by Liam Heneghan
I have been rereading poems by Pittsburgh born Robinson Jeffers (1887 – 1962) with my seminar class recently. Jeffers has had a perennial appeal for environmentally-inclined readers, with his wilderness inflected meditations on his adopted home on the California coast. The poems that I know (I am a Jeffers amateur) are sturdy rather than pretty, and charged with solid thought rather than airy abstractions. Though there has been some discussion among the critics about his influences (was Schopenhauer as important to him as Nietzsche?) what strikes me are the thematic resonances with on the one hand American environmental writers both before and after him and, on the other, with themes from the Upanishads (which I am reading with another class).
The influence of the Upanishads, philosophical texts in the Hindu tradition, on Emerson and Thoreau is pretty well known. The Upanishads were also famously a source for Schopenhauer (and Schopenhauer, of course, exerted a substantial influence on Nietzsche). Finally, these texts also influenced W B Yeats, whom Jeffers admired (see this post
). The Upanishads rest at the intersection therefore of many of Jeffers’ more important inspirations. From this influence Jeffers can create striking things. In The Answer
(1935), for example, he writes:
“A severed hand/ is an ugly thing, and a man dissevered from the earth and the stars and his history…for contemplation or in fact… /Often appears atrociously ugly. Integrity is wholeness, the greatest beauty is/ Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe.
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