJ any harm

inflicted on oneself is felt throughout the cosmos; thereforeJ we damage both God and ourselves

by harming or diminishing the environment. Jeffers poses a moral argumentJ thenJ that we

should adhere to his doctrine of  

 if not for ourselves then for a greater purpose.

The final tenet of spiritual  

 is the rejection of a Savior figure. Since Jeffers

believed that the ³only hope for the world«is in the destruction of mankind as it now existsJ´ a

Christ-like messiah refutes his doctrine (Johnson 161). The word ³savior´ implies an individual

whose sole purpose is to save humanity. If the only hope for the world is humanity¶s ruinJ then a

Savior wouldJ by saving mankindJ destroy the natural world. ThereforeJ ³it follows that the role

of the saviorJ love of mankindJ the rescue and salvation of menJ is dangerousJ immoralJ and to be

resisted´ (Johnson 161). Jeffers chose instead to lay the burden of salvation on the shoulders of

man himself. It is our responsibility to recognize and discard our introversionJ not the

responsibility of an intervening demigod. Worse yet is the Savior¶s embodiment of ego and self-

importance. Jeffers addresses this concept in his poemJ ³Dear JudasJ´ in which he explores the

possessive love of the SaviorJ which quickly descends into ³self-love and love of power and is

made dependent on discipleshipJ and discipleship is used to further inflate the ego´ (Johnson

165). A Savior who depends on followers for affirmation and powerJ instead of deriving these

from the natural environmentJ fundamentally opposes Jeffers¶ philosophy and prevents faithful

individuals from following the doctrine of  


 poetry is also heavily entrenched in scientific understanding of the

worldJ particularly from analyticalJ psychologicalJ astronomicalJ and geological standpoints. An

early education in the sciences provided Jeffers with a deep understanding of a range of medical

and environmental knowledge. In 1906J Jeffers attended the University of Southern California

Medical School; in 1910J he enrolled in a forestry course at the University of Washington in


Seattle. While he ultimately pursued a career as a writerJ ³the implications of the science with

which he was acquainted as a medical student´ and his education as an environmentalist ³had

become the dominant elements in his philosophy of lifeJ and he had learned to fuse beliefJ

knowledgeJ and experience in creating his poetry´ (Waggoner 276). Jeffers¶ poetry presents

itself as a complex blend of scientific data and analysis and a deeperJ more personal relationship

with truthJ spiritualityJ and humanity. His  

 and writing absorbed medical and

environmental concerns and address morality and man from an analytical standpoint. ThusJ his

poetry came to ³contain many words of scientific flavorJ´ such as ³


 and  ´

(Waggoner 276-277). Instead of speaking of concepts like humanityJ loveJ or sin in vague termsJ

Jeffers drew concrete analogies between solipsism and cancerJ between the break from humanity

and an atom splittingJ between the relatively microcosmic Earth in comparison to the greaterJ

metaphysical universe.

This concreteness both lends a certain validity and scholarly weight to Jeffers¶

 and makes his writing²and in conjunctionJ his philosophy²more approachable.

The incorporation of science into his writing also ³turned Jeffers from romantic preoccupation

with the state of his own emotions to scientific preoccupation with people and things as they

really are´ (Waggoner 287). By focusing on the issue of  

 with a scientific eyeJ

Jeffers pulled himself out of an introverted mindsetJ allowing his writing to better address

concerns in a generalJ universal manner. This embodiment of  

 also modeled Jeffers

into the perfect archetype of  

: a man whoJ having recognized the error of his

internalized lifestyleJ strives to better himself and othersJ both human and inhumanJ through

communication and communion. Jeffers realized that ³we cannot take any philosophy seriously

if it ignores or garbles the knowledge and view-points that determine the intellectual life of our

timeJ´ and so he took great care to incorporate facts with feelings in his writing (Palmer 185).

Jeffers¶ poetry deals mostly with the sciences of analysisJ psychologyJ astronomyJ and

geology. As Waggoner points outJ the style and voice of Jeffers¶ writing changed during the

early 1930sJ becoming more analytical of certain conceptsJ such as loveJ rather than merely

critical. While the ³young´ poet was content with generalizations and sweeping remarks about

the insignificance of manJ ³in the later volumes he gives usJ usuallyJ reasons for that

insignificance²reasons that derive to a great extent from science´ (Waggoner 278). Around

1932J Jeffers began concerning himself more with specificJ evidential poetryJ writing that

explained his dismay at society rather than simply stating it. Much of his writing is also heavily

imbued with psychological analysis and tropes. Inspired primarily by Sigmund Freud and Carl

JungJ Jeffers penned characters who seem more like ³psychological theories´ than people

(Waggoner 278). He mainly focused on characters ruled solely by emotionsJ as opposed to ones

governed by emotionsJ willJ and reason. ThusJ Jeffers¶ charactersJ stripped of reason and

freedomJ ³are impelled by passionsJ and restrained by the blind forces of the external world´

(Waggoner 283). These individuals become models of Jeffers¶ ³humanistJ´ one who allows his

or her irrationalJ selfish whims to push and pull him or her against a backdrop of an almightyJ

divine landscapeJ a nature that punishes man for his folly. Studies of astronomy and geology

also contributed greatly to Jeffers¶ writing. He uses astronomical images ³to give point to the

brooding on human insignificance or the beauty of the inanimate´ and describes landscapes in

great detailJ right down to the shades and shapes of grains of sand (Waggoner 280). Through

such imageryJ Jeffers contextualizes his message of  

J presenting his thoughts on

humanity within a context that emphasizes its irrelevance while glorifying the wonders of the

natural world.

Three specific poems stand out as Robinson Jeffers¶ prime  

 works: ³TamarJ´

³CawdorJ´ and ³The Inhumanist.´ Each piece expresses various key tenets of  

through artfully crafted dialogueJ characterizationJ and symbolism. The firstJ ³TamarJ´ tells the

tragic tale of the titular characterJ whose passionate affair with her brotherJ LeeJ both literally and

figuratively consumes their householdJ serving as a warning against human solipsism. In the

opening scene of this epyllionJ Jeffers conveys the indifference of the cosmos to human affairsJ

statingJ ³The night you know accepted with no show of emotion the little accident´ (JeffersJ

³Tamar´ 26). Jeffers establishes the events of the narrative as insular and isolated from the

natural worldJ purely human in nature and therefore self-absorbed and of little importance to

anything not-man. This notion of human solipsismJ to which  

 is both the antithesis

and the remedyJ takes form in Tamar and Lee¶s affairJ in the passion and vanity of two fallible

humans. As Tamar exclaims while bathing with her brotherJ ³What are we for«to want

and/want and not dare know it´ (JeffersJ ³Tamar´ 32). Desire and sin enslave humanityJ forcing

our thoughts and actions to turn inward on trivial wants while neglecting the greater importance

of the external world. What is worseJ we cannot realize our follyJ condemned to live our days

with eyes turned inwardJ blind to the naturalJ divine world.

MoreoverJ ³Tamar´ suggests that humans are doomed to repeat their transgressions for

generationsJ as Tamar¶s fatherJ David CauldwellJ carried on a similar relationship with his now-

deceased sisterJ HelenJ ³a ghost of law-contemptuous youth´ (JeffersJ ³Tamar´ 37). Just as the

Cauldwell family is literally haunted by its past²the spirit of Helen possesses Tamar¶s Aunt

Stella¶s body throughout the poem²soJ tooJ is humanity eternally plagued by an incest of a

different sortJ a toxic relationship of the self with the self. ThusJ ³life is always an old storyJ

repeating itself always like«the lips of an idiotJ´ and solipsism is a trap ³laid to catch you when

the world began´ (JeffersJ ³Tamar´ 60J 38). FurthermoreJ our inherent incest feeds on itself like

a fireJ expanding to encompass and consume all around us:

«as a fire by water

Under the fog-bank of the night lines all the sea and sky with fireJ so her


Reflecting itself abroad turned back against herJ all the world growing hateful.

(JeffersJ ³Tamar´ 49).

