October 26, 2022
Robinson Jeffers (USA) 1887-1962
Robinson Jeffers (USA)
Robinson Jeffers was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was a Presbyterian minister and professor of the Old Testatment, who traveled widely in Europe with his family. Accordingly, much of Jeffers education took place in European boardings schools in Leipzig, Vevey, Lausanne, Geneva, and Zurich. In 1902 Jeffers entered the University of West Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh); the young man had already mastered French, German, Greek, and Latin.
Upon his family’s move to Los Angeles, Jeffers shifted to Occidental College, from which he graduated in 1905. He entered graduate school at the University of Southern California as a student of literature. The following year he returned to Switzerland where, at the University of Zurich, he took courses in philosophy and literature.
Returning the following year to USC, he was admitted to the medical school, but shifted in 1910 to the University of Washington to study forestry.
In 1906 he had met Una Call Kuster, who at the time, three years his senior, was married to a prominent Los Angeles attorney. By 1913 Kuster had obtained a divorce, and the two were married in August of that year. The previous year Jeffers had published his first book of poetry, Flagons and Apples, collection of love poems. But now, as the couple settled in Carmel on the Monterey coast of California, and as he began construction of a stone house and observation tower, he became enchanted with the California people and landscape. In 1916 he published Californians, and in 1924 a collection centered on the biblical story of King David’s daughter, Tamar and Other Poems. The book received acclaim from many, including T. S. Eliot and others, and helped to establish Jeffers reputation.
His books of the mid and later 1920s—The Women at Point Sur (1925), Cawdor (1928), and Poems (1928)—centered on the flora and fauna of California and emphasized his themes of man’s destruction of nature and self.
With his knowledge of Greek and Latin, Jeffers was naturally attracted to the great tragedys, and beginning in the late 1930s through the 1950s, he adapted numerous Greek tragedies, including Medea, staged in 1946 and 1965, The Tower Beyond Tragedy, based on Aeshylus’s Oresteia, and The Cretan Woman (1951), based on Hippolytus of Euripides. During this period his beloved Una died of cancer.
In 1954, Jeffers published a moving eulogy to her, Hungerfield and Other Poems. Jeffers died in 1964.
BOOKS OF POETRY
Flagons and Apples (Los Angeles: Grafton, 1912); Californians (New York: Macmillan, 1916); Tamar and Other Poems (New York: P. G. Boyle, 1924); Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925 / London: Leonard and Virigina Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1928); The Women at Point Sur (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1927); Cawdor and Other Poems (New York: H. Liveright, 1928); Poems (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1928); Dear Judas and Other Poems (New York: H. Liveright, 1929); Descent to the Dead: Poems Written In Ireland and Great Britain (New York: Random House, 1931); Thurso’s Landing and Other Poems (New York: Liveright, 1932); Give Your Heart to the Hawks (New York: Random House, 1933); Solstice and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1935); Such Counsels You Gave to Me and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1937); The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers (New York: Random House, 1938); Be Angry at the Sun (New York: Random House, 1941); The Double Axe and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1948); Hungerfield and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1954); The Beginning and the End and Other Poems (New York: Random House, 1963); The Alpine Christ and Other Poems (Aromas, California: Cayucos Books, 1973); Brides of the South Wind: Poems 1917-1922 (Monterey, California: Cayucos Books, 1974); Granite & Cypress: Robbings from the Rock (Santa Cruz: University of California, 1975); The Double Axe and Other Poems, Including Eleven Suppressed Poems (New York: Liveright, 1977); Selected Poems, ed. by Colin Falck (Manchester, England: Carcanet, 1987); The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, ed. by Tim Hunt (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1988-2001); The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, ed. by Tim Hunt (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001); Stones of the Sur, ed. by James Karman (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001)
For another bio and a selection of his poems, go here: