[Please note: this Chronology is not covered by the Creative Commons license for this site. It is copyrighted by Stanford University Press, and that copyright governs its use. I would like to thank the Press for permission to post this discussion here. Citations to this material should be to Volume Five of The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers.]
[Please note: the transcribed notes and workings from Jeffers’ manuscripts in this discussion still need additional formatting. The final formatting can, in the meantime, be accessed in Volume Five of The Collected Poetry. A list of abbreviations needs, as well, to be added.]
The Los Angeles Years, 1903-1914
Robinson Jeffers was a fourteen-year-old student at a Swiss boarding school, when his father, a retired Presbyterian minister and theology professor, gave him a volume of the work of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This gift, an odd choice for a minister, sparked Jeffers’ interest in poetry:
no lines of print will ever intoxicate as Rossetti’s rather florid verses did….W]hen it [Rossetti’s book] fell to pieces I was sixteen and found Swinburne. Later came [Yeats’s] The Wind Among the Reeds, and Shelley, and Tennyson’s Alcaics and Boadicea….[W]hen I grew older came Milton and Marlowe and many another; normal and reasonable raptures; but never again the passionate springtime that Rossetti (of all authors!) made me live. (“Remembered Verses,” in “Introductions, Forewords, and Miscellaneous Prose,” Volume Four, 483)
By sixteen Jeffers was doing more than reading. The typescript of the unpublished “Ariel” (OC) is dated 1903, and in December 1903 he published two poems in the literary magazine at Occidental College, where he was then a junior.
Jeffers published twenty-five poems from 1903 to 1907 and one in 1911. Most appeared in the college magazines at Occidental and the University of Southern California, while he was a graduate student in literature; others in the regional journal Out West, and one in The Youth’s Companion. These poems at times anticipate the mood of the later work, but mostly they are the mishmash of styles one would expect of a precocious, yet literarily naive adolescent working through the major nineteenth-century poets. Jeffers never collected these poems, but Sidney S. Alberts included fourteen of them in A Bibliography of the Works of Robinson Jeffers (1933) and three more in the 1935 pamphlet Four Poems and a Fragment (see the introduction to “Early Poems” in Textual Commentaries).
From 1908 to 1911 Jeffers mixed medical school and graduate work in forestry with stints of bohemianism. The unpublished “Aesthetics” (1910; see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four) is from this period, as are, it seems, a few other unpublished poems typed on the same typewriter. These pieces suggest that Jeffers was writing sporadically in this period and with little direction. In 1912, however, he wrote most if not all of Flagons and Apples, which he published December of that year at his own expense. His affair with Una Call Kuster, a fellow student at USC and the wife of Teddie Kuster, a Los Angeles lawyer, was one factor in this sudden productivity. When Kuster discovered the situation in late December 1911, Una agreed to spend a year in Europe to give the three a chance to sort things out. Although Flagons and Apples does not treat this situation directly, the focus of the poems suggests they were written in the months before Una left for Europe (April 1912) and while she was away. During 1912 Jeffers also wrote some pieces for a second collection, Songs and Heroes. Most were probably written after Una decided to return from Europe early, to divorce her husband, and marry Jeffers. (They were married August 2, 1913.) On December 15, 1912, Jeffers wrote her that he had enough new poems “to compile” what would be “your book” (SL 10). “Where Shall I Take You To”—included in Californians (1916)—seems one of these poems, since its focus is appropriate for “your book,” and both typescripts (one plausibly predating Californians) are dated “1912.” Several other “Descriptive Songs” and a few unpublished pieces may also have been from this abandoned project.
Flagons and Apples went largely unnoticed; Jeffers wrote the only review, under the name of a friend who worked for the Los Angeles Times, which may be why he abandoned Songs and Heroes. The poems that most plausibly date from 1913 and early 1914 indicate he was mostly writing occasional love lyrics as he and Una waited out the divorce decree in Seattle and spent the first months of their marriage back in Southern California. (Rob Kafka included ten poems from this period in Where Shall I Take You To [Covelo, Calif: Yolla Bolly Press, 1987], a collection of the Jefferses’ love letters, republished in Jeffers Studies 1.3 : 77-82). In an August 12, 1913, letter to a friend, Una Jeffers reports that “it’s prose we’re working on very hard—short stories and long” since “poetry doesn’t feed hungry mouths—leastwise not contemporaneously” (RJN 64, 9), and she adds that Jeffers had written his one published short story, “Mirrors” (Bib 129-31), “about six months ago.” Another letter refers to a novel to be called Man Maker (SL 9), but the death of the Jefferses’ newborn daughter in May 1914 seems to have renewed his commitment to poetry (see the discussion of “The Palace” in the Introduction to this volume), and the move to Carmel in September 1914 initiated a period of rapid development.
The Californians Period, 1914-1916
By late 1915 or early 1916 Jeffers had finished the lengthy Californians, which Macmillan published October 11, 1916. Californians combines three phases of work: lyrics written after Flagons and Apples through the first months in Carmel (the bulk of the “Descriptive Songs” group); eleven narratives probably written in 1915; and a final cluster (“Invocation,” “Dream of the Future,” “A Westward Beach,” “The Year of Mourning,” and “Ode on Human Destinies”) from late 1915 through perhaps early 1916. “Where Shall I Take You To” (1912; noted above) seems the earliest of the “Descriptive Songs.” The style and content of “When I Behold the Greatest,” “The Wanderer to His Wine-Cup,” and “For a Bridegroom” suggest they also predate the move to Carmel. The other “Descriptive Songs” seem to document the Jefferses’ first fall in Carmel as they explored the country nearby.
Jeffers’ encounter with Big Sur’s dramatic coast and isolated mountain ranches is the key to dating the Californians narratives. He describes this December 1914 trip in the Foreword to Jeffers Country (1938; see “Introductions, Forewords, and Miscellaneous Prose” in Volume Four); it provided him the settings, situations, and images for at least Ruth Alison, Dorothy Atwell, The Old Farmer, At Lindsay’s Cabin, and The Mill Creek Farm, and it seems to have given these five narratives their Wordsworthian cast (see the Introduction to this volume). These narratives, then, are no earlier than December 1914 and probably somewhat later, since Jeffers’ father died December 20, 1914, and any writing inspired by the Big Sur trip would have followed the trip to Los Angeles for the funeral.
Several Californians narratives have Southern California settings. These could predate the Carmel move, but at least The Belled Doe and Maldrove can be dated to 1915 or later. The first is a Big Sur poem in disguise: “the belled doe was brought up…by a solitary who lives in Palo Colorado Canyon, some twenty miles south of here [Carmel]….I transplanted the incident to the south, I hardly know why—perhaps in order to speak of places that I love but had no story about them, having always been alone when I wandered there, and talking to no one” (SL 21-22). And Maldrove is set five months after the Dardenelles campaign in the spring of 1915.
The four remaining narratives are harder to date. The Three Avilas could be as early as fall 1914: it is set near Carmel, instead of Big Sur, and the speaker (seemingly the poet) uses the story’s lovers to invoke his own love in terms that might match the Jefferses’ mood their first fall in Carmel. However, the poem’s moral complexity and the way restrictive social conventions collide with nature’s force and beauty suggest it is later than the simpler pastoral narratives (such as Ruth Alison), which were apparently written in the earlier part of 1915.
The Vardens, set in Southern California, could also predate the move to Carmel, but its Byronic manner resembles The Three Avilas more than it does the poems from before the move, and two spring 1915 lyrics point to both The Three Avilas and The Vardens as mid-1915. The typescript of “To U.J.” includes the notation “Spring 1915 / Pasadena,” and the poem casts Una as both “sister” and “bride.” The Three Avilas features this same equation, as if it and the lyric are contemporary. “May 5, 1915,” apparently from the same trip south as “To U.J.,” marks the anniversary of the death of the Jefferses’ daughter—perhaps the reason for the trip. In The Vardens, a son rejects his father after a quarrel, then fails to return for his father’s death. At the end the dead father’s voice calls out to the “wandering” son who awakes “in grief and awe.” While the timing links the Pasadena trip to the daughter’s death, the visit might also have renewed Jeffers’ grief at his father’s death (“The Year of Mourning,” one of the last Californians poems, shows him still absorbed with his father’s death months after this trip), which suggests the grief and betrayal that ends The Vardens is later than the death of Jeffers’ father, not earlier.
The narratives Stephen Brown and Emilia are also set in Southern California. The first explores the relationship between a humble figure and nature in the same manner as the narratives derived from the December 1914 visit to Big Sur and seems from that phase of work (i.e., the first three or four months of 1915). Emilia‘s mood is similar enough to “To U.J.” to suggest that it and The Three Avilas are roughly contemporary, though its lush, faintly Keatsian imagery means it could predate the first Big Sur trip.
It seems, then, that the narratives in Californians were all written after December 1914, with those that most recall Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads and treat nature most simply (such as Ruth Alison) preceding those where the relationship between the human realm and nature is more ambiguous and problematic and where the later romanticism of Shelley and Byron and the work of the late Victorians may have been complicating Jeffers’ initial sense of narrative (such as The Three Avilas and The Vardens). Two factors suggest that this scenario is more probable than its opposite (that is, that Jeffers wrote pieces like The Three Avilas in the fall of 1914, then shifted to a simpler, more affirmative sense of nature after the Big Sur trip). First, developing writers typically move from the simpler to the more complex. And here the more complex pieces also more fully anticipate Jeffers’ later work (The Three Avilas prefigures aspects of Tamar, The Vardens of Cawdor). Second, Jeffers wrote at least two other narratives in this period, the lengthy Clare Avon (a typescript is in the Occidental College collection) and The Valley (for the latter, see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four). In both, nature involves conflict, and the handling of violence resembles The Three Avilas more than it does Stephen Brown. The Clare Avon typescript is dated 1915; The Valley typescript has “1915” added in pencil as a subtitle (as if to date the action), with “January, 1916” written after the final line (as if to show when it was finished). The Valley is a sequel to Ruth Alison, narrated by the fiancé who abandoned Ruth and now laments his betrayal. Melba Barry Bennett reports that Jeffers compiled Californians in late 1915 and submitted it to Macmillan early in 1916 (SM 75, 78). The Valley might, thus, have been too late for Californians, or Jeffers may have felt that, with so much material in hand, he should not risk blurring the book’s mood with these more extreme pieces. Whichever, these two narratives are apparently later than the simpler, more affirmative Californians narratives.
Jeffers’ deepening mood as he sought to affirm nature as benign and redemptive in spite of a growing sense of violence, loss, and the irrational is apparent in the third phase of Californians. “Ode on Human Destinies,” in particular, shows him attempting a broader range of cultural, historical, and political issues and trying to present his responses more directly than he could then manage in narrative. It also shows him claiming a unity of vision and theme for the collection that it did not actually have. Even The Valley, though a narrative, reflects this. In it, he is more concerned with using the narrator’s monologue to comment on the world beyond the story than in telling the story, and the commentary is so plausibly Jeffers’ own that William Everson—when trying to identify an untitled two-page fragment from The Valley—took it as Jeffers in his own voice responding to the Armistice period.
The poems from this third phase of Californians can not be dated securely, but various details place them no earlier than late 1915. The descriptions in “Westward Beach” show it is a fall poem, and the references to the death of Jeffers’ father place it fall 1915, not fall 1914. “Song of Quietness” is probably September 1915 (it invokes Carmel as “Thy yearlong home”). In “The Year of Mourning,” a long, formal elegy for his father, Jeffers opens part XII with “A year is past” since the death and states that “it is winter now,” which places this section at least as December 1915, though other sections could have been written earlier in the year. If Jeffers did submit Californians to Macmillan early 1916, the details of part XII also suggest that “The Year of Mourning” was one of the last poems completed for the collection.
Unlike Flagons and Apples, Californians was reviewed. Some comments were favorable enough to suggest that Jeffers could have become a successful, if minor, regionalist had he continued featuring California landscapes in narratives patterned on Ruth Alison and Stephen Brown (CRJ 43-44). But he soon moved away from both narrative and regionalism. In The Alpine Christ, a poetic drama, he sought to engage his religious doubts and his sense of dislocation following his father’s death by confronting the unfolding war in Europe. Its likely rhetorical, formal, and stylistic antecedents—Hardy’s The Dynasts, Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound, and Milton’s Paradise Lost—indicate its scope, and Jeffers projected it as the first piece of an even more ambitious project to be called Witnesses (Bib 229). Although he completed The Alpine Christ, he apparently never tried to publish it. About two thirds of its 227 pages survive in typescript (see William Everson’s The Alpine Christ and Other Poems), with parts of The Tower Beyond Tragedy, Roan Stallion, and preliminary versions of The Women at Point Sur drafted on the versos. This typescript—along with the later Californians material—suggests that Jeffers stopped writing narrative in late 1915, at least in part because he was as yet unable to use it to address more than region and landscape, which seemed insufficient while Europe appeared to be destroying itself.
Two other 1916 poems, “The Mountain Village” and “The Stars” (see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four) which prefigure The Alpine Christ, further document the move away from narrative. Jeffers probably wrote “The Mountain Village” a month or two after The Valley, perhaps soon after Una discovered she was pregnant a second time (twin sons were born November 9, 1916). The typescript is undated, but when the poem eventually appeared in Edith Greenan’s Of Una Jeffers (1939), a postscript, “Carmel, 1916,” was added. If the date is accurate, “The Mountain Village” had to have been finished by June 1916, when the Jefferses moved back to Pasadena for the duration of the pregnancy. “The Stars” was apparently written soon after this move; in it the speaker invokes “My beautiful peninsula” but is actually “Here in the south,” imagining the country “High in the north” and trying to accept being back “among the southern mountains” where he earlier “made [his] forehead bare.” Neither typescript of “The Stars” is dated, but its quite different concerns from “To U.J.” and “May 5, 1915” argue against it being from the spring 1915 trip to Pasadena. The approach to rhyme in “The Stars” is also freer, and the experiment of mixing units of longer lines with units of shorter lines seems to develop from Jeffers’ first use of long lines in The Valley. Finally, “The Stars” is probably earlier than “Lamp of the West” (1917), part of which seems a recasting of a motif from its final section.
The mood of The Alpine Chirst and its references to the European war led Everson to estimate that Jeffers began it in the summer of 1916 and finished it late that year, shortly before moving back to Carmel early 1917. (Una and the twins followed March 1917.) Jeffers may still have been working on it, though, in early 1917, the date he later gave for its composition (SL 107). Whatever the precise dates, he later dismissed it as “useless and…vitiated with essential absurdities—exaggerated importance attached to the war that was contemporary then—naif use of Christian mythology—general childishness” (SL 107-8). That he might find it “puerile” (SL 63) after having written Tamar and Roan Stallion is understandable. But in early 1917 it was his most ambitious project, and he did not necessarily abandon Witnesses and the dramatic form because he felt he had just completed a failure. His changing relationship to the war, however, may have been a factor. When Germany renewed U-boat attacks on U.S. shipping February 1917, the entry of the United States into the war seemed both inevitable and imminent. Jeffers later admitted he was deeply torn between his desire to enlist and fight and Una’s that he stay with her and the twins. Everson argues that this ambivalence was intensified (or triggered) by an affair during the early months of 1917 while he waited for Una to rejoin him in Carmel. To Everson, the compulsion to enlist reflected a desire to escape guilt and doubt by throwing himself into the war and was in part a romantic desire for death. If so, it is noteworthy that grief and guilt (mostly, it seems, guilt toward his dead father) are the recurring emotions in The Alpine Christ, while in the fragments most likely written right after The Alpine Christ (and apparently for the next installment of Witnesses) the driving emotion seems instead a fascination with the possibility of death, even a desire for it. Seemingly, the distanced, objective pose of an epic and allegorical drama was neither flexible nor immediate enough once the war became not just a cultural and historical dilemma but also a personal one.
The God’s Peace in November Period, 1917-1918
While Jeffers did not finish a second installment of Witnesses, he apparently started one, and “The People and the Preacher” and “A Chorus of the Dead” are probably from it. Jeffers later used pieces of “The People and the Preacher” in the final section of The Coast-Range Christ and “A Chorus of the Dead” in “The Songs of the Dead Men to the Three Dancers” (both in Tamar). In the Foreword to the Selected Poetry, he characterizes “The Songs of the Dead Men” as “choruses from a wartime play—reprinted here only as a sample of the metrical experiments that occupied my mind for awhile” and says it is the collection’s earliest piece (written, he claims, in 1917). This statement helps date “The Songs of the Dead Men” and links it to Witnesses. It also suggests that Jeffers was at this point searching not only for a mode for his work but also for measures that would be flexible enough to accommodate his rhetorical aims yet still clearly distinct from prose and free verse (an experiment he disliked and identified with the Imagists). If so, the need for a more ample measure for his non-narrative work, not his need for a new narrative measure, initially drove his experiments with long verse lines.
During this period Jeffers dated many typescripts, and a number of other poems refer to specific events. His evolving “metrical experiments” can thus be sequenced, and this in turn helps date other early poems. In Californians the versification is traditional—blank verse, rhymed pentameter, ballad measures, and the like; and the diction is often self-consciously poetic. However, The Valley uses a line of about twenty-two syllables, and the meter is hard to systematize (perhaps because the sentences are patterned as speech). In spite of this metrical uncertainty or freedom, the lines’ consistent length and arrangement as rhymed couplets mark them as verse, not free verse. The Alpine Christ mixes traditional and experimental measures. Some passages are blank verse, some prose, others in long rhymed lines of various schemes, and some alternate long and short lines. Generally, the long lines rhyme—again as if to distinguish them from prose and free verse. A January 18, 1917, letter to Dr. Lyman Stookey, his medical school mentor, documents Jeffers’ sense of free verse as he was finishing The Alpine Christ. He locates its roots in the French practice of “translating foreign verse into domestic prose,” which he calls “a senseless way of printing prose.” He objects less to this, though, “than to the effeminacy and hysteria, as of a tea-party gone mad” that has, he claims, “infected” the “free-versists” (SL 21). Thus, from Californians through The Alpine Christ and on into 1917 Jeffers maintained an allegiance to formal verse even as he sought measures that could drive a longer line without its becoming slack. In the “To Death” section of “The Songs of the Dead Men,” for instance, he alternates unrhymed lines of twenty-four to twenty-five syllables arranged as eight loosely anapestic feet with short lines of eight to nine syllables arranged as four feet (iambs and trochees mixed in different combinations and perhaps meant as choriambic).
Unless Jeffers actually worked on The Alpine Christ well into 1917, after returning to Carmel, or unless more manuscripts have been lost from this period than others, 1917 was less productive than the previous two years. In addition to “The People and the Preacher” and “The Songs of the Dead Men to the Three Dancers” (probably from the first third of the year), only “The Lamp of the West,” Fauna, and Storm as Deliverer seem to have been written in that year. Jeffers dated the “Lamp of the West” typescript 1917, and he probably wrote it that spring or summer. In early April, just after Una and the twins rejoined him in Carmel, the United States officially entered the war. In “Lamp of the West” the conflict between a deadening sense of domestic obligation and a desire for the war’s “man-devouring fire” implicitly frames the speaker’s dismay at his dissatisfaction with the peace and beauty of his situation. The ocean can lie “between her limiting cliffs, with joy feeling her peace” (#227.7), but the speaker laments his inability to be similarly at peace, perhaps unconsciously indicting his inability to accept the “limiting cliffs” of his own situation. He confesses that his “world [has] grown suddenly weary and old” and that the “wild light” might “tempt” him to suicide were it not for the “little hands of children” (#228.25-229.1). Although the poem tries to use the world of natural process to give human history a meaningful pattern, the speaker is unable to resolve his sense of anguish and entrapment.
The handling of the long lines in “Lamp of the West” suggests Jeffers wrote it soon after “The Songs of the Dead Men to the Three Dancers,” since it involves a similar balance between formal pattern and freedom. Casting the lines as rhymed couplets imposes a greater degree of pattern than “The Songs,” but the more flexible meter counterbalances the increased formality. The lines of “Lamp of the West” are consistently twenty-two to twenty-three syllables long and ten stresses each, but the arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables varies line to line without specific pattern (such as the anapests of the “To Death” section)—a tactic that anticipates the even freer measure Jeffers developed during 1920 and used thereafter, where stresses are counted but lines can vary in the number of unstressed syllables.
The development of “Lamp of the West” also demonstrates the evolution of Jeffers’ style. Jeffers added 228.1-20 to the final typescript sometime after completing Tor House August 1919 (in them he refers to “having built my house…[o]n the sea-brow”). Visually these interpolated lines are the same length as the earlier lines, and they also rhyme. However, the new lines vary more in syllable count; are built on clusters of two, three, and four syllables instead of twos and threes; at times use spondees; seem based on seven stresses (especially if one treats the spondee’s double as a single stress); and rely more on the repetition and modulation of brief, simple phrases to unify and intensify the passage. The added passage develops variations on the first three phrases of its opening line in a way that is both self-consciously crafted and measured as “verse,” yet mimics a kind of intensified or heightened speech:
On the sea-brow by the boulders where I built my house heaps of old shells memorialize
A dead race, food of a dead race. The man dies, and the tribe dies out, and the race dies.
On the sea-brow on the foreland by the boulders I have waked in a night trance and seen
Their fire and the dark forms about it. White faces came, the land is like a slate wiped clean,
Scrawled with new figures; on the sea-brow by the boulders where I built my house there lies
New mortar on the old crust of shells. Men, tribes, the whole race…man does not die though the man die.
My granite boulders on the sea-brow are broken down with time, blunt teeth of an old lion. (228.1-14)
In the 1917 lines the length of some phrases, the use of enjambment, and the repetition of briefer phrases and words anticipate this measure, but the management of the unstressed syllables yields a different dynamic:
In the east a man-devouring fire, in the east the helmeted nations bleed from every pore,
Murderously wrestling, locked in one alliance of death…while here the long and moonwhite shore
Lies quiet between her limiting cliffs, with joy feeling her peace, and the peninsular pines
Whisper to the brine-tasting cypress trees, and over the sea the evening planet shines.
Lamp of the west, large star far-burning beyond dim waves in the deep heaven, how many a night
Of unremembered ages has man’s heart flowed out to you, caught flame from you, caught light. (227.3-14)
The two measures combined in the final version of “Lamp of the West” indicate, again, that Jeffers’ aim was not “free verse” in his long lines but rather a measured system that could utilize prose cadences. His goal of incorporating prose rhythms into his poetry may have had more in common with the early “free-versists” than he recognized or acknowledged, but the difference—the insistence on measure—is still real.
Although neither Fauna nor Storm as Deliverer (originally titled A Woman Down the Coast) focuses directly on the war, these two moderately long poems are apparently from 1917. In the unpublished August 1923 Preface to Tamar (when that volume was to have included both these poems; see “Introductions, Forewords, and Miscellaneous Prose” in Volume Four), Jeffers notes that they are the “earliest of the longer poems in the volume” and that they “were written six years ago.” Fauna‘s descriptions indicate it is from late spring or summer, though its pastoralism would dictate spring and summer imagery in any case. Other than part III (where the pastoralism is most explicit and which continues the metrical experiments of “Songs of the Dead Men” and “Lamp of the West”) the poem is formally conservative—fixed stanzas, rhyme, and iambs—even though Jeffers was already dropping these devices in his more lyric and meditative poems. This suggests that he assumed the mood and inherent formality of the lyrics would mark them as verse, even when cast in experimental measures, but worried that the narratives might be seen as prose without rhyme and traditional meter to mark them as poetry.
In Fauna the narrative element remains partly latent and serves mostly as an occasion for the speaker to celebrate and lament. Jeffers, thus, may not have seen it as a return to narrative as he worked on it, but writing it perhaps reawakened his interest in narrative. If so, Storm as Deliverer, which foregrounds the plot and in which the narrator seemingly has no stake in the story, is probably the later of the two. Their contrasting mood is also suggestive. Both treat the consequences of acting on “desire” that is “Forbidden” “in the eyes of honor” (Fauna, 234.21, 235.4), but the squalid plot of Storm as Deliverer is the antithesis of Fauna‘s romanticized treatment of the subject. Everson has argued that Fauna covertly records Jeffers’ own early 1917 extramarital experiments. Storm as Deliverer plausibly reflects this same experience. If so, it is telling that in Fauna, where the man’s actions violate “honor” (though a woman is the seducer and the point of honor never defined), the lush language and pastoralism largely mask the implications of transgression. Conversely, in Storm as Deliverer the woman’s desire is violational; her marriage is explicitly what makes the desire illicit; and the force of the poem hinges on the consequences of the characters’ actions and the way the narrator must recount a plot that makes honor and morality seem equally irrelevant and fictitious. In Fauna the pastoral fantasy is perhaps an attempt to evade or dissolve guilt over actual events. Storm as Deliverer more directly considers that illicit actions may actually be destructive, problematic, and a source of guilt (even if one assumes mere social convention makes them illicit). If both poems do derive from an affair or affairs in early 1917, the questions and tone of Storm as Deliverer seem the later response.
In any case, by 1918 Jeffers was again writing explicitly political poems. The Daughter of God in Russia (dated “March-May—1918”; see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four), “Lamp of the East” (later retitled “The Dance of the Banner”), “Lamp of the World’s Night,” and “The Murmansk Landing” each focus on the Russian Revolution. In his published work Jeffers consistently denied the possibility of meaningful revolutionary change or mass political action, but these unpublished poems show that the Russian Revolution initially inspired him and provide an unexpected backdrop to the equation between nature’s energy, human action, and consciousness he would explore in the mature narratives.
About two-thirds of The Daughter of God (first titled “Liberty Stands in Russia”) survives. The poem allegorizes the emergence of “Liberty” and is probably the most explicit demonstration we have of the way personal, religious, and political issues were for Jeffers—at this point anyway—a single equation. For the speaker, the emergence of “Liberty,” personified as God’s daughter and thereby Christ’s sibling and counterpart, is a sign of renewal and hope, a redemptive force released by the destruction of the European cultural order. Yet in the “First Accession” the speaker denounces himself as “corrupted,” laments that his “spirit” is “deadly stricken,” and exhorts the daughter to “shed my blood / Ere God himself destroy me; for I have dared / A fury of sacrilege!”(470.14-22). And the poem ends with the daughter “Liberty” as a figure of “motionless lightning,” a destructive and creative energy, waiting to one side while Christ,
stand[s] before God;
Bare human love before the inscrutable, veiled,
And awful being of the vast universe.
On his lips there was torture, in his eyes tears,
In his palms nail-prints; through the pain-white flesh
Of his side the old wound opening poured afresh:
His looks were puzzled, as a young child’s are
Who marvels for the first time at the morning star.
In these passages the religious and political details begin to fuse into a sense of history and nature in which Christ, the son, no longer functions as savior. If Jeffers tried, in The Alpine Christ, to will himself to believe the Christian mythos in spite of his despair both at the deaths of his father and his child and at the war in Europe, in this poem he moves toward a different mythos where the daughter’s energy—active, destructively renewing, yet vulnerable—replaces the passivity (however beautiful and intense) of the son. The figure of Liberty anticipates, that is, the amoral, redemptively destructive energy later projected in such figures as Tamar.
The Allied landing at Murmansk late June 1918, which many at the time saw as an attempt to reverse the revolution and draw Russia back into the war, was the occasion for “The Murmansk Landing” and probably “Lamp of the World’s Night” and “Dance of the Banner.” In “Lamp of the World’s Night” the speaker tries to maintain his faith in the power and goodness of a “God” who seems unable or unwilling to do more than watch as “The lions pack with the wolves” and “work in the darkness through Siberia westward and south from the White Sea.” In “The Dance of the Banner” (dated 1918 and perhaps recast from the missing Daughter of God material) the hope for the revolution’s success as an actual event is more muted than in the surviving sections of Daughter of God, while its possible symbolic significance is correspondingly more prominent. Both “Lamp of the World’s Night” and “The Dance of the Banner” are also less absolute in their sense that the daughter is to replace the son. The mood of the poems suggests that the Murmansk landing could have been the impetus to set aside The Daughter of God.
If “Lamp of the World’s Night” and “The Dance of the Banner” show Jeffers starting to transform the confessional impulse of The Daughter of God into a more public language while trying to salvage a symbolic affirmation from his initial hopes for the actual revolution, God’s Peace in November, a sonnet sequence drafted mostly October and November 1918 (see the entry for “The Truce and the Peace” in Textual Commentaries) signals the collapse of those political hopes. The response to the Russian situation in sonnet 8 is particularly telling:
We cannot wish good swords to Spartacus,
We have been neither gladiator nor slave.
The Moscow rabble has dreams all dim to us…
The speaker hopes the “rabble” and “sorrow” of destruction will yield something positive but claims we have no part to play in these “Red birth-pangs of the future.” While “they [the rabble] earn the future,” speaker and reader must make do with “The common sense of mercy and strength of peace.” Although this view is sensible and humane, compared to the apocalyptic sense of participation in The Daughter of God, it is also static, alienated, and depressed. Sonnets 13 and 16 underscore the shift, casting “liberty” and “peace” as dialectical opposites. The sequence, thus, seems an attempt to transform, even sacrifice, the radical figure of “liberty” in order to salvage “peace” as a value and thereby reestablish the conservative figure of Christ the son.
When Jeffers published some of these sonnets as “The Truce and the Peace,” he dated the revised sequence “November 1918,” as if to stress the Armistice as its occasion. However, the introductory note to an intermediate form of the sequence (dated November 1919 and titled simply “God’s Peace”) begins, “This was written in October and November, 1918,” and a 1921 typescript for “The Truce and the Peace” version has the subtitle as “Written in October and November, 1918.” References in several sonnets also show they precede the Armistice. In the eighth, the Berlin “empire” has yet to “break.” The tenth evokes the false armistice; the fourteenth actually praises Woodrow Wilson for bringing the United States into the war (in marked contrast to the treatment of Wilson in the 1924 “Woodrow Wilson”). Moreover, several sonnets—VI, XII, and XXIII in particular—are probably earlier than October 1918 and were perhaps written independently of the sequence. These pieces focus more on personal loss and weakness than war and Armistice. The meter is also more conservative, and the lines are more conventionally iambic and less varied in length than in the sonnets that respond to the Armistice. Finally, in mood and execution they resemble several sonnets, “Promise of Peace,” for one, probably written earlier in 1918. (As Jeffers reworked these 1918 sonnets, he often increased line length and seems to have been less and less concerned with counting or patterning unstressed syllables; to compare the metrics of these poems, then, one must use equivalent stages, not just the final versions.)
Two typescripts survive for “Promise of Peace.” At the top of the earlier one Jeffers typed “youth will pass,” as if this were a section title, and the way it has been crossed out for a series of alternates (“Youth Is an Evil,” “Youth Passes,” “Youth’s a Fool,” “On the Way”) leading finally to “Other Poems” seems to confirm this. Mood and tone suggest this section would also have included the sonnets “Adjustment” and “Compensation” (initially published, like “Promise of Peace,” in periodicals in the 1920’s after the success of Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems) and the unpublished sonnet “The Dead Enemy.” “To His Father” and sonnets 4, 12, and 23 of God’s Peace in November similarly affirm age, criticize youth, and do not directly mention the war or Armistice and so might also be from this grouping.
A draft table of contents on the verso of the first “Promise of Peace” typescript also suggests that the “Youth Will Pass” sonnets predate God’s Peace in November. This collection was to have been titled God’s Peace in November and Other Poems and would have opened with three longer poems—God’s Peace in November, A Woman down the Coast, and The Dance Toward Sunrise (probably “The Dance of the Banner”). Nine “Other Poems”—”Beautiful Charm of God” (later titled “Open Country”), “To His Father,” “Old Ballad Snatches” (see below), “Adjustment,” “Compensation,” “The Dead Enemy,” “Lances” (later part V of “Mal Paso Bridge”), “A Chorus of the Living” (the final eight lines of “Lamp of the World’s Night”), and “A Chorus of the Dead”—were to complete the collection. “Promise of Peace” is not listed, even though the table is on the back of a typescript of it and its featured position in “Youth Will Pass” shows that Jeffers saw it as a strong piece. He may have dropped it for thematic reasons, for it implies that the “foreign” war is less painful and destructive than the inner war of desire. This affirmation of personal peace (and the sense that social or political peace is illusory and impossible) figures in a number of the later poems but contradicts the actual treatment of “peace” in the God’s Peace in November sonnets that directly address the war and the Armistice. This suggests that Jeffers prepared this table of contents while the nuances of God’s Peace in November were still fresh enough in his mind for him to notice the dissonance between the treatment of “peace” in some of its sonnets and in “Promise of Peace” but before the results of the peace process led him to a more cynical view of the war.
While none of this proves that the “Youth Will Pass” sonnets predate the October and November work in God’s Peace in November or that some of its sonnets were recycled from (or contemporaneous with) “Youth Will Pass,” this scenario fits the thematic and stylistic patterns of the pieces. And if God’s Peace in November does mix several phases of work, this would also clarify its several recastings. Sonnet 14 likely predates, for instance, Jeffers’ growing dismay at the politics of peace (see “The Beginning of Decadence” entry in Textual Commentaries); this would explain its absence from the late 1919 “God’s Peace” version. Similarly, the way the tenth “God’s Peace” sonnet (not in the original sequence) satirically dismisses the war implies it is from sometime in 1919, as does its sense of line, which is out of phase with the God’s Peace in November sonnets, resembling instead (see below) the line length of “Two Garden-Marbles.” At the least, sonnet 14 of God’s Peace in November and sonnet 10 of “God’s Peace” differ markedly in tone, implication, and technique, and that neither is part of “The Truce and the Peace” as published may mean that Jeffers deleted most of the work not from November 1918 when he shaped the final version.
The interplay of this material suggests that Jeffers was wrestling, in the later part of 1918 and perhaps in early 1919, to integrate the conflicting impulses of the Russian poems, the “Youth Will Pass” sonnets, and God’s Peace in November. The unpublished “Oblation” (see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four) offers another example of this conflict:
No. If that youth were dead would I feel deeply?
Because with youth well lost there’s room to live.
The days shall not be sold as of old cheaply.
Daughter of God I will not sell but give.
I will not sell for wine nor any woman
My nature now it’s sacred in your keeping,
A gift, a soiled vain gift and very human,
Of base esteem and stained with wine and weeping.
Not stained with blood yet though a little in honor,
Not blindfolded you see though often blind;
You dearest count the gift clean and the donor
Guiltless toward you, poor sinner of Christ, and find
Some fountains of vexed blood yet faithful there
To flush your triumph or flow in your despair.
The sense of “youth” here echoes the “Youth Will Pass” sonnets, yet the invocation of the “Daughter” (and the way the speaker shifts his devotion from Christ to her) aligns “Oblation” with The Daughter of God in Russia. At some point (probably not much later than the end of 1918) Jeffers recast “Oblation” as “Testament”:
Youth dead and wasted does one still love deeply?
Because once youth’s well lost there’s room to live.
The years shall not be sold as of old cheaply,
Spirit of God I will not sell but give.
Not sell for wine nor future wars nor woman
My nature now it’s sacred in your keeping,
A gift, a soiled vain gift and very human,
Of base esteem, stained through with wine and weeping.
Not stained with blood yet though a little in honor,
Not blindfolded you see though often blind;
You dearest call the gift clean, find the donor
Guiltless toward you, this fault of God. The rind
Nibbled by living and guilt the good fruit’s yours,
The bitter core you’ll give the earth-grubbing wars.
Deleting the “Daughter” (and also Christ) obscures its link to the Russian poems but positions it, conversely, as a precursor to sonnet 23 in God’s Peace in November (later sonnet X in “The Truce and the Peace”). The handwritten material on the back of the “Oblation / Testament” typescript further suggests that this material (seemingly akin to “Youth Will Pass”) is transitional between The Daughter of God and God’s Peace in November. At the top is a draft of sonnet 6 of God’s Peace in November (later sonnet IV in “The Truce and the Peace”). In the context of God’s Peace in November and “The Truce and the Peace,” its opening lines (the accidentals of the manuscript differ slightly from the published form) seem a comment on World War I as a whole:
Peace now, poor earth. They fought for Freedom’s sake,
She was starving in a corner while they fought
In the context of “Oblation” and the “Old Ballad Snatches” (some of this otherwise lost poem, perhaps recast from some of the missing The Daughter of God material, follows sonnet 6; see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four), the sonnet’s opening lines seem a comment on those who resisted Allied attempts to counter the Russian Revolution—especially since the next line refers to “Onega Lake.”
The God’s Peace in November table of contents is the earliest of several for collections Jeffers assembled but never published that help document the way he gradually incorporated newer poems and culled older ones as he progressed toward Tamar and Other Poems—assuming the poems introduced in a particular table are mostly newer than those brought forward from previous ones, as seems generally the case. But as the God’s Peace in November table shows, he did at times omit poems from one table (apparently for thematic reasons), then reintroduce them later. With God’s Peace in November, for instance, Jeffers apparently wanted to emphasize the mood of the title sequence and was willing to exclude work that did not match it. This suggests he drafted the table soon after the Armistice. If so, the poems it lists were all drafted by late 1918. The list does not, though, include all the war period poems he eventually published. For one, it lacks Fauna, which later tables include. Jeffers perhaps omitted it from God’s Peace as inappropriately personal, or it may have seemed insufficiently somber and elevated to go with the title sequence. Similarly, it is plausible he would come to see Fauna, with its lush eroticism, as one of his stronger early poems, once he became less concerned with trying to accommodate himself to “peace” and passivity and more concerned with using his lyrics to celebrate natural beauty and using his narratives to explore erotic desire. We cannot conclude that Fauna is later than 1918 because it only appears on later tables.
The poems later grouped as “Mal Paso Bridge” (except for “Lances”; see above) also probably predate God’s Peace in November, even though they first appear on a later table of contents. Although they are undated and do not refer to specific events in the war, their tone suggests most were written by spring 1918, before The Daughter of God in Russia, and at least the section originally titled “Mal Paso Bridge” (part I) seems a response to the same personal turmoil that generated Fauna and Storm as Deliverer. (“Star on the Hill-Crest,” an uncollected lyric, may also be from the same phase of work as the “Mal Paso” lyrics. Before the move to Tor House summer 1919, the Jeffers’ house was in a pine grove; in this poem the speaker addresses a star that he sees through a “pinewood,” so it is likely earlier than summer 1919 and perhaps this early.)
The Brides of the South Wind Period, 1919-1920
Had Jeffers offered God’s Peace in November to a publisher, he would probably have sent it to Macmillan, which published Californians, but an April 2, 1920, rejection letter from Macmillan reads as if the company had received nothing between Californians and the return of whatever manuscript Jeffers had recently submitted (probably in late 1919 or early 1920). The table of contents for this collection has apparently not survived, but the rejection letter suggests it differed significantly from God’s Peace in November. (The late 1919 recasting of God’s Peace in November as “God’s Peace” was probably for this collection.) To W.B. Drayton Henderson, the Macmillan editor, the new manuscript lacked the “grace of mind and of incident” of Californians; he disliked “the very unpleasant and fleshly incidents in the four long poems” and found a “feeling of disconnection between these ignoble aspects of life and your splendid Californian backgrounds.” Henderson also complained that the whole book was not “as eloquent and as persuasive as the little section in the midst of the poem on moral beauty.” This critique (a glimpse of the period’s commercial taste) suggests that Jeffers had sent Storm as Deliverer (perhaps still titled A Woman down the Coast), Peacock Ranch, and Sea-Passions (these would have been three of the “fleshly” long poems). The Peacock Ranch typescript has the subtitle “Written April 1919. A Local Ballad” in pencil. Sea-Passions, cast in the same long-lined rhymed couplets as Peacock Ranch, would seem to have been written shortly after; also, the lyric sections embedded in it that celebrate “A barren foreland” and announce “I will build a stone house” place it after the purchase of the Tor House site in spring 1919 but before the construction that summer. The fourth long poem was either Fauna, though its handling of the “fleshly” is sufficiently indirect and romanticized that Henderson might not have objected to it, or The Coast-Range Christ, which probably was not finished in time for this gathering. Drafting Peacock Ranch and Sea-Passions over the spring and working as part of the Tor House construction crew over the summer would have left Jeffers little time for another major project until at least early fall 1919 and the move to Tor House. If he began The Coast-Range Christ at that time, he could have finished it in time to send it to Macmillan, but this would have left little time for reworking the poems in hand (recasting God’s Peace in November as “God’s Peace” for instance). It is more likely that—having settled into Tor House—he initially reviewed the work he had, then used at least part of the fall to shape the Macmillan manuscript from this material, then began The Coast-Range Christ late 1919 or early 1920. (If so, he was probably writing The Coast-Range Christ when he received Henderson’s indictment of those “fleshly” poems.)
“Moral Beauty” is plausibly the occasion for Henderson’s comment on “the poem on moral beauty,” though none of the extant tables of contents list it. Everson saw this poem as Jeffers’ attempt “to provide alternative solutions” to “the collapse of some of his deepest values” following Californians and places it prior to The Alpine Christ. Its lack of rhyme, varied line length, and the general absence of syntactic inversions, though, suggest that it is later than 1916. In the context of the fuller record we now have of Jeffers’ war poems, this piece reads as less a preliminary skirmish than a coda. It seems to show him attempting to shift his attention from the political back to nature and trying to mediate the implicit conflict between the affirmation of liberty, destruction, and renewal in The Daughter of God and the more somber attempt in God’s Peace in November to use the trope of “peace” to praise and accept limits, failure, and death—natural, social, and personal. If “Moral Beauty” resolves the problem of will more optimistically than later poems and similarly makes humanity more central (stressing our capacity to make beauty instead of our limited ability to perceive it), this declaration of a Romantic yet modern naturalism is still unlikely to have preceded The Alpine Christ‘s attempt to salvage some form of Christian vision.
If “Moral Beauty” is from early 1919, this clarifies the dynamic of Jeffers’ work for at least the first half of that year. The poem not only recapitulates images from both The Daughter of God and God’s Peace in November but also anticipates the motifs of “Continent’s End,” a pivotal 1920’s lyric, and it anticipates the way desire and the alienating “old human and indomitable will” figure in the 1919-20 narratives as forces that drive human conflict and block our participation in nature’s redemptive beauty. In fact, the fracture between the poem’s claims about beauty and its sense of human will reveal its optimism as forced and its resolution as illusory. In it, the contrast between the delight in “the wind-voice liberty” and the recognition that all being is “bound” by “law” and necessity is a potentially tragic dichotomy, both for humanity and nature. The way the poem offers beauty as the resolution to this conflict and as a way beyond pain is appealing but seems (especially given the later work) more willed than earned.
The way “Gipsy Marriage,” a brief, almost imagist treatment of the moon, balances stasis and chaos and asserts the “Beautiful” seems to reflect the program of “Moral Beauty.” One typescript is dated 1919, and it was perhaps written about this time. “Stars,” a pair of uncollected sonnets, may also be from this period. But neither “Gipsy Marriage” nor “Stars” resolves the latent conflict of “Moral Beauty”: that of being caught between a “liberty” (The Daughter of God) that seems personally destructive and a “peace” (“God’s Peace in November”) that seems a deadening withdrawal from life. And three lyrics—”The Cloud,” “The Pit in the Pinewood,” and “Suicide’s Stone”—suggest Jeffers soon found himself wrestling with passivity and despair.
“The Cloud” is apparently from April 1919. In the last lines the “hills laugh April green,” and Jeffers noted he had written it seven years earlier when he sent it to Ida Purnell for her magazine Palms (July 28, 1926). While he dated “The Cloud” 1918 in Four Poems and a Fragment (1935), this is unlikely: his focus in the spring of 1918 was The Daughter of God in Russia, which differs markedly from “The Cloud,” where the speaker’s “weak mood” leaves him “shut…from heaven / And love and my own soul,” a malaise of “uncounted months” except for a few “sudden lightnings of…spirit” (perhaps the brief interlude of “Moral Beauty,” “Stars,” and “Gipsy Marriage”).
The despair is even clearer in “The Pit in the Pinewood” (the second of the two typescripts has the penciled notation, “when Billie [his English bulldog] died 1919/spring”). And the original form of “Suicide’s Stone” where the speaker contemplates suicide (see the entry in Textual Commentaries) shows this mood at full pitch and seems to lead to Peacock Ranch and Sea-Passions, narratives that act out both the suicidal urge of passive despair (in the former) and its opposite, the impulse to explode with a self-consuming, nihilistic ferocity (in the latter). “Suicide’s Stone” cannot be dated with certainty, but what seems the first draft is on the back of a typescript of “Beautiful Charm of God / Open Country,” a poem apparently written in 1918. In a 1939 letter Jeffers gave the date of “Suicide’s Stone” as 1920. This may be when he recast the speaker’s role, but the original draft is more likely to predate Peacock Ranch and Sea-Passions than to come after The Coast-Range Christ.
From the completion of Tor House in August 1919 through summer 1920, the course of Jeffers’ work is generally clear, though few of the poems can be dated precisely. After spending some of the fall or early winter compiling the collection submitted to Macmillan, he then began The Coast-Range Christ and probably completed it in the spring of 1920. It is included in the next surviving table of contents, the first of the two versions of what has come to be known as “Brides of the South Wind” (here labeled BSW.1). BSW.1 is apparently no earlier than spring 1920. Jeffers had already recast “God’s Peace” as “The Truce and the Peace” and reduced it to about its final length. It also includes “The Beginning of Decadence”; the details of this poem suggest it was written in the spring, and a later version (“Decline of the West”) is subtitled “written in 1920.” And Jeffers is unlikely to have compiled BSW.1 before April 1920, when Macmillan rejected the “Moral Beauty” collection, for BSW.1 lacks this poem. It is less clear how late BSW.1 might be, but the absence of “The Mother’s Cairn,” the elegy Jeffers wrote after his mother’s death March 1921, which appears in the next table of contents, places this list earlier than March 1921.
Late summer to fall 1920 is the most plausible period for BSW.1. Jeffers’ August 21, 1920, letter to Lyman Stookey suggests he had been pondering the Macmillan rejection and was only then ready to send his work out again: “My work progresses (I believe) in spite of appearances. I’m tolerably satisfied with it, the first time in my life, and shall perhaps be ready to publish a book pretty soon; magazine publication I don’t care for; not indeed to publish anything until I become quite sure that I shall care for it twenty years from now” (SL, 23). If this letter is a sort of preamble to BSW.1, it also suggests that the surviving fragments from the “Notes for a Preface” apparently planned for BSW.1 are a rebuttal to the Macmillan rejection. (This is included in “Introductions, Forewords, and Miscellaneous Prose,” Volume Four.) Also “To the Girls in my Stories” (later part I of the poem “Brides of the South Wind”) from BSW.1 shows Jeffers trying to forestall the sort of reaction he had had from Macmillan by rationalizing his heroines’ behavior in Fauna, Storm as Deliverer, Peacock Ranch, and The Coast-Range Christ. (The speaker tells the characters to “Ask pardon” and advances the First World War, the “tempest” that “made” them, as the cause of their “wildness.”)
Of the thirty BSW.1 poems, twenty probably predate the building of Tor House in summer 1919, and so may “Confession on Caucasus.” It resembles “The Cloud,” “Suicide’s Stone,” and “Pit in the Pinewood” in mood and theme. Yet in it Jeffers is beginning to assess—through the confessing titan—the imaginative crisis expressed in the spring 1919 lyrics. “Confession” shares the anguish of the early 1919 pieces but is less passive and could have been written between Peacock Ranch and Sea-Passions, shortly after Sea-Passions, or (less likely) sometime in the fall of 1919 as a precursor to The Coast-Range Christ.
The rest of the BSW.1 shorter poems are probably from fall 1919 through fall 1920. “Two Garden-Marbles” (perhaps October or November 1919) seems the earliest. In recasting God’s Peace in November as “God’s Peace,” Jeffers added one new sonnet. It differs from the original sonnets in both its politics and its verse line, and it seems to reflect his dismay at the terms of the Versailles Treaty, which was negotiated in the spring of 1919 and signed in June 1919. Also, the line is longer (twelve to fourteen syllables) than that of the original sonnets and metrically freer (verging on accentual meter). Although unrhymed, the two sections of “Two Garden-Marbles” are each organized as sonnets (with octet and sestet), and the accentual meter of the lines (which range from twelve to sixteen syllables) might either derive from the November 1919 “God’s Peace” sonnet or lead to it. “Two Garden-Marbles” and the new “God’s Peace” sonnet also both treat history as a decadent spectacle to be approached more as an aesthetic occasion than a political one. “The Beginning of Decadence,” apparently written in early spring 1920, shows the collapse of this distance and Jeffers’ intense bitterness at the Versailles Treaty’s betrayal of the idealism of those who thought they fought to make the world safe for democracy. (This mood underscores the irony of his decision to name the heroine of The Coast-Range Christ “Peace.”) At the least, “Two Garden-Marbles” seems earlier than “The Beginning of Decadence” and is probably also earlier than The Coast-Range Christ.
“Metempsychosis” (later revised as “The Hills Beyond the River”) may also be fall 1919 and is perhaps a little earlier than “Two Garden-Marbles.” Its long-lined accentual couplets resemble the spring 1919 narratives, though the rhymes are less forced, and it shows Jeffers, after the catharsis of Sea-Passions and the construction of Tor House, working toward a perspective that would resolve the depression of “The Cloud” and the original “Suicide’s Stone.” In “Metempsychosis” the speaker identifies with the “low hills” and, through “love,” takes on the land’s life, giving himself a life beyond the decay of his own body and spirit. (The implications of this move would, as it turns out, provide the impetus for much of his later work—both lyric and narrative). However, to enter the life of the “low hills,” join “the endless dance of suns,” and experience the “Coast-range creeks” as the “veins of the body,” the speaker must turn away from “the high lamps” (seemingly a figure for a kind of grand, but finally destructive, personal ambition). Since “Two Garden-Marbles” is an explicit meditation on ambition, this shared concern and handling of the line suggests it and “Metempsychosis” are roughly contemporaneous, even though the imagery of the one is drawn from the landscape and the other uses the classical figures of Alcibiades and Alexander the Great.
“To the Girls in my Stories,” “The Maid’s Thought,” “Divinely Superfluous Beauty,” “The Excesses of God,” and “To the Stone-Cutters” are probably from late spring through fall 1920. Since “Peace” (the heroine of The Coast-Range Christ) is one of the “girls” in “To the Girls in my Stories,” the poem is probably later than The Coast-Range Christ and no earlier than the April 1920 Macmillan rejection. If so, this helps date “The Maid’s Thought” and “Divinely Superfluous Beauty,” which resemble “To the Girls in my Stories” in tone and movement (though lacking its mild irony). The descriptions in “The Maid’s Thought” place it in late spring or early summer. Its eroticism echoes Fauna, but its versification places it later than 1917, when Fauna was written. Spring 1918 is more plausible, but though parts III and VII of “Mal Paso Bridge” show that Jeffers did write unrhymed love lyrics during the war, “The Maid’s Thought” is fuller and more accomplished, and neither its mood nor its manner matches the spring-summer 1918 work (The Daughter of God in Russia) or the spring 1919 work (“Suicide’s Stone,” “Pit in the Pinewood,” Peacock Ranch). This leaves spring to early summer 1920 as the most plausible date.
“Divinely Superfluous Beauty” and “The Excesses of God” are also probably spring-summer 1920. The first lacks seasonal details, but its lineation (alternating longer and shorter accentually measured lines) closely resembles “The Maid’s Thought,” and Jeffers usually paired them in the draft tables of contents as if they were linked. Mood and theme also join “Divinely Superfluous Beauty” and “The Excesses of God”—and Jeffers wrote what is apparently the first draft of “The Excesses of God” on the bottom of a typescript of “Divinely Superfluous Beauty.” In the late 1930’s he gave this sheet to Phoebe Barkan, a family friend, and noted that he had written “The Excesses of God” “immediately after” “Divinely Superfluous Beauty.” Since he typically wrote on a typescript only after he had typed a newer version of a poem, this is probably not quite the case, but it does suggest the one poem followed closely on the other.
“To the Stone-Cutters” is probably from late summer or fall 1920. It has the same pattern of alternating long and short accentual lines as “The Maid’s Thought,” “Divinely Superfluous Beauty,” and “The Excesses of God” and thus seems no earlier than this work. But its more somber mood suggests it represents a slightly different phase, and its apparent relationship to the construction of the stone tower Jeffers built next to the house suggests it came after, not before, “The Maid’s Thought” cluster. When “To the Stone-Cutters” appeared in an anthology in 1933, Jeffers recalled: “When I was building the walls of our house we wanted carvings of unicorn and hawk, my wife’s favorite animal and mine, to build into the stonework; and we persuaded the old man who used to cut the tomb-stones in Monterey to make them for us. His and our preoccupation with stones made me think of writing the verses.” While this seems to link the poem to Tor House (summer or fall 1919), the carvings were actually for Hawk Tower, which Jeffers began sometime in 1920, probably later 1920. (His first stone project after the house was a garage, which would have taken some months of work. Also the tone of his comments about his “stone-masonry” in the August 21, 1920, letter to Lyman Stookey suggests he was not yet working on anything as major, sustained, or imaginatively resonant as the tower.) Since there seems little reason to doubt his recollection that the carvings were an impetus for the poem, later 1920 is plausible, but why Jeffers specified the house in the 1933 note is unclear. He may by then have seen house and tower as a single imaginative entity. Perhaps he thought identifying the poem with the construction of a house would make its context more universal (many build houses, few build forty-foot stone towers).
The Tamar Period, 1920-1923
The small number of surviving poems suggests that Jeffers wrote less than usual from fall 1920 through early 1921. He may have been too busy to write much: he was in the early stages of building the tower and also had to haul water for the young trees he was planting on the Tor House headland. Perhaps the process of consolidating the aesthetic he was then developing in the lyrics led him to write more deliberately and discard more of what he did write.
Jeffers may also have been working on one or more narratives that failed to develop. A few possible narrative scraps that may date from this period survive on the backs of manuscripts of short poems, and a page of notes briefly sketches the characters and situation for a narrative to have been called “The Coast Hills.” Tentative and somewhat cryptic, they show that both Dove McDonald and Myrtle Cartwright (the heroines of Peacock Ranch and Storm as Deliverer) were to be characters, as if Jeffers were going to scavenge from these earlier narratives for a more ambitious project. It is not clear, though, whether these notes are from 1921 or 1923—whether, that is, they precede or follow Tamar. While the notes allude to earlier poems, they also point toward the early work on Point Alma Venus, which eventually grew into The Women at Point Sur. The notes could then be from 1923, since Jeffers worked at Alma Venus from 1923 to 1926 (drafting The Tower Beyond Tragedy, Roan Stallion, and Home in between his different attempts at the project; see below). However, at least one comment suggests that these notes, as well as some of the 300 pages of Alma Venus material, predate Tamar. On April 24, 1926, Jeffers wrote his Boni & Liveright editor, “I began it [Alma Venus] quite cheerfully, soon after Tamar was written I put it aside because it was too exciting, and ever since has been a struggle to keep it out of my mind by writing something else” (SL 68). This seems to mean that he both began and dropped Alma Venus soon after Tamar. However, Jeffers often separated independent clauses with a comma instead of a period or semicolon, so the structure of the sentence does not actually make explicit whether he started Alma Venus before or after Tamar. His real reasons for putting Alma Venus aside—that it had bogged down and he needed to tackle something he could plausibly finish so he could publish a follow-up collection to Tamar in a timely manner—suggest that he had already written a substantial amount when he dropped it “soon after Tamar,” which in turn suggests that some of Alma Venus could predate Tamar.
Jeffers’ comment is at best inconclusive, but the paper used for the “The Coast Hills” notes and some of the early Alma Venus attempts also suggests that some of this material precedes the narrative Tamar. The notes are on the back of a page from a Fauna typescript; the page number indicates it was for the second “Brides of the South Wind” collection (hereafter BSW.2), which Jeffers probably prepared in spring 1921 (see below). He would not have typed something for a publisher on a page already used for notes, so the notes themselves must be later than spring 1921—and perhaps quite a few months later, because he would not have added the notes until he had prepared a newer typescript of the poem. Since there is no evidence that he retyped the poems between spring 1921 and sometime in 1923, when he typed the copy actually used to set Tamar, this would argue for “The Coast Hills” work following the narrative Tamar. But Jeffers for some reason apparently typed the final copies of these 1917-19 poems from the BSW.1 typescripts, not from the later BSW.2 versions. (See “Patterns of Composition for the Shorter Poems” in “Evidence and Procedures”). This means that some of the Alma Venus workings could come from the later part of 1921. And if Jeffers did work (unsuccessfully) on Alma Venus at this point, before starting Tamar, it would explain why he did not finish more poems in this period and perhaps also the curious comment next to the February 1922 notes (see below) that apparently marks the decision to write Tamar: “Tho this is my last tale” (YU).
Whatever the dates of initial work on Point Alma Venus, Jeffers produced some of the strongest Tamar lyrics from late 1920 to early 1922. He apparently wrote “Salmon Fishing” and “Natural Music” in December 1920. The second page of BSW.1 has two overlapping lists that seem to be work toward a new table of contents combining some BSW.1 poems with newer poems (see Appendix A): the four previously unlisted poems are “Salmon Fishing,” “Natural Music” (here titled “The Old Voice of the Ocean”), “Christmas Ballad” (see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four), and “To the House” (here titled “To a House”).
The details of “Salmon Fishing” place it as late December. The salmon return in “Christmas month,” and the sundown is the “Red ash of the dark solstice.” Had Jeffers written it in December 1919, he would have used it in BSW.1. If December 1921, it would not be on this list, which predates BSW.2. “Natural Music” was also written about this time. The start of the winter rains is the occasion, and it was an important poem to Jeffers in this period (he cites it in a 1922 introduction for a yet later organizing of these poems). Like “Salmon Fishing,” it would presumably appear on BSW.1 had it been written earlier.
The title “Christmas Ballad” also suggests these lists are December 1920, but this poem reads as if it was written several years earlier (the substitutions of “you” and “your” for “thee,” “thou,” and “thine” on the typescript could, though, be from December 1920). Perhaps Jeffers found the poem as he sorted work while reorganizing the collection, was intrigued enough to revise it, added it to the list, then lost interest (it appears only in this set of notes). The way the title of “To the House” links the stone work of the poem to the building of the house means it could be earlier than late 1920, even though the sense of line, imagery, and diction suggest it is at least summer 1920. (If it were much earlier it too would probably have been part of BSW.1.) Like “To the Stone-Cutters” its actual occasion may have been Hawk Tower rather than Tor House. Perhaps conceiving of the tower (even more, perhaps, agreeing to Una’s suggestion that he build it) intensified Jeffers’ sense of the symbolism of the house (SM 99). If so, “To the House” may celebrate both simultaneously; though building a stone cottage and building a stone tower are not the same imaginative gesture, both may be ways of aligning oneself with a kind of permanence. In any case, a note beneath these lists (perhaps intended as the start of a poem) invokes the house in a way that suggests “To the House” (and “To the Stone-Cutters” as well) was written sometime in 1920 and after “The Beginning of Decadence”:
Stones in a net of mortar have not built this house, all the despair of the new truce
Cannot destroy it
(This unit has no closing punctuation mark; “this” in the first line may actually be “that.”)
BSW.2 (see Appendix A), like BSW.1, is a typed table of contents with page numbers for each poem. It includes several presumably new poems as well as most of the work deleted from the revisions of BSW.1 (including Fauna, Storm as Deliverer, and Peacock Ranch, but not Sea-Passions). Jeffers organized BSW.2 carefully, dividing the work into sections labeled “Songs without Rhyme,” “Brides of the South Wind,” and “Sonnets and Stones.” Collating the sheets typed for BSW.2 and those typed for BSW.1 shows that he revised a number of the poems as well, which suggests he expected to submit the collection to a publisher, though there is no evidence he did so. Of the three new poems, “The Mother’s Cairn” (see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four) is the easiest to date. The speaker’s claim that his mother has died the night before may not be literal, but the details and emotion suggest Jeffers wrote it soon after her death March 1921. If so, BSW.2 must be no earlier than March 1921 and perhaps some months later.
The other two poems added to BSW.2 are odd ones for Jeffers to have written at this point. The conventional form of the three sonnets in “Consciousness” suggests it could be an earlier piece, but the dichotomy it develops between an instinctual participation in nature and a contemplation of nature that allows us to appreciate its beauty yet alienates us from it seems more likely to follow poems like “Natural Music” and “Salmon Fishing” than precede them. If the sequence is earlier work, spring 1919 would be the other plausible placement; the handling of the line in these sonnets is closer to “The Cloud” and “Pit in the Pinewood” than to the 1918 sonnets or “Two Garden-Marbles.” That placement, though, would not explain the absence of “Consciousness” from BSW.1. If “Consciousness” is 1921, spring of that year is likely since the third sonnet mentions a “bird-bright May-morning.” (This image may also be a further clue as to the date of BSW.2.) As for the second poem, “Age in Prospect,” nothing about its form (other than its division into four-line stanzas) suggests it is earlier than early 1921, but in mood and argument it resembles the 1918 sonnets of “Youth Will Pass,” though it treats these issues more calmly and with more complexity. As with “Consciousness” there is no clear reason to doubt that Jeffers wrote it between the lists on the second sheet of BSW.1 and the compiling of BSW.2.
Jeffers also seems to have expanded and retitled two BSW.1 poems for BSW.2. “Brides of the South Wind,” which introduces the BSW.2 narratives, seems to be “The Girls in my Stories” with a part II added. The page number of the typescript matches the BSW.2 pagination, and it has penciled lines setting off part I with a note below it that the unit was “To the Girls in a Book of Stories” and “Originally intended to preface the book that later was called ‘Tamar and Other Poems.'” And “The Hills Beyond the River” is “Metempsychosis,” with four added lines salvaged from “The Beginning of Decadence” (noting his pleasure with life at Tor House in spite of its seeming “narrowness”).
The chronology of the remaining Tamar poems hinges on when Jeffers began the narrative Tamar and how long it took to write. Two sets of notes survive (see the Tamar entry in Textual Commentaries). The date of the first set is unclear, and the scenario it presents is, in any case, so different that it may predate the actual composition by some months. The second set can be dated, and the conception is close enough to the poem that, as Everson has argued, these notes probably mark the start of composition. The notes are on the back of Jeffers’ February 17, 1922, bank statement. Since he would have received the statement after the closing date and might not have used it until the next statement arrived, the notes are probably from March or April 1922, suggesting he began Tamar mid-spring 1922. Certainly it was under way by June 1922. In a fragment marked “June 1922” that was to have introduced a collection between BSW.2 and Tamar (perhaps to have been called Continent’s End; see “Introductions, Forewords, and Miscellaneous Prose,” Volume Four), Jeffers refers to a long poem he is then writing—presumably Tamar:
The greatest dramatic poetry in English is not rhymed, the greatest narrative poetry is not rhymed. It may seem strange, in view of my belief, that the narrative poems in this book of mine are rhymed; it is because until quite lately I was unable to discover any rhymeless measure but blank verse that could tell a story flexibly, without excess of monotony….I think I am at length discovering rhymeless narrative measures of my own; but the poems are not finished, and not included in this series.
By “series” Jeffers probably means The Coast-Range Christ and several of the earlier longer pieces. The newer “rhymeless” narratives he mentions may be either Tamar or Tamar and Point Alma Venus. (If both, this would again suggest that Jeffers worked at Alma Venus first, then set it aside to write Tamar.)
Jeffers finished Tamar no later than late summer 1923 and perhaps as much as six months earlier. His points in the “Preface” of August 1923, apparently written for an early version of what became Tamar and Other Poems but never used (see “Introductions, Forewords, and Miscellaneous Prose,” Volume Four), make little sense unless Tamar is the collection’s central poem. (The collection apparently was to include not only The Coast-Range Christ and Fauna but also Storm as Deliverer and probably Peacock Ranch.) Jeffers also comments here on “Point Joe,” which was probably written soon after Tamar (see below). Tamar, then, was completed by the time of this “Preface.”
Another document—a table of contents on the back of a sheet of The Tower Beyond Tragedy manuscript (see Appendix A)—indicates Tamar was finished as early as January or February 1923 (see the discussion of “Point Joe” below). This table, apparently one of the first to include Tamar, opens with that narrative, and for this version Jeffers aggressively pared the 1917-20 work as if to foreground Tamar and the more recent short poems, including four probably written spring 1921 through early 1922: “Shine, Perishing Republic,” “The Cycle,” “Not Our Good Luck,” and “Continent’s End.” The table also includes two 1918 pieces, “The Dance of the Banner” and “The Murmansk Landing,” which Jeffers had dropped well before BSW.1, and it reintroduces “The Beginning of Decadence,” which he dropped in compiling BSW.2.
Including these early, discarded poems seems at odds with the decision to omit much of the pre-1920 work. But the arrangement of poems and the later handling of “Shine, Perishing Republic” suggest the reasoning. In this table of contents, the older, more political pieces (arranged chronologically) immediately follow Tamar; then come the recent lyrics. “Shine, Perishing Republic,” the one explicitly political new lyric, marks the transition between the earlier and more recent short poems. This order offers the violence of the political and social world as the context for Tamar‘s violent, norm-breaking action. (It also suggests that the narrative’s various hints that the characters analogically express the violence of war in Europe should be taken seriously.) By segregating the narrative from the lyrics written just before it, this order also suggests that Jeffers initially saw Tamar as in part a political poem, linked more closely to his work from the First World War than to the 1920-22 lyrics. In the collection as published, by contrast, the selection and order offer nature’s violence and the violence in man as an element of nature as the context for Tamar. Perhaps when Jeffers first finished Tamar, he had not yet fully realized that lyrics like “The Cycle” and “Continent’s End” provided an alternate ground for the narrative’s violence (one more fundamental to where his work was going), or he may have worried that readers would miss or dismiss this rationale.
By the August 1923 “Preface,” though, Jeffers was ready to claim that his poems engaged “permanent things” in nature, that both his lyrics and the narratives emphasized man’s place within natural change (and the violence that was part of that) and that both were celebrations of “essential beauty.” His decision to drop not only “The Dance of the Banner,” “The Murmansk Landing,” and “The Beginning of Decadence” but also “Shine, Perishing Republic” from the final version of the Tamar collection underscores this shift. Jeffers may have decided that the three early poems were weaker pieces, but “Shine, Perishing Republic” (which has been frequently anthologized) is clearly not a weak piece, and Jeffers subsequently included it in the Roan Stallion section of Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems (1925). This suggests he removed it from Tamar for thematic reasons, and that he dropped these four poems because they emphasized the political (in the war poems actually used in Tamar—”The Songs of the Dead Men,” Fauna, “Mal Paso Bridge,” “The Truce and the Peace”—the war is more an occasion for lyric meditation on such matters as death and personal guilt than a political event) and that this was in part because he wanted the collection to stress, as he writes in the August 1923 “Preface,” “the essential beauty in conditions and events”—a context that casts Tamar‘s violence as more a fact of nature, an essential reality, than the product of a specific historic moment and that shows the narratives and lyrics (at least from “Natural Music” and “Salmon Fishing” forward) as complementary sides of the same poetic world.
Although there is no documentary evidence that this table of contents precedes the August 1923 “Preface,” the absence of “Point Joe” does place it earlier. Since Jeffers uses “Point Joe” in the “Preface” to illustrate his claim that his poetry “deal[s] with permanent things,” surely he would have included it in the table of contents had he already written it. (Perhaps his realization that Tamar‘s implications go beyond its roots in the war and that it actually extended the treatment of nature he had evolved in the 1920 lyrics was the occasion for “Point Joe.”) And if the preliminary Tamar table of contents is earlier than the August 1923 “Preface,” “Point Joe” also helps suggest how much earlier. In it, the “footsteps of spring” are blooming. This Pacific Coast wildflower blooms in early March, placing the poem in March 1923. Jeffers, then, probably started Tamar spring or early summer 1922, finished it the later part of 1922 or early 1923, and compiled the alternate Tamar table soon after that.
Of the four short poems introduced in this early Tamar table of contents, “Continent’s End” is the easiest to date. The first draft is on the same February 1922 bank statement as the notes that launch Tamar. Since it occurs during the spring equinox, Jeffers probably wrote it March 1922; the scrawled notes and workings on the sheet all seem contemporaneous. “The Cycle,” an “autumn” poem, could have been written in fall 1921, before Tamar, or fall 1922, as Jeffers was finishing the narrative. The earlier date is more likely. Presumably “Shine, Perishing Republic” and “Not Our Good Luck” are later than BSW.2, but again there is no way to tell whether Jeffers wrote them before, or during, Tamar. (The unpublished poem “Shells” (see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four) also seems to date from late 1921 or early 1922. The way it anticipates several scenes in later narratives may explain its absence from the extant tables of contents: it could mark the point where Jeffers, perhaps mid-1921, returned to narrative and so have been superseded by the early Point Alma Venus attempts and Tamar.)
As published, Tamar includes four short poems (in addition to “Point Joe”) not on any of the draft tables of contents. Since Tamar was published April 30, 1924, the title of “Gale in April” places it April 1923; its absence from the early Tamar table argues against April 1922. Also, like “Point Joe,” it reads more as a response to Tamar than, like “Continent’s End,” an anticipation of it. “To the Rock that Will Be a Cornerstone of the House” and “Wise Men in Their Bad Hours” both seem earlier than “Point Joe” and “Gale in April” and may be summer or fall 1921 (after BSW.2 and before the start of Tamar). The short poems for this period that can be dated with some assurance form a pattern that suggests Jeffers’ line was growing progressively longer as he solidified his accentual measure. Thus, the similarity of line in “To the Rock” and “The Cycle” indicates they are contemporaneous. The absence of “To the Rock” from the table of contents for the early version of Tamar probably reflects Jeffers’ impulse at this point to exclude the poems (perhaps including “Shells”) that present his own experience in the first person. In the poems from this table that do feature a speaking “I” (such as “Continent’s End”), the speaker is a more abstract, less personal presence than in “To the Rock” or “To the House” (another poem dropped at this point). Parts of the “Mal Paso Bridge” sequence seem an exception to the pattern, but the narrative elements and the way the other units of the sequence place the “I” in a public, historical realm help distance and objectify the speaker. In mood, line, and theme, “Wise Men in Their Bad Hours” is noticeably out of keeping with the post-Tamar material. It revisits the perspective of the 1918 sonnets of “Youth Will Pass” and may have been written shortly after BSW.2 and “Age in Prospect,” which also echoes these sonnets. Finally, the reference to Tamar’s final scene (“the burnt place where that wild girl whose soul was fire died with her house”) in “Point Pinos and Point Lobos” places it after Tamar.
“Point Pinos and Point Lobos” may also be later than both “Point Joe” and the August 1923 “Preface,” though this is at best a guess. Several things are clear. The August 1923 “Preface” shows that Jeffers, sometime after the early 1923 Tamar table of contents, restructured the collection, restoring the early narratives and adding at least “Point Joe” (and probably the other short poems published in Tamar but not on the earlier tables of contents). This August 1923 version is probably what he first sent the printer who produced Tamar. In “First Book,” a sketch included in Part Ten of Colophon: A Book Collector’s Quarterly (May 1932), where Jeffers recounts the history of both Flagons and Apples and Tamar, he says this about Tamar‘s publication:
In 1920 or 1921 I wrote a story in verse called Tamar; and I have heard that it was sent in vain to publisher after publisher, but that is not true. It was offered to none; it was so lengthy that I believed no publisher’s reader would look through it. Tamar was kept in a drawer until I saw a little advertisement by a New York printer, Peter G. Boyle, in the book-review section of The New York Times. Boyle has since retired from his business. The advertisement offered printing, not publishing, and my mind reverted to my folly of 1912 [Flagons and Apples and having it printed at his own expense], yet with differences. This time I had no extra money burning my pocket; on the other hand, it seemed to me that the verses were not merely negligible, like the old ones, but had some singularity, whether they were good or not. Perhaps, if they were printed, someone might look at them sometime—habent sua fata libelli—little books have such queer destinies. Boyle read Tamar and Other Poems, and set a price on the printing, one I knew was very moderate. He added some praise of Tamar that seemed to me excessive, but I learned later that he was sincerely enthusiastic about it. After several months of hesitation, I told him to print, but only five hundred copies, not the thousand that he advised. (Bib 155)
Jeffers must have sent Boyle the Tamar collection not long after the August 1923 “Preface,” since Boyle wrote back October 9, 1923, proposing terms. Although Boyle’s letter seems not to have survived, the postmarked envelope has—with Jeffers’ notes for his reply on it (OC). These show that he wanted Boyle to return the manuscript so he could spend “a couple of weeks” reviewing it, and he proposes a schedule that would have had the book out December 3, 1923. In fact, then, Jeffers did not wait “several months” to accept Boyle’s offer but agreed to it quickly, then for some reason held off sending the final manuscript. In the notes Jeffers estimates typesetting, his proofing, and printing as a two-month process. If this was the production schedule, he could have waited till as late as February 1924 before sending the final copy, since the book was issued April 30, 1924.
Jeffers might have delayed sending Tamar because he was working on “Point Pinos and Point Lobos” and wanted to add it. But it would not have taken this long, nor does it seem that he would have delayed the book for a piece of this scope. Or he might have been working on Point Alma Venus, hoping he could finish it quickly enough that he could substitute it for Storm as Deliverer, Peacock Ranch, and perhaps The Coast-Range Christ. If Alma Venus was far enough along late 1923 for Jeffers to try to finish it for Tamar, he had probably been working on it between the preliminary Tamar table of contents early 1923 and the August “Preface.” Later comments (the previously noted April 24, 1926, letter to Boni & Liveright, for one) do not prove that this was the case but do suggest it could have been, and a September 4, 1925, letter to Benjamin de Casseres, a New York writer, at least shows that Jeffers attempted the poem a number of times: “I have begun a story four times, and each time but the last it has turned into a novel on the way, and been scrapped [he would also scrap this version]. It’s perhaps because I’m trying to write about more or less educated people this time, and it’s hard to set fire to too much thought. Ideas and passion don’t live together willingly” (SL 45-46). Jeffers may have started a version of Alma Venus soon after the early Tamar table, worked on it spring and summer expecting to build a collection around it and Tamar, then reorganized Tamar late summer without it (at the point he wrote the “Preface”) when it stalled out, then returned to it after sending the August 1923 Tamar to Boyle.
If Point Alma Venus was a factor in delaying Tamar, this would also help place “Point Pinos and Point Lobos.” Conceptually it relates to the early Alma Venus workings more than to Tamar and could have been written as late as summer 1923, perhaps early fall, during the Alma Venus attempts. Jeffers might even (since the lighthouse light figures in “Point Pinos and Point Lobos” and some of the Alma Venus fragments) have elaborated “Point Pinos” from pieces salvaged from work on the narrative, and it may be a glimpse of the character of whatever Point Alma Venus attempt preceded the August 1923 “Preface.” If so, “Point Pinos and Point Lobos” was probably the last poem written for Tamar as actually published, and the likely date of “The Treasure” indicates that Jeffers did not otherwise add new work to Tamar between compiling the August Tamar and sending Boyle the final copy.
“The Treasure” first appeared in Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems, the expanded version of Tamar that Boni & Liveright published in summer 1925. (The ninety pages added to this commercial edition are essentially a separate collection.) The initial draft of “The Treasure” is on the back of the same October 9, 1923, envelope where Jeffers sketched his reply to Boyle. This suggests he wrote the poem soon after the notes, since he would have had no need to keep the sheet once Boyle responded to his proposal. “The Treasure” is thus likely late October 1923, or perhaps a month or so later—early enough that Jeffers could have added it to Tamar when he sent it to Boyle early 1924. Jeffers later included “The Treasure”—but not “Point Pinos and Point Lobos”—in the 1938 Selected Poetry, so its absence from Tamar suggests that he had decided that his late 1923 work was toward his next collection (one he perhaps expected to build around Alma Venus once he had decided to publish Tamar without it), not that he saw “The Treasure” as too weak to use.
“The Torch-Bearers’ Race” resembles “Point Pinos and Point Lobos” more than it does the short Roan Stallion poems of 1924 and 1925 and is plausibly another late 1923 piece. A typescript fragment, perhaps titled “Mycenae and Point Pinos” (see The Tower Beyond Tragedy entry in Textual Commentaries), may also be late 1923. When Jeffers gave The Tower Beyond Tragedy manuscript to Donald Friede at Boni & Liveright, he included a page that reads as if it is from a preliminary version of Cassandra’s long speech that bridges parts I and II. Usually, though, a handwritten draft would precede a typed one, not the reverse (as here seems the case), and it may be that this typed fragment comes from what was originally a different project. Jeffers jotted the title “Mycenae and Point Pinos” on the back of one page of The Tower Beyond Tragedy. This does not seem to be an alternate title for The Tower Beyond Tragedy and may relate to the typed fragment. If so, the fragment may both precede The Tower Beyond Tragedy and be in part its genesis. The fragment may also relate to “Point Pinos and Point Lobos,” since they both invoke the cyclical nature of things (the fragment focusing more on history, “Point Pinos and Point Lobos” more on religious revelation and nature).
The evidence for dating the “Mycenae and Point Pinos” fragment is slight, and it could be later than “Point Pinos and Point Lobos.” In the “Foreword” to the Selected Poetry, Jeffers notes that The Tower Beyond Tragedy was “suggested to me by the imposing personality of a Jewish actress [Hedwiga Reicher] who was our guest,” that her recitation of the ballad “Edward, Edward” made him want “to build a heroic poem to match her formidable voice and rather colossal beauty,” and that he wrote the part of Cassandra with her in mind (see “Introductions, Forewords, and Miscellaneous Prose,” Volume Four). Melba Bennett dates this visit as “about 1923” (SM 113). Una Jeffers describes the evening in a September 23, 1924, letter (RJN 57, 18). While she notes that the evening had occurred some time earlier (and her phrasing suggests there may have also been a performance before that), it is not clear that it would have been enough earlier for “Mycenae and Point Pinos” to be linked to “Point Pinos and Point Lobos” or to have been a poem Jeffers could have included in Tamar.
The Roan Stallion Period, 1924-1925
As Pound’s career demonstrates, private publication was still a viable strategy for poets in this period. Eliot even worried that if he did not print The Waste Land privately before it appeared commercially, he might compromise its aesthetic prestige. But the impact of privately printed volumes at this time depended on two factors: that the book’s production be elegant enough to appeal to collectors and that the poet have published enough (or been praised enough) in little magazines to have status in one of the poetry coteries. Tamar was printed with little attention to design on poor quality paper and inexpensively bound. Nor had Jeffers been publishing in magazines. And even though Boyle (on his own initiative) sent out review copies, the initial reviews were few, brief, negative, and not in the sorts of places (Sunset Magazine) read by contemporary poetry aficionados (CRJ 46).
At some point between Tamar‘s publication and belated discovery ten months later, Jeffers wrote an untitled piece (see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four), in which he asserts the worth of his work, tries to cast the lack of response as positive, and insists that eventually “even the fools” will read him:
On shores that no one knows
The rocks are yet as permanent, the seas as powerful: the rocks
Are cleaner, the water purer.
Be patient obscure poems, you are made of stone, you will stand
Until even the fools have found you.
Meanwhile be glad of your obscurity: it is good to be clean still.
Whether he fully understood the odds against Tamar‘s being noticed, this poem suggests the lack of response disappointed him; it left him puzzling over his desire for an audience and perhaps wondering whether he was willing to adjust his work to suit an audience. It also shows that Tamar‘s initial failure (not its belated success) was the context for much of the Roan Stallion work.
Other than “Shine, Perishing Republic,” “The Treasure,” and “The Torch-Bearers’ Race” (see above), the poems published in Roan Stallion are apparently from 1924 and the first four or five months of 1925. In June 1925 Boni & Liveright wired the offer to “publish…one volume this fall containing all poems in Tamar and Roan Stallion,” and type was set in July (SM 106; RJN 57, 22).
The dates of the two long Roan Stallion poems—The Tower Beyond Tragedy and Roan Stallion itself—are relatively clear. Jeffers probably began Tower in late summer or early fall 1924—a poem of this length would take three or four months, perhaps a bit more. It was finished sometime between November 22, 1924, when he wrote George Sterling (a California poet who had lived in Carmel before Jeffers moved there) that he had “made, though not completed, a poem about Clytemnestra and her family” (SL 32), and January 21, 1925, when he sent Sterling the manuscript (SL 32). After Tower, Jeffers apparently returned to Point Alma Venus. When Sterling sent back the Tower manuscript, Jeffers wrote on April 8, 1925, that he was “horribly involved with another long thing” already twice as long as Peacock Ranch” (which would make the new project about thirty-five pages; SL 38). Even if this “thing” used material recycled from earlier attempts, the comment suggests he had been working on it for several months, and the draft of a letter to Boni & Liveright (apparently written in late May or early June) on the final page of Roan Stallion manuscript seems to confirm this. It begins
Mr. Boyle was kind enough to forward your letter, received yesterday, in which you express a wish to see other work of mine to consider it in connection with “Tamar.” I have had two works in hand; one of them will probably be finished to-morrow; and give me five days for typing and revision I’ll send it on to you next week.
The other is a story somewhat analogous to “Tamar” but wider in range and thought; I expect it will be a greater poem; but it is only half written and will not be in a state to show to anyone for several months.
For this “greater” narrative, presumably an attempt at Alma Venus, to be “half written,” Jeffers had to have been working on it for several months or more.
Jeffers must have started Roan Stallion in April, soon after Sterling returned Tower. When he later gave the Roan Stallion manuscript to Donald Friede, his Boni & Liveright editor (February 19, 1926), he dated it “May-June 1925.” Una Jeffers, in a letter written June 1, 1925, notes that “Negotiations are now going on” with Boni & Liveright, that “[t]hey speak of making a larger book and wish to add another long poem,” and that Jeffers “has two ready which are being considered” (RJN 57, 22). Since Roan Stallion was apparently one of the two, it had to have been typed by late May to be in New York by June 1.
While it does not bear on dating the Roan Stallion material, it is noteworthy that Jeffers wrote the April 8, 1925, letter to Sterling about the time Tamar was first being noticed critically. In late 1923 or early 1924 the Book Club of California recruited Sterling and the poets James Rorty and Genevieve Taggard to edit an anthology of California poets. Someone (as Jeffers tells it in “First Book”) knew of Californians, and Rorty invited him to submit work (Bib 156). He did, and “Continent’s End” became the title poem. Even though the anthology (issued May 15, 1925) had only limited circulation, the connection with Rorty was pivotal. Jeffers sent him, Sterling, and possibly Taggard copies of Tamar (Bib 156). When Rorty returned east, he reviewed Tamar for the New York Herald and Tribune Books (March 1, 1925), calling it “a magnificent tour de force” and claiming that “Nothing as good of its kind has been written in America” (CRJ 46-47). Ten days later the poet and scholar Mark Van Doren, to whom Rorty had given Tamar, published another glowing review in The Nation. These reviews and those that followed created demand for Tamar. According to Jeffers, Boyle “proposed to print a second edition,” then “decided a more established publisher might be to my advantage” and “offered the book to Boni and Liveright” (Bib 156), a relatively new firm but one known for publishing literarily ambitious young writers.
With the reviews and Boni & Liveright’s interest, Jeffers was suddenly an important young poet, a desirable property. This reversal of poetic fortune seems in part the impetus both to write Roan Stallion and to set aside Point Alma Venus. Jeffers probably realized that Alma Venus would be too long for the expanded Tamar and that he would not be able to finish it in time. He probably also sensed that the expanded Tamar would represent a crucial moment in his career and wanted something (i.e., Roan Stallion) that could exemplify his approach to narrative and his aesthetic more decisively than Alma Venus could (at least at that point in its development). That Jeffers reworked several key passages from Alma Venus where he reflects on his aesthetic and incorporated these into Roan Stallion also suggests (as does placing it first in the expanded collection) that Jeffers may have developed this new narrative in part to define his literary project for the new audience he anticipated. At the least, Roan Stallion was the first major poem he wrote as a public figure.
Dates can be suggested for some of the shorter poems in Roan Stallion. “Granite and Cypress” seems to be a winter poem, or perhaps quite early spring, and its somewhat mythic cast (as if looking back to the last of the Tamar poems) suggests that it comes from the beginning of 1924. More clearly, “Woodrow Wilson” is a poem from early 1924; Wilson died February 3, 1924, and the poem is subtitled “February, 1924.” “Night,” “Autumn Evening,” and “Joy” are the poems that can be most securely dated. In “Night” the speaker says it is August, suggesting August 1924 (if August 1923 the poem would probably have been in Tamar). “Autumn Evening” and “Joy” are probably September 1924. Jeffers wrote them on the same sheet, and the first occurs on a “late September evening.” Neither is as central as “Night,” so Jeffers could have written them September 1923 and left them out of Tamar, but their tone makes September 1924 plausible. “Phenomena” may be the one short poem Jeffers wrote from fall 1924 and the start of Tower through spring 1925, when he completed Roan Stallion. Its reference to “rain-wind” places it as a winter poem, and Jeffers may have written it between Tower and returning to Alma Venus. It could be from the previous winter but reads as if it follows “Boats in a Fog,” “Night,” and “Autumn Evening,” rather than the final Tamar poems, “Point Pinos and Point Lobos” and “The Torch-Bearers’ Race.”
There is little internal or external evidence to date most of the other shorter Roan Stallion poems, but the majority are similar enough in approach to suggest they are a single phase of work; their tone—a bit less dramatic, a bit more conversational, at moments almost ironically playful—differs from the 1923 work. The “Joy” manuscript, for instance, shows the final line first read “Will cover you and say ‘Bon jour'” instead of “Will cover those wistful eyes.” These poems are probably later than “Woodrow Wilson” and earlier than Tower; late spring through early fall 1924 seems plausible. If so, Jeffers was probably not working on a long poem in these months but instead writing short pieces as he continued work on the stone tower and coped with the added summer regimen of watering the many trees he had planted.
Since The Nation published “Birds,” “Fog,” “Boats in a Fog,” and “Haunted Country” in its September 23, 1925, issue (shortly before Roan Stallion was issued November 10, 1925), they might have been written later than summer 1924, but the way they reached The Nation suggests they are earlier than that. At some point Jeffers sent Rorty typescripts of the four poems. Rorty passed them to Van Doren, who in turn wrote Jeffers with The Nation‘s offer sometime in April 1925 (see SL 39 for Jeffers’ April 30, 1925, reply, which shows he had not realized Rorty was playing agent). The poems were, thus, typed by early spring 1925—at least several weeks before Jeffers’ letter, the time between The Tower Beyond Tragedy and Roan Stallion when Jeffers was “horribly involved” with Alma Venus, and probably not writing short pieces. Also, “Boats in a Fog,” at least, was apparently written before Tower. The draft is on the verso of p. 26 of the Tower manuscript, which Jeffers wrote on the backs of discarded sheets. This pushes the composition of “Boats in a Fog” back to at least mid-fall 1924 (roughly the period of “Night,” “Autumn Evening,” and “Joy”). “Vices,” “Practical People,” “Science,” and “People and a Heron” seem from roughly the same period as the four poems sent to Rorty.
The Women at Point Sur Period, 1925-1927
Most of the short poems from the two years after Roan Stallion can be dated more securely. Some nineteen months elapsed between the assembling of Roan Stallion in late May 1925 and February 22, 1927, when Jeffers finished The Women at Point Sur (SL 106). At least four of these months were devoted to another attempt at Alma Venus and at least nine to The Women at Point Sur. This means most of the short poems were probably written between July and December 1925, a few in the spring of 1926, and a few at the end of 1926 and beginning of 1927. Also, the popularity of Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems, driven in part by the sexual themes of the narratives, led to magazine publications, which helps place certain poems. Jeffers sent “Summer Holiday” to The Measure November 12, 1925 (SL 51). It is, thus, probably from summer 1925; had he written it summer 1924, he could have used it in Roan Stallion. Also, some poems reflect specific events. “George Sterling” refers to Sterling’s suicide in early November 1926, and Jeffers sent it to The San Francisco Review December 6, 1926. “Winter Sundown” (later recast as “George Sterling’s Death”) was perhaps a few weeks to a month later. Jeffers wrote it for the Overland Monthly, with which Sterling had been closely associated, and sent it off December 18, 1926.
When Jeffers wrapped up Roan Stallion, he apparently returned to Alma Venus. As noted above, he wrote to Benjamin De Casseres in September 1925 that he had “scrapped” three prior attempts and hoped this new attempt meant it was “coming out of the nebula at last” (SL 45-46). Returning to Alma Venus so soon after Roan Stallion (in spite of the earlier failures) underscores his commitment to the project and may also reflect a desire to have a new narrative ready as soon as possible to follow Roan Stallion. Yet letters to Sterling late in the year show this attempt also soon bogged down. On December 1, 1925, while urging Sterling not to abandon his “more metrical manner,” Jeffers admitted his own “thoughts” might “tend that way again, if I could ever work free of the tiresome story that won’t be finished for months yet” (SL 54). Then on December 31 he talks of a trip to the Point Sur lighthouse, which, “brought me awake and I went back to that long story and have been rather productive” (SL 56). He continued to work on Alma Venus for the first third of 1926, before finally giving it up for what became The Women at Point Sur. These comments suggest that work on Alma Venus was intermittent enough through the fall of 1925 that Jeffers could have—and probably did—write shorter poems as well.
Like “Summer Holiday,” “Noon” is most likely from summer 1925. The details indicate summer, it was apparently not available for Roan Stallion, and Jeffers submitted it to the New Republic March 29, 1926, ruling out summer 1926 (SL 67). The one complication in the dating is the way it invokes “O pitiless God” and combines this with the speaker’s assertion that he is “Full of the God” and the confession that, even so, he (and his “pride”) “have been thrown down.” This resembles the opening of chapter V of Tamar (printed in the Continent’s End anthology as “Invocation from Tamar”) and chapter XII of The Women at Point Sur (the one excerpt from that narrative in Selected Poetry). “Noon” might, thus, derive from an equivalent moment in a version of Alma Venus and be earlier than summer 1925. Like “Noon,” “The Beach” is probably a summer poem and probably no later than summer 1925; its occasionally stilted and “poetic” diction means it, too, might be a summer or two earlier.
“October Evening,” “Clouds at Evening,” and “Pelicans” are from fall 1925. The title “October Evening” establishes the month, and the draft is on the verso of p. 27 of The Women at Point Sur manuscript, which shows Jeffers wrote it before summer 1926 when he started that narrative. Also, if “October Evening” were October 1924, it would probably have been in Roan Stallion. “Clouds at Evening” reads as if it was written about the same time, and the reference to “tonight’s storm” places it during the rainy season. Jeffers sent a fair copy of it, dated it November 3, 1925, to Rolfe Humphries, the editor of The Measure, November 12, 1925 (SL 51). November 1925 is also the probable date for “Pelicans.” Jeffers dated a fair copy November 1925; the readings show it precedes the typescript he sent to Ida Purnell for Palms on July 28, 1926. Since he dated these two fair copies so soon after writing the poems, the dates are probably accurate.
“Post Mortem” and “Apology for Bad Dreams” are two other pieces apparently from the later part of 1925, before Jeffers’ final run at Alma Venus. The first draft of “Post Mortem” is on the back of a page of an abandoned Alma Venus attempt (perhaps the one from spring 1924). In it Jeffers mentions that his stone tower is completed, which means the poem is later than September 3, 1925; in a September 4 letter to De Casseres he notes, “The tower is finished, except two little jobs of paving. I laid the last stone in the parapet of the turret yesterday” (SL 45). The poem could be as much as a year or so later than the tower’s completion. Sometime in the fall of 1926 Sterling asked Jeffers for a contribution to an Overland Monthly issue he was assembling, and Jeffers sent “Post Mortem” on November 4, 1926, saying it was “the only thing I could find, and I doubt your wanting it” (SL 91). This suggests Jeffers was reaching back for an earlier piece, perhaps wanting to save his more recent short poems for The Women at Point Sur. Since he seems to have worked mostly on Alma Venus, Point Sur, and a somewhat different set of shorter pieces from January through October 1926, “Post Mortem” was probably written closer to the earlier limit (September 1925) than the later one (October 1926), and the prominence of the trees in the poem also suggests fall 1925, before the winter rains relieved Jeffers of his watering chores. (He comments in several letters from this period on the time he was spending hauling water to the hundreds of trees he had been planting.) “Summer Holiday” reads like an earlier, less extended, and less personal version of “Post Mortem” and may also have been written in fall 1925.
“Apology for Bad Dreams” seems to be late 1925 but cannot be dated precisely. Since it appeared May 1926 in the first issue of New Masses (which Rorty was editing), it had to be finished by mid-spring 1926. In it, Jeffers tries to explain—seemingly both to himself and his reader—his approach to narrative. His struggle with Alma Venus the last months of 1925 could have been the poem’s impetus. The December 1925 visit to the Point Sur lighthouse that he says “brought me awake” and helped clarify (at least for a time) his sense of Alma Venus might also have been the occasion.
By early 1926, just as the laudatory reviews of Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems began to appear, Jeffers was again working on Alma Venus with enough momentum that he expected to finish it by the summer for fall publication. February 19, 1926 he wrote Friede (who had apparently asked about short poems for magazines) that
I haven’t offered verse to a magazine since I was nineteen, though during the past I tried to oblige when asked to. However, I’ll go over my papers and see whether there are things I can send you. There may be a few. Lately I haven’t written anything short, so taken up with the story that I hope to have ready this summer. (SL 64)
By April he was far enough along that he apparently wired Friede that he should publicize the book for his fall list. That momentum and confidence, though, quickly dissipated, and Jeffers sent a second telegram to say the poem would have to be postponed, then wrote Friede on April 30,
I was in a fine state of mind about having to send you that second wire; but when I gave a whole morning to reading the manuscript considerately it became dreadfully clear that it would not do….Every story that ever occurred to me had got wound up into this one poem, and it was too long, too complicated, and, from the attempt at compression, neither clear nor true. I should have discovered this a year ago, but was still hoping that the end would justify the earlier part.
One has to try experiments, even costly ones.