The negative energy exuded by our self-consciousness shrouds the worldJ making it more human

and less natural. By the end of the poemJ Tamar becomes the fireJ enflaming her loved ones with

similar crazedJ obsessive passionJ just as our ³incest´ infects others. Her house represents EarthJ

completely humanized and sheltered from the surrounding woods and riverJ and she pleas with

God to raze it with lighting and flame. When her prayers go unansweredJ Tamar takes it upon

herself to scorch the inhabitants of the house with ³something/Worse than arson´ (JeffersJ

³Tamar´ 93). She literally drives her father and brother insane and causes her mentally-disabled

aunt Jinny to actually embrace and feed the flame of a candleJ setting the house and its residents

ablaze. Unless mankind changes its waysJ the only end in sight is ³Eternal deathJ eternal wrathJ

eternal tortureJ eternityJ eternityJ eternity´ (JeffersJ ³Tamar´ 81).

The second poemJ ³CawdorJ´ is a story of struggle between man and natureJ each

represented by specific characters. The titular characterJ stone-faced patriarch CawdorJ and his

newlywed wife Fera are symbols of the natural world. More importantlyJ they stand for the

union of man and nature as figures born from Jeffers¶ understanding of Deism. CawdorJ ³violent

towards human natureJ´ fled civilization and built a home deep in the wooded mountainsJ where

³he knew/His hills as if he had nerves under the grass´ (JeffersJ ³Cawdor´ 71). He is one with

the natural worldJ more beast and stone than human. FeraJ tooJ is akin to natureJ with eyes ³like

sea wind from the gray sea´ and ³flushed with the west in her faceJ/the purple hills at her knees

and the full moon at her thigh´ (JeffersJ ³Cawdor´ 63J 67). She reflects and absorbs the

landscape into her beingJ and this synthesis affords her greater understanding of the human

conditionJ as seen in her reflections on human failure and mortality throughout the poem.

MoreoverJ Fera becomes various animals throughout the poemJ first dawning the skin of a puma

to trick Hood into shooting herJ which then transforms her into Hood¶s sisters¶ ³eagle in the fresh

of its wound waving the broken flag: another one of Hood¶s rifle-shots´ (JeffersJ ³Cawdor´ 105).

As the eagleJ she serves as the judge of her human companionsJ ever watching and noting their

transgressions. Fera is the only character who truly realizes the inferiority of humankind in the

worldJ stating when marked by the blood of the puma skinJ ³Who am I«Not to be stained?´

(JeffersJ ³Cawdor´ 63).

On the other handJ Cawdor¶s sonJ HoodJ and Fera¶s dying father serve as archetypes of

mankind. Hood reveals he is a hunterJ not a farmer like his father. The hunter is the predator of

the natural worldJ and therefore its enemyJ whereas the farmer cultivates and nourishes the flora

and faunaJ adding to nature. Unlike his fatherJ Hood is all humanJ cunning and harmfulJ nearly

killing the love of his life out of bloodlust. Fera¶s blind father represents ignorant mankind

bemoaning its frailty and shortcomingsJ ³deeply absorbed in his own misery/His blindness

concentrating his mood´ and chattering on about ³Remembered thingsJ little dead pleasures´

(JeffersJ ³Cawdor´ 70). While Hood represents humanity at its most viciousJ actively tearing

apart Mother Earth for its own gainJ the old man is passive human natureJ too busy wallowing in

self-absorption and clinging to the past to participate in and save the natural order.

These diametrically opposing forces collide in a twistedJ Oedipal-themed reflection on

mortality and human failure. Jeffers plays with Freud¶s Oedipus Complex. Jeffers¶ Oedipus is

not the son but the father whoJ in a fit of jealousyJ backs Hood off a cliff to his death to protect

his own marriage. In the endJ Cawdor even ³cut out the eyes that couldn¶t tell [his]

innocent/Boy¶s head from a calf¶s to butcher´ (JeffersJ ³Cawdor´ 135). CawdorJ once a force of

natureJ reduces himself to a mere man by giving into his weakness and passionsJ reverting

inwards rather than remaining one with the peaceful world around him. The main themes at play

are failure and death; as Fera exclaimsJ ³it¶s known beforehandJ whatever I attempt bravely

would fail./That¶s in the blood (JeffersJ ³Cawdor´ 68). No matter the good intentionJ human

action can only end in failure and tragedy because mankind¶s inherent solipsistic tendencies

prevent it from achieving perfection. FurthermoreJ Jeffers reminds his readers of the fleetingness

and insignificance of human life. He conveys this most poignantly through Hood¶s death:

There was no cry.

The curving hands scrabbled on the round of the rock

And slipped silently downJ into so dreadful a depth

That no sound of the fall: nothing returned:

Mere silenceJ mere vanishing. (JeffersJ ³Cawdor´ 110)

We will all die relatively quietly. The universe will not resound with our final shoutsJ the stars

will not note our passing. We shall simply fall and vanishJ unheeded by the eternal splendor of

the natural world.


The final poemJ ³The InhumanistJ´ defines Jeffers¶  

while focusing on the

spiritual and moral implications of this philosophy. The old manJ the central character of the

poem and the prophet of  

J defines  
as the recognition of ³the beauty of

things«the human mind¶s translation of their transhuman/Intrinsic value´ (JeffersJ ³The

Inhumanist´ 596). m 
urges man to reflect on the wholeness and splendor of nature as

something beyond and above human beautyJ something intrinsically pure. More importantlyJ

³the beauty of things is not harnessed to human/Eyes«it is absolute. It is not for human

titillation«It is the life of thingsJ/And the nature of God´ (JeffersJ ³The Inhumanist´ 647).

Humans do not determine the ideal beauty of the natural worldJ nor does nature¶s magnificence

exist to serve mankind any purposeJ but rather to provide life and to serve as a testament to the

divinity of God. Man has no control over natureJ or over GodJ but rather they reign over him.

This subjection of man to not-man implies certain spiritual and moral codes that must be

followed in adherence to  
. ForemostJ the inhumanist in the poem obliges man to

accept ³not a tribal nor an anthropoid God./Not a ridiculous projection of human fearsJ needsJ

dreamsJ justice and love-lustJ´ but rather a God of ³one energyJ/One existenceJ one musicJ one

organismJ one life´ (JeffersJ ³The Inhumanist´ 593J 592). God is not a human constructJ but the

life force within and surrounding all things. As for those ³to whom the word is God: their God is

a word´ (JeffersJ ³The Inhumanist´ 641). It is not enough to simply preach or believe in

scripture; idly reading does not bring one into communion with God. The inhumanist calls

humans to better themselves and the world through an active faith. At the same timeJ ³The

Inhumanist´ advocates an adoption of scientific faith. In this poemJ Jeffers refers to science as

³an adoration; a kind of worshipJ´ something ³not [meant] to serve but to know´ (JeffersJ ³The

Inhumanist´ 628J 627). Like nature and GodJ science is meant to instructJ not serveJ mankind.

Humans should not use their knowledge of science to gain power or prestigeJ but to discover

their own unimportance in relation to the grandeur of nature.

FinallyJ ³The Inhumanist´ reprehends men for their self-importance and militarism and

urges them to abandon these for a more wholesomeJ natural lifestyle. The old man calls America

³the brutal meddler and senseless destroyer´ and demands we beg God ³forgive the deliberate

tortures of millions«the endless treacheries«Of the rulers of Russia´ (JeffersJ ³The

Inhumanist´ 594-95). To the old man²and to Jeffers²there are no good and evilJ just human.

America was just as culpable in the World Wars as Russia or Germany because all three

succumbed to passionJ arroganceJ and narcissism. Man is nothing more than ³civil war on two

legs´ (JeffersJ ³The Inhumanist´ 618). Jeffers calls us to end warfare and adopt the moral code

; he wants ³a little nobility in man/To match the world¶s´ (JeffersJ ³The

Inhumanist´ 619). Nature serves as the model for such nobility; abandon all manmade things²

barbed wireJ gunsJ concentration camps²and accept the ethics and harmony of nature.

