robinson jeffers • poet, stone mason & earth scientist
Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) was an American poet who built a stone house and tower along the Pacific coast at Carmel Point during the first half of the 20th century. Between 1924 and 1963 he published 16 major books of poetry including Roan Stallion, Tamar, and other Poems, Cawdor and Other Poems, Give Your Heart To The Hawks, Thursos Landing, The Double Axe, and Hungerfield and Other Poems. When Roan Stallion and Tamar were first published critics placed Jeffers verse not with the likes of his modernist contemporaries such as T.S. Eliot, but with Homer and Shakespeare. Raised by a minister in Europe and America, he was fluent in Greek, Latin, German and French, and adapted Euripides Medea for Judith Anderson who played the title role to critical acclaim on Broadway in the late 1940's.

Jeffers is well-known for his long near-free verse tragic narratives such as Cawdor as well as numerous short political poems including The Purse Seine and Shine Perishing Republic. Throughout his work he developed and reiterated his philosophy of inhumanism - the notion that humans have become detached from the natural cycles of nature through the urbanization and mechanization of western culture, that such detachment may be inherent in our species and naturally leads to cultural decay, and that the only way to seek redemption is to look beyond the violence and decay of human culture toward nature.

For an excellent introductory essay on Jeffers, go here.

Hawk Tower, c. 1925. From the HRHRC

Jeffers was a trained in science at Occidental College (BS 1906 at the precocious age of 18) and the University of Southern California (medical school). He studied geology at Occidental and for the remaining 56 years of his life, he was devoted to rocks and stone masonry.

In 1914 Jeffers and his new wife, Una, moved from southern California to Carmel and in 1919 he began building a small stone house named Tor House overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Carmel Point. From 1920-1925 he built Hawk Tower for Una, a 40-foot stone tower on the continents end. From 1925 until his death in 1962, the latter years with his son, Donnan, he continued building numerous structures on the grounds around Tor House.

Growing up in Pacifc Grove, a few miles from Tor House and Carmel point, through my mother I became interwined with Jeffers poetry and home. As I became a geologist I recognized the intense connection and passion that Jeffers found in rocks and mountains and I began to explore his verse from a scientific and literary point of view. This page highlights some of the work I am currently undertaking. While the goals are not clearly developed, the path has provided a fascinating and deep view of the interactions between science, literature and the environment.

Projects:

The "Great Sheet": A Rosetta for deciphering Jeffers's poetic maturation and stone masonry

This project is an archival study of a large autograph manuscript that contains the beginning of Jeffers's major narrative, Tamar, as well as the sketched plans for Hawk Tower. Published in Jeffers Studies, 2009, pdf.

Image of the 'Great Sheet' fold out that accompanies the text (~4 MB .jpeg file)
Annotated color 'map' of the 'Great Sheet'. This file complements the figures in the paper noted above and is in color.
(~5 MB .jpeg file)

Robinson Jeffers' Tor House & Hawk Tower: A Chronology of Design & Construction

With support from the Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation, I have been evaluating archive manuscripts and photographs as well as 'mapping' the stone masonry & geology of Tor House, Hawk Tower, and the other structures on the ground. One of the many goals of this research is to develop a chronology of design & construction as a context for Jeffers verse writing during the pivotal 1920-1925 period, when he discovered his authentic voice.

Some of this work was presented at the Robinson Jeffers Association Annual Meeting in Flagstaff, AZ in April, 2003 and at the Tor House Fall Festival, Carmel, CA, October, 2003.

Connections with LeConte: Robinson Jeffers as poet and Earth scientist

This project stems from the fact that Jeffers took a geology class at Occidental College
in 1905 and that the book used was Le Conte's Elements of Geology. The text explores
the ways to view the Earth as an organism, rather than merely an inanimate physical
object. The notion that the rocks, organisms, the ocean basins, continents, planets
and stars were integral parts of a dynamic universe was a fundamental
attribute in
all of Jeffers poetry.

Some of this work was presented at the Robinson Jeffers Association Annual Meeting in
Carmel, CA, February, 2004.

 

Rock Consciousness & Robinson Jeffers at Point Lobos State Reserve - A Field Trip

This was a field trip that I led for the 10th Annual RJA meeting in Carmel, 2004.
Click here for more information and a cool field guide.

Additional Information on Robinson Jeffers:

The Robinson Jeffers Association (RJA) & Jeffers Studies (Scholarly Journal)

The Robinson Jeffers Tor House Foundation Web Site
(provides information on tours of Tor House and Hawk Tower)

 

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