Now I must pick this thing to pieces…. (SL 70)
In spite of his dismay at his “costly” experiment, Jeffers wrote the short narrative Home, drafted four usable shorter poems, and began planning The Women at Point Sur in the five or six weeks following the letter to Friede, and on June 13, 1926, he sent Friede typescripts of “Love-Children,” “Ocean,” “Soliloquy,” and “Preface” (later the opening of “Prelude”), noting, “Enclosed are four short poems I promised to send you when there were any, but probably you’ll agree with me that none of them is fitted for magazine publication. Except the one called love-children they are more in the nature of notes for the long poem [The Women at Point Sur] to come” (SL 78). And he added, “I’ve just finished a story called ‘the choice’ [an early title for Home], about the length of ‘roan stallion,’ same meter and similar manner, the subject of course quite different.” The phrasing suggests that he had written these pieces since his April 30 letter. “Love-Children” and Home may have been the first (written in the residual intensity of the Alma Venus work), the others following as he started into Point Sur. By late summer 1926 (SL 83) he was apparently hard at work on Point Sur, and the letters show it was his focus until he completed it in February 1927. On February 11 he wrote Friede that “The thing was finished three or four days ago” and that he was typing it (SL 105); on February 22 he wrote that he had finished the typing and would send it the next day (SL 106).
Even though Jeffers worked mostly on Point Sur in the later part of 1926 and early 1927, he did manage a few short poems in this period. As noted, Sterling’s suicide in November 1926 led to “George Sterling” and “Winter Sundown.” Also, Louis Untermeyer had not only asked Jeffers for selections from Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems for the next edition of his influential Modern American Poetry anthology but had written in September 1926, inviting him to be one of a small number of poets in A Miscellany of American Poetry: 1927. Each poet was to provide twenty pages of work that had not appeared in a trade collection. The project was to feature a number of recognized poets, and the invitation was a sign of Jeffers rising poetic stock (see SL 87). However, he had few new short poems on hand and wanted some of them (“Soliloquy,” for one) for The Women at Point Sur. As a result, the group he sent Untermeyer late December 1926 was a grab bag: pre-1920 pieces like “Promise of Peace” and “Age in Prospect” left over from Tamar mixed with work from later 1925 and probably several late 1926 pieces. (In 1935 this set was added to Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems as the concluding section for the Modern Library reissue.) Ironically, Boni & Liveright dropped the short poems Jeffers had held back for Point Sur because the collection was too long, and these ended up split between the next two collections, Cawdor and Dear Judas.
Jeffers’ dilemma is apparent in the counterpoint between his November 10, 1926, letter to Untermeyer and his December 16, 1926, letter to Friede. Writing Untermeyer, he claims, “I have it committed to memory that my fifteen or twenty pages must be mailed to you not later than Christmas. I’d send them earlier, only there’s always the hope that something may yet occur to me. Since you speak of the poem [‘Apology for Bad Dreams’] that appeared, rather to its own astonishment, in the Masses—I’ll include that, unless there is better” (SL 91). Jeffers presumably had a clear sense of the importance of “Apology for Bad Dreams,” and his comments to Untermeyer may mean he hoped he would have more work by Christmas and so be able to save “Apology” for Point Sur. That did not happen. In the letter to Friede, Jeffers notes, “I’m sending to Louis Untermeyer nineteen pages of short poems for his Miscellany of American Poetry. I’m sorry I gave him my promise, for now there are only three short poems left for the ‘Women at Point Sur’ volume, which is to come out before the Miscellany. Perhaps one or two more by February” (SL 101). “Soliloquy” and “Ocean” are probably two of the “three short poems.” The third could be either “Preface,” though Jeffers might already have added it to “Prelude,” or (see below) “Day After To-Morrow.”
“Credo” and “Ante Mortem” are the Miscellany poems most likely from late 1926. Jeffers sent neither to magazines (“Love-Children,” and “October Evening” are the other Miscellany poems not printed in magazines). Also, the reference in “Credo” to “My friend from Asia” suggests late 1926. The “friend” was perhaps Gobind Behari Lal, a San Francisco Examiner reporter and friend of Sterling’s, whose November 14, 1926, article on Jeffers and Sterling seems based on a visit to Carmel with Sterling (CRJ 156). If so, the dates of the article and Sterling’s Carmel visits place the trip no earlier than summer 1926. “Credo” may also in part have been a response to Sterling’s suicide. It ends:
the spirit is a passage;
The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the heart-breaking beauty
Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.
“Ante Mortem” may also reflect Sterling’s death. The speaker rejects suicide, yet admits that “the striped blossom / Insanity” and “intolerable pain” have such power to “Exile the monarch soul” that it might be justifiable at some future point. (Jeffers might also have been thinking about De Casseres’ brother, who had committed suicide. De Casseres’ preface to a collection of his brother’s poetry defends suicide, and Jeffers wrote him about this material November 16, 1926—the night before he learned of Sterling’s death.)
As first sent to Boni & Liveright, The Women at Point Sur consisted of “Prelude,” Point Sur, then four short poems, then the short narrative Home (see SL 106, 121). Jeffers’ March 3 and March 27, 1927, letters to Friede, explaining where to insert two additional short poems, establish the original contents. The four short poems were pp. 142-145 of the typed collection (the Home typescript has the first page numbered “146”). The March letters show that “The Hurt Hawk” was p. 142, “Soliloquy” p. 143, and “Day After To-Morrow” p. 144. “Ocean” was apparently p. 145; it is the only poem Jeffers sent to Friede June 13, 1926, otherwise unaccounted for. (In the letter Jeffers labels “Ocean,” “Soliloquy,” and “Preface” “notes for the long poem to come”; this suggests he withheld “Ocean” from the Miscellany so that he could use it in Point Sur with the other “notes.”)
Jeffers later used “Day After To-morrow” as part V of “The Broken Balance,” but he wrote it on the same sheet as “Credo” (a page that may be from the late December 1925 through spring 1926 Alma Venus); and the two seem to have been written—”Credo” first—at one sitting. If “Soliloquy,” “Ocean,” and “Day After To-morrow” were the short poems Jeffers said he had left after sending the Miscellany group, it means he wrote “The Hurt Hawk” sometime after the December 16, 1926, letter to Friede and before February 22, 1927, when he sent Point Sur to Boni & Liveright. Writing Albert Bender of the Book Club of California (a Jeffers collector) January 6, 1927, Jeffers mentions that his sons have a “broken-winged hawk” as a pet (SL 104); writing Friede March 3, 1927, he notes that he shot the hawk on March 1, 1927. Part II of “Hurt Hawks” details the shooting; part I describes the hawk before it is shot. Jeffers apparently wrote the parts separately—with part I originally as “The Hurt Hawk”—then changed the title to “Hurt Hawks” when he added part II.
Jeffers added two poems to Point Sur after sending it to Boni & Liveright; these were probably written about the time they were sent. In a March 3, 1927, letter Jeffers asks that one poem be placed between “The Hurt Hawk” and “Soliloquy” (SL 107). Parts III and IV of “The Broken Balance” are the likely candidates for this spot. Both were drafted as independent poems—as “The Enemy” and “On a Poem Called the Women at Point Sur”—and the manuscripts seem contemporaneous with the “Day After To-morrow” manuscript. (If so, these three, and probably part VI, “Palinode,” are earlier than the units from “The Trumpet” also used in “The Broken Balance”). “Birth-Dues” is the other short poem added to Point Sur; Jeffers sent it March 27, 1927.
Jeffers’ comments to Friede as he was completing Point Sur and the short poems written just after suggest the complexity of his mood following his most ambitious and prolonged project. On January 25, 1927, he promises Friede, “if Tamar was any good I think this [Point Sur] will be better and perhaps worth waiting for” (SL 105). February 11, while typing Point Sur, he adds,
Thanks for your benevolent patience. I understood the importance of doing it as well as possible, especially since the theme and dimensions make it—for a poem of this century—rather like a dinosaur in a deer-park….
I see (through the bore of copying) that “The Women at Point Sur” is a bit longer than “Tamar.” But don’t let that alarm you; if it’s as long as a novel it’s as interesting as a good novel, besides being—I dare say—the Faust of this generation. (SL 105)
These comments do not contradict the final stanza of part IV of “The Broken Balance” (the unit first titled “On a Poem called the Women at Point Sur”), but they do differ in tone:
Reach down the long morbid roots that forget the plow,
Discover the depths; let the long pale tendrils
Spend all to discover the sky, now nothing is good
But only the steel mirrors of discovery…
And the beautiful enormous dawns of time, after we perish.
Jeffers’ remarks in a July 1, 1927, letter to De Casseres perhaps catch the dissonance as well as anything:
since the book [Point Sur] was written I have been so “languid and base,” trying to get something new started, I really haven’t had energy [to write letters]….I feel rather queerly toward the thing, a sort of astonished hatred, as if I’d fished for salmon and caught an octopus (SL 114).
And the reviewers’ generally hostile and confused response when The Women at Point Sur was published on June 30, 1927—even such early supporters as Babette Deutsche, Rorty, Taggard, and Van Doren were troubled—probably complicated his mood even more.
The Cawdor Period, 1927-1928
The short poems between Point Sur and Cawdor are harder to date than those between Roan Stallion and Point Sur. Fewer appeared in magazines, and Jeffers said less about them in his letters. Two factors may explain his relative reticence about what he was writing: he was perhaps somewhat adrift as he felt his way through and beyond Point Sur, and its negative reception was enough on his mind that he at times talked more about it than current work. The letters after Point Sur do, though, show that he was considering new projects. On March 12, 1927, he sent Friede a “scenario” for “The Song of Triumph” (see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four), a piece to be “more or less in dramatic form” (SL 108). Friede had seen passages of The Alpine Christ (on the backs of The Tower Beyond Tragedy manuscript Jeffers had given him) and apparently asked about it. Jeffers claimed he was thinking about using some of “the best of” The Alpine Christ from memory for “The Song of Triumph.” The “scenario” anticipates Cawdor, while the impulse to use poetic drama for mythic material anticipates both The Humanist’s Tragedy and Dear Judas.
When Jeffers sent Friede “Birth-Dues” on March 27, 1927, he claimed that he had “begun another book” (i.e., a long poem) that he had “been impatiently looking forward to” and wanted to work on “while there are still a couple of months of wet weather ahead” (SL 110). This might have been “The Song of Triumph,” but the July 1, 1927, letter to De Casseres quoted above shows that little came of this attempt, and in an August 8, 1927, letter to Bender Jeffers noted: “My next book will be chiefly shorter poems, I think. After that perhaps a poem in dramatic form, with thoughts and emotions quite different from the Tower Beyond Tragedy series. There are already a number of shorter poems finished” (SL 118). If Jeffers is here still thinking about “The Song of Triumph,” it is not a current project, and the letter suggests that he had been working mostly on short poems in the five months since Point Sur.
A September 1927 letter to Friede offers the clearest picture of Jeffers’ efforts at this time:
This summer I’ve been working at several things, and am now in the middle of one of them, but can’t consider publication next spring. By that time I’ll have the book done probably, and you and I can see how it turns out before we announce it in the fall list. The story I’m working at now is called “Give Your Heart to the Hawks”—(provisionally)—and will be more human than usual, without mysticism or scandal, though I hope rather interesting. The story is the Greek story of Phaedra, transferred to the coast. Desire under the Elms was a variant of it; but in mine the young man is inseductible, as in the Greek. (SL 121)
The Phaedra reference shows that this was what became Cawdor, not the later narrative Give Your Heart to the Hawks and not “The Song of Triumph” (that would have been even less “human” and more mystical than Point Sur, if perhaps less shocking). By late summer or early fall 1927 Cawdor, then, had become Jeffers’ main focus, and he probably wrote few short poems until he finished it in August 1928 (SL 131). (Jeffers had encouraged Friede to think he would have the poem done for the fall 1928 list; when he abandoned the initial draft after some seventy pages and started over, he apparently had to bear down to finish on schedule).
In the September letter Jeffers notes that he has “A dozen or so short poems accumulated” to go with the six held over from Point Sur. He thus already had in hand most or all of the sixteen short poems included in Cawdor and Other Poems. Any others were probably written by May 26, 1928, when, in a letter to Boni & Liveright, Jeffers claims he has “about 35 pages” of “shorter poems” for the book, which is about what was actually published. Probably any short poems written after September 1927 were finished by February 24, 1928, when he sent Bender “some unpublished verses” to consider for Poems, a limited edition collection of new and already published work The Book Club of California was planning. (It was issued October 10, 1928.) In the note to Bender, Jeffers explains, “I should have typed them sooner, and perhaps more of them, for you to choose from, but I am as desperately busy as my nature permits, involved in a long poem, and in the bitter midst of planting two hundred trees and trying to build a dining-room” (SL 128). Since Jeffers at this time was concentrating on Cawdor, trees, and stone work, the Cawdor short poems were probably written in two clusters: one spring through summer 1927, the other late1927 through early 1928.
The typing helps distinguish the clusters in two ways. First, from Tamar through Home and the short pieces written for Point Sur Jeffers typed his poems with purple ribbons; sometime after Point Sur, he changed to black ribbons. Second, he also began reducing the indentation of the doubled-back continuations of the long verse lines. Through Point Sur (and the Home typescript), he indented to about the center of the page; after Point Sur he gradually reduced the indentation until it was, with “A Redeemer” (typed sometime after October 1927), about eleven spaces. This reduction seems to have been progressive. Thus for the typescripts of this period, the lesser the indentation, the later the poem is likely to be. If so, “An Artist” and “The Summit Redwood” precede “Contrast,” “Ascent to the Sierras,” and “Meditation on Saviors,” and these three in turn precede “A Redeemer.” (“Tor House” and “Fawn’s Foster-Mother,” both typed in black, have no doubled-back lines.)
“A Redeemer” is the poem most clearly written fall 1927 or later. Part of the first draft is on the back of an October 13, 1927, envelope, and its Sierra setting is another clue. Writing Friede December 7, 1927, Jeffers mentions “a trip to the Sierras last month” where he saw “some tremendous sequoias—mountain redwoods—and snow on the ground, with very blessed deer and fawns skipping about in it. Besides a granite rock three or four thousand feet high, that I brought home only a little clipped around the edges, to put into coast scenery in my story” (SL 127). “Ascent to the Sierras” and “Contrast” also have Sierra settings and may derive from this trip. The ending of the first reads like a gloss on “A Redeemer,” and “Contrast” echoes the description in the letter (particularly if, as seems likely, the “granite rock” is the “Moro rock”):
I saw on the Sierras, up the Kaweah valley above the Moro rock, the mountain redwoods
Like red towers on the slopes of snow; about their bases grew a bushery of Christmas green.
“The Summit Redwood” might also belong to this cluster. Jeffers wrote it on one side of a sheet and “Ascent to the Sierras” on the other (and grouped it with “Ascent to the Sierras” and “Contrast” in Cawdor). But “The Summit Redwood” is probably spring or summer 1927. Its redwood is on a “hilltop,” not a mountain, and the oaks and laurels suggest it is a Coast Range poem. It also reads as if it might be the start of an abandoned narrative. (Several other short poems were apparently recycled from the beginnings of abandoned narratives.) Finally, the way the tree has had to learn “in every / Cell the salty and burning taste” of the lightning (here figured not simply as “fire from heaven” but a “voice”) seems closer to Jeffers’ mood when he finished Point Sur than when he wrote “A Redeemer,” and “The Summit Redwood” seems to have more in common with “An Artist” and perhaps “The Dead Men’s Child” than with “A Redeemer” or “Ascent to the Sierras.”
“Tor House” is the other poem plausibly from late 1927 or early 1928. Its concern with how “this place” will look “after a handful of lifetimes” or even farther in the future makes it hard to argue that the poem reflects a certain time of the year, but the closing nine lines concentrate on “Orion in December / Evenings.” If it is a December poem, December 1927 is the likely date: December 1926 would place it during the final work on Point Sur when it could have been used for the Miscellany grouping; December 1928 would be after Jeffers sent Cawdor to Boni & Liveright August 1928.