For all of their depth and beautyJ Jeffers¶ poetry and philosophy suffered greatly at the

hands of criticsJ who detested the poet¶s harsh judgment of humankindJ among other things.

Many critics branded him a radicalJ offended by his advocating a new order so fundamentally

juxtaposed to the normative philosophy of humanism. Such opponents of Jeffers¶ work called

him ³the poet of denialJ the destroyer of morality and human values´ (CarpenterJ 

Because Jeffers promoted stripping away humanityJ people feared that his  

threatened human values as well. Some critics also argued that Jeffers presented himself as a

martyr of the human raceJ scorned and despised by the very people he strove to protect and

enlighten. Czeslaw MiloszJ Jeffers¶ contemporary and one of his most vocal criticsJ wrote:

[Jeffers] needed to see himself as being elevated above everything aliveJ

contemplating vain passions and vain hopes«ThusJ Jeffers¶ universeJ in which

man is neglected by infinitely extended Newtonian space and by time deprived of

any human meaning«is the universe of nineteenth-century martyrs. (Milosz 229J


Milosz faulted Jeffers¶ need to present himself as humanity¶s savior. He accused the poet of

evolving into the very being he admonished in his poetryJ a self-righteous and condescending

martyr whose faith rested on vanity and unrealistic goals for his disciples.

Other critics attacked Jeffers more directly for his intrusions into religion and morality.

Peter O¶Leary noted that ³the difficulty in Jeffers¶ poetry lies not so much in its content«RatherJ

its difficulty comes from the fact that Jeffers«is a religious poet´ (O¶Leary 358). In a highly

secularizedJ materialistic worldJ readers find Jeffers unapproachable because he lays out a highly

philosophicalJ religious doctrine in his works. Such writing compels the reader to dwell on

moralsJ or lack thereofJ both his or her own and of humanity at large. This experience shakes the

readerJ forces him or her to exploreJ acknowledgeJ and confront his or her flaws and vicesJ which

no one enjoys doing. On the other handJ religious conservatives or apologists ³condemned

Jeffers¶ portrayal of Jesus and his anti-Christian stance«Jeffers¶ acceptance of violence as an

essential aspect of lifeJ and«[his] use of sexual acts´ (Palmer 183). Religious devotees who

read Jeffers¶ works reacted negatively toward his contemptuous attitude toward the Savior type

as blasphemous denial of the core of their faith. FurthermoreJ his explicit use of themes like

incest and murder caused them to label him as amoral instead of appreciating such tropes as

metaphorical expressions of humanity¶s obsession with the self.


FinallyJ many critics attacked Jeffers¶ political isolationism and condemnation of all

world leaders equally during World War II. In his collectionJ å 
   J published on

December 6J 1941J just one day before the attack on Pearl HarborJ Jeffers ³announced the setting

sun of all Western civilization´ and ³coupled Roosevelt with Hitler as equal instigators of the

new world war´ (CarpenterJ ! 

" 86). Patriotic AmericansJ believing strongly in their

cause as the ³right´ or ³good´ against the ³evil´ of Nazi GermanyJ turned against Jeffers for his

failure to support good over evilJ while Jeffers admonished anyone condoning violence. He saw

what othersJ blinded by patriotism and nationalismJ could notJ that humanity¶s persistence in

waging wars is senseless and threatens our very existence. Many readers simply dismissed the

poet as an unpatriotic dissenterJ his poetry as an anti-American manifesto.

At the same timeJ many critics defended JeffersJ offering more positive interpretations of

his style and themes. Krista Walters supported what harsher critics called Jeffers¶ nihilistic

tendenciesJ quoted by O¶Leary as sayingJ ³Jeffers was no misanthrope«RatherJ he rejects our

self-centerednessJ our need to find affirmation for being in the material worldJ and our tendency

to transmit such a need into false beliefs in the supernatural´ (O¶LearyJ 355). Walters reads

certain optimism in Jeffers¶ poetry. She realizes that he does not deny all of our humanityJ just

the selfish part of our nature that clouds our senses and keeps us from realizing our true place in

nature. FurthermoreJ Walters notes the positive call away from superstitiousJ backwards-minded

tendencies and Jeffers¶ push toward progress. Another criticJ Benjamin LehmanJ believed it was

not so much that Jeffers¶ writing was offensive; rather it was baffling in its novelty. Lehman

found that in Jeffers¶ writing ³we confront simply the problem of a new approach to the universe

and the individual´ (CarpenterJ 

 354). In a world where human values are esteemedJ

where humans consider themselves rulers over an untamed dominion of beasts and vegetationJ

Jeffers¶ views are naturally rejected as hereticalJ even dangerous to the norm. Once one digs

deeper past the initial shock of the writingJ he or she will find invaluable arguments for universal

balance and harmony.

In an age rife with warfareJ industrializationJ solipsistic philosophyJ and materialismJ poet

Robinson Jeffers reached out to humanity to draw us beyond our selves to honor the world

around us. His personal doctrine of  

J which flows through and guides his poetryJ

gave voice to his causeJ calling humanity to reject its selfishJ introverted tendencies to again

become one with the natural world and God. Influenced by his childhood and educationJ his life

in California surrounded by sea and mountainsJ and his isolationist observance of the World

WarsJ Jeffers shaped a philosophicalJ spiritualJ and scientific doctrine that emphasized

humanity¶s gracesJ disowned its faults and follyJ and glorified nature through the art of poetry.

Works Cited

CarpenterJ Frederic I. ³Robinson Jeffers Today: Beyond Good and Beneath Evil.´ 

 49.1 (1977): 86. 
 . Web. 19 Jan. 2011.

- - -. ³The Values of Robinson Jeffers.´ 

 11.3 (1939): 353. 

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GelpiJ AlbertJ ed. ? # ! $ # %   $  &$$. Stanford:

Stanford UPJ 2003. Print.

HoaglandJ Edward. ³The Broken Balance: The Poet Robinson Jeffers Warned Us Nearly a

Century Ago of the Ravages to Nature We Now Face.´ 

 77.2 (2008):

 . Web. 19 Jan. 2011.

HuntJ Tim. Introduction.  $  &$$. Ed. Tim Hunt. Stanford: Stanford

UPJ 2001. 1-11. 

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- - -J ed.  $  &$$. Stanford: Stanford UPJ 2001. 

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JeffersJ Robinson. ³Cawdor.´ 1928. ? # ! $ # %   $  

&$$. Ed. Albert Gelpi. Stanford: Stanford UPJ 2003. 53-147. Print.

- - -. ³De Rerum Virtute.´ ?   $  &$$. Ed. Tim Hunt. Stanford:

Stanford UPJ 2001. 677-79. Print.

- - -. ³The Inhumanist.´ 1948.  $  &$$. Ed. Tim Hunt. Stanford:

Stanford UPJ 2001. 592-648. Print.


- - -. ?   $  &$$. Ed. Ann R. Ridgeway. Baltimore: Johns HopkinsJ

1968. Print.

- - -. ³Tamar.´ 1925.  $  &$$. Ed. Tim Hunt. Stanford: Stanford UPJ

2001. 26-97. Print.

JohnsonJ William Savage. ³The µSavior¶ in the Poetry of Robinson Jeffers.´ 

15.2 (1943): 159. 

 . Web. 19 Jan. 2011.

KarmanJ James. Introduction.  $  . Stanford: Stanford UPJ 2001. 1-21. 
. Web.

6 Jan. 2011.

- - -J ed.  $  . Stanford: Stanford UPJ 2001. 

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MiloszJ Czeslaw. ?å # m%  "

. New York City: FarrarJ Straus and

GirouxJ 2002. Print.

O¶LearyJ Peter. ³Robinson Jeffers: The Man from Whom God Hid Everything.´ ' 

49.3/(2004): 350-65. 
 . Web. 19 Jan. 2011.

PalmerJ Joy A.J ed. )$*?  +  "   . New York: RoutledgeJ 2000. 

Web. 6 Jan. 2011.

WaggonerJ Hyatt Howe. ³Science and the Poetry of Robinson Jeffers.´ 


(1938): 275. 
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