There are no typescripts for the remaining Cawdor poems. They are probably from spring through summer 1927, but there is little to indicate their sequence. Jeffers, for instance, probably did not write part II of “Hurt Hawks” until at least several weeks after shooting the hawk on March 3, 1927, or he would probably have replaced “The Hurt Hawk” with “Hurt Hawks” when he sent Friede “Birth-Dues” for Point Sur, but it was completed before December 4, 1927, when he mentions having given it “to Mark Van Doren for the Nation” (SL 126). It would seem likely he finished “Hurt Hawks” fairly soon after shooting the hawk, but nothing proves this.
Parts III, IV, and V of “The Broken Balance” (see above) are from the final stage of work on Point Sur; parts I, II, and VII are similar enough in tone to “Birth-Dues” that they are probably also from shortly after Point Sur but may be from summer 1927. Jeffers first used these pieces in “The Trumpet,” which he sent to Poetry (with “Birth-Dues” and The Humanist’s Tragedy) sometime October 1927 (SL 122). “The Trumpet” is parts I, II, and VII of “The Broken Balance” plus the poems originally titled “The Machine” and “July Fourth by the Pacific” (later “July Fourth by the Ocean”). “July Fourth” is apparently mid-summer 1927; if summer 1926, Jeffers would probably have used it for the Miscellany grouping. “The Machine” may also be summer 1927, and the details of “Palinode” (part VI of “The Broken Balance”) suggest it is as well.
Jeffers’ determination to “try to do something as different as possible” (SL 106) after Point Sur and his plan, expressed in several letters, to write a dramatic piece suggest that The Humanist’s Tragedy, his brief recasting of Euripides’ The Bacchae, may be one of the earlier spring 1927 pieces. The desert setting of “The Dead Men’s Child” is also something of a new direction; Jeffers usually chose landscapes he knew first-hand, and he had yet to make any of his trips to Taos. The way its supernatural twist parallels part of the mid-March “scenario” for “The Song of Triumph” may also be telling. In her copy of Cawdor (HRC) Una Jeffers identifies the poem’s genesis as Canto III, sec. V of Sir Walter Scott’s “The Lady of the Lake” and notes that the “color and locale [came] from a story [Frederick] Bechdolt told R.J.”
“Fawn’s Foster-Mother” (actually a reworking of a Californians poem) and “Bixby’s Landing” may also belong with the spring and summer poems but for a different reason. Both are essentially formulaic, the sort of thing Jeffers might write while working to get back on track after the ordeal of Point Sur and the flurry of lyrics (“Birth-Dues,” the pieces from “The Broken Balance”) that are its coda. “An Artist” may also be from this period; like “The Dead Men’s Child” it experiments with a desert setting, and its mood suggests the same impulse toward self-assessment, the same ambivalence about audience, as “Birth-Dues.”
“To a Young Artist,” “Meditation on Saviors,” and “The Bird with the Dark Plumes” are the pieces most likely written the later part of summer 1927. “To a Young Artist” is no earlier than July 1, 1927—the draft is on the back of an unfinished letter of that date. It may reflect Jeffers’ ambivalence about starting another major narrative and reads as if it comes before “The Bird with the Dark Plumes,” a coded response to the negative reviews of Point Sur—perhaps those from late July through September by such advocates of Tamar as Rorty and Van Doren—that seem to have stiffened his resolve to push ahead. (In early August he actually wrote both Rorty and Van Doren a long letter of “explanation” [SL 115-117] attempting to clarify and justify Point Sur.) Some of the manuscript workings for “Meditation on Saviors” suggest that it is also partly a response to these reviews and that Jeffers wrote it before starting his poem about “Phaedra and Hippolytus” (i.e., Cawdor). Finally, the assertion in “On Building with Stone” that stone work “is a far sweeter toil than to cut / Passions in verse for a sick people” and his closing question (“who now / Can even imagine the fabulous dawn when [the poet’s] bay-leaves……were not bitter in the teeth?”) may also reflect Point Sur’s reception.
The Dear Judas Period, 1928-1929
On October 17, 1928, Jeffers wrote Albert Bender that he had been “trying to keep some difficult work going in spite of a vile little attack of flu” (SL 134). This is probably Dear Judas, which a December 4, 1928, letter to Albert Gross of Liveright shows he finished early that month. In the letter Jeffers reports that he is “just finishing a poem that interested me a good deal—a sort of passion-play that I think of calling ‘Dear Judas'”). With Cawdor Jeffers had wanted to write a narrative distinctly different in theme and tone from Point Sur. With Dear Judas he was again exploring the savior figure so central to Point Sur, but placing more distance between himself and the material by using the figure of Jesus and casting the poem as a Noh drama. This suggests the poems between Point Sur and Cawdor that function as epilogues to Point Sur and/or reactions to its reception had helped Jeffers resolve the crisis that writing Point Sur seems to have been, helped him clarify what it meant to him, and helped him resolve his relationship to his audience. It also suggests that writing Cawdor had left him with the energy and confidence (in contrast to the exhilaration but also exhaustion and doubt following Point Sur) to quickly tackle what he knew would be a controversial, unpopular treatment of Jesus, even before he had had a chance to see how Cawdor would be received.
Judging from Jeffers’ remarks to Bender, he likely worked on little else while writing Dear Judas. If so, the three short lyrics (“Evening Ebb,” “Hands,” and “Hooded Night”) published in The Carmelite‘s Jeffers supplement to the December 12, 1928, issue probably predate the drama; the manuscripts of two of them resemble the manuscripts of the later Cawdor lyrics. It is unlikely they follow Dear Judas, since Jeffers apparently began another narrative, “Haunted Coast,” all but immediately after the drama—writing twenty-five pages or so before dropping it to write The Loving Shepherdess sometime early in 1929. (The first page of the “Haunted Coast” fragment [OC] is on the back of a November 10, 1928, fundraising appeal; the twenty-fifth page is on the back of an advertisement for a book published in 1928.)
That Jeffers went from Dear Judas to “Haunted Coast” to The Loving Shepherdess with almost no break could mean (even though “Haunted Coast” failed to develop) that he was writing with a great deal of momentum at this point. But Albert Bender’s December 1928 gift (SL 141) may also have been a factor. The Jefferses wanted to use the money to spend the summer and fall in Ireland, Scotland, and England. If Jeffers was to publish a fall 1929 collection, he needed another major narrative before the trip, and this may be why he pushed ahead with first “Haunted Coast” and then The Loving Shepherdess so soon after the “difficult work” on Dear Judas. In any case, by May The Loving Shepherdess was finished, and he and Horace Liveright were arguing over whether to title the collection Dear Judas and publish it in the fall (as Liveright wanted) or to postpone it to the spring, which Jeffers had come to prefer, and title it The Loving Shepherdess (as Jeffers wanted). During the dispute Jeffers and Bennett Cerf even discussed having Random House, which at this point specialized in limited, deluxe editions, publish part of the collection, apparently Dear Judas. When Liveright agreed to The Loving Shepherdess as a title, Jeffers in turn agreed to Liveright’s publishing the full collection in the fall—and then “decided too, for myself, that he [Liveright] was right about titles.” When the Jefferses left for Ireland in early June 1929, the typescript of Dear Judas and Other Poems was on its way to Liveright. Jeffers proofed the collection sometime in August and it was published November 1929. Cerf did not, however, lose out entirely; Jeffers promised him something suitable for Random House “in six months.” Random House ended up publishing Descent to the Dead (1931), the sequence Jeffers wrote in Ireland and England as a limited edition title (it was later incorporated in Give Your Heart to the Hawks), and when Liveright went bankrupt in 1933, Random House became Jeffers’ publisher.
Una Jeffers’ letters suggest Jeffers began writing the Descent to the Dead poems sometime in August, a month or so after they arrived in Ireland (see SM 129) and that he finished them sometime in November. They sailed from London December 10, 1929, and were back in Carmel by the first of January. The Irish poems apparently came first, the British poems last, following the progress of their travels. “Subjected Earth” would have been written sometime after September 19. The title of “The Dead to Clemenceau: November 1929” gives its approximate date, and “Iona: The Graves of Kings” likely dates from this time also, or just a bit earlier, since both were written on stationery from the same Manchester hotel. During the trip Jeffers may also have considered a narrative with an Irish setting, since a few fragments on the Descent to the Dead manuscripts read as if they might be the starts of narrative episodes (see below). Also, several poems not in Descent but later in Thurso’s Landing (“The Bed by the Window,” “Winged Rock,” and “Second-Best”) were perhaps written during the trip. In an October 7, 1929, letter to the poet Arthur Davison Ficke Jeffers talks about the bed in the “sweet little panelled bed-room-guest-room—on the ground floor” in terms that echo “The Bed by the Window” (SL 156-58). In the same letter he mentions the “tiny white-washed stone cottage” they had lived in “at a wildish place…near the Antrim coast,” and this (not Tor House) is apparently the setting for “Winged Rock.” “Second-Best” is set in Ireland and turns on a story Jeffers mentions in an August 31, 1929, letter to Benjamin Lehman, a literature professor at the University of California Berkeley (SL 152). The three are also, like the Descent poems, drafted on scraps apparently picked up as Jeffers traveled; though he often drafted earlier poems on whatever scrap was handy, during this period he was, when at Tor House, mostly using paper purchased for that purpose. If the three were written during the trip, Jeffers likely omitted “The Bed by the Window” from the sequence because of its setting and may have passed over the other two because neither fit thematically or tonally.
The Thurso’s Landing Period, 1930-1931
Over the course of 1930 Jeffers finished two brief narratives (Resurrection and Margrave), wrote a handful of short poems, and tried (apparently without success) to launch a major narrative. Fatigue may have been a factor. The previous ten years stand as his most intense, sustained period of work. In and around helping to build Tor House, building the garage and tower, and planting more than two thousand trees on the Tor House headland, he had evolved his own approach to the narrative poem and the problem of modernity, and he had written five lengthy collections (actually several more if one counts the material left out of Tamar, the various Alma Venus attempts, and the partial version of Cawdor). He had also seen his bid for an audience seemingly fail (Tamar’s initial reception), then been suddenly hailed as a major poet, only to have his most ambitious project (Point Sur) reviewed with dismay even by those who had lauded his early work. It is understandable, then, that the overall mood of Descent to the Dead is one of exhaustion, a desire for peace, even death (see especially the entry for “In the Hill at Newgrange”), and the sequence stands as a kind of coda to this phase of Jeffers’ career.
But Jeffers’ pace after returning to Carmel may also reflect some uncertainty about what to do next. While the 1920’s narratives are full of naturalistic detail, they are also intensely ritualistic. His sense of this dimension and how he participated in it through the poems is apparent in “Apology for Bad Dreams” and “Prelude,” in those moments in the narratives when his narrators disrupt the action with their lyric interjections, and in his comment to Friede (April 24, 1926) that the “episodes” of Alma Venus are “a sort of essential ritual, from which the real action develops on another plane” (SL 68). Seen this way, Jeffers in the 1920’s progresses from an anticipation of this ritualistic mode in the “Brides of the South Wind” narratives, to its emergence in Tamar, to its culmination through the progressive attempts at Point Sur and its refinement in Cawdor and the two Dear Judas narratives. However, in refining his practice following Point Sur, he was also changing his relationship to the worlds he was evoking, casting his narrator (and presumably himself) progressively more as observer and interpreter instead of participant or agonist. As a result, the conflagrational intensity of “Prelude” and Point Sur modulates into the elegaic intensity of The Loving Shepherdess. Indeed, the narrator’s greater distance in this last poem may be partly why its key visionary moments belong to the character Onorio, not the narrator.
Seven months of traveling (and having imaginatively descended to the dead) might well have made it more difficult for Jeffers to determine what sort of narrative to write next, but he was also at a point where he had to decide whether to move back toward the intensely participatory mode of “Prelude” and Point Sur, distance himself from his inventions even more than he had in the Dear Judas narratives (treating the realistic elements of plot and the psychology of the characters as both the poem’s means and its end, thereby stressing the narrative dimension rather than the ritualistic), or try to find another basis for his long poems. For much of 1930 he seems to have had little sense of direction, then sometime early 1931 settled on the second of these options when he began Thurso’s Landing.
Jeffers’ first project after returning to Carmel was Resurrection, a short narrative finished sometime spring 1930. In a May 7, 1930, letter to Benjamin de Casseres he wrote,
In England and Ireland I felt as if I had been gathered to my fathers, wandering in the islands of the dead. I loved it. The verses I wrote there are called Descent to the Dead. Since our return I’ve written a narrative poem called Resurrection, which is more exciting but less pleasant. (SL 172-173)
Although set in California in the present, the poem’s source is classical, and a June 12, 1929, letter to Cerf shows that Jeffers was planning to write a version while he was in Ireland that would have retained the classical setting. (He probably also planned to offer it to Random House to make up for having withdrawn Dear Judas.)
What I have in mind to begin when we land in Ireland is the story (not Homeric) of Achilles after his death unable to forget the beauty of Helen, and returning from Hades to take her from Sparta, as Paris had done before. It might be called “Resurrection,” as it might be called “Menelaus,” since her twice-robbed husband would be the most interesting person in the story. I’ll send you this if it prospers, and if I can condense it into fifty pages as I intend to. (RHA)
Jeffers apparently did not start the poem until he was back in Carmel and then managed only a few pages before recasting the classical situation as Resurrection. (The fragment “The Resurrection of Achilles” [see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four], later in Albert’s Four Poems and a Fragment may be this attempt, and Jeffers later developed a variant of the classical episode as At the Fall of an Age.)
For some months after Resurrection, Jeffers apparently completed only short poems. “The Place for No Story” seems the first of these. The manuscript shows it derives, despite the title, from the opening of an abandoned narrative, and Jeffers is unlikely to have written it while working on Resurrection. The paper also suggests it is later than Resurrection. The manuscript is a yellowish paper, the typescript a slightly better but unwatermarked paper. While Jeffers usually typed the narratives only when he actually assembled a book, he probably typed Resurrection soon after writing it, expecting to send it to Cerf and Random House. The paper of “The Place for No Story” manuscript seems to be the same paper used for the Resurrection typescript. If “The Place for No Story” preceded Resurrection, it should be on the yellowish paper of the narrative’s manuscript draft, not the typescript paper.
The attempt at the abandoned narrative that yielded “The Place for No Story” may have been the last thing Jeffers worked on before spending June 1930 in Taos, New Mexico, visiting Mabel Dodge Luhan. Luhan had earlier encouraged D. H. Lawrence to adopt New Mexico as his literary home. When Lawrence died, she shifted her attention to Jeffers. The Jeffers family continued to visit Luhan until 1938, but “New Mexico Mountain” (presumably written during or shortly after the first trip) is Jeffers’ only New Mexico piece.
Once back in Carmel, Jeffers was again soon working on a narrative. In a July 27, 1930, letter to Herbert Klein he notes, “my mind is reluctant to leave the story that seems to be arranging itself since we got home” (SL 176). This may have been an early attempt at what became Thurso’s Landing; in any case, Jeffers had apparently set this story aside by the later fall, the probable period for both Margrave and “November Surf.” If, as seems likely, “November Surf” is a Carmel poem, November 1930 is the logical date. Jeffers was still in England in November 1929, and November 1928 would mean it should have been in Dear Judas, while November 1931 would make it too late for Thurso’s Landing. Margrave was also probably begun about this time; its first four pages seem to be sheets of the same yellowed paper used for “November Surf” and possibly “New Mexico Mountain.” (The remainder of Margrave, “An Irish Headland,” “Edison,” and the first sixty-seven pages of Thurso’s Landing are on an Eaton’s bond.) Certainly Margrave was begun not much later than this, since several factors place it before the main work on Thurso’s Landing, which was Jeffers’ focus from early 1931 through fall 1931. One is the manuscript’s mix of papers; another is a table of contents in pencil at the bottom of the first page of Margrave, which sketches a collection that would have opened with Descent to the Dead, Resurrection, and Margrave; been followed by two pieces that might be either short poems or other short narratives (neither title is legible but neither seems to be Thurso’s Landing); and ended with several unspecified short poems. If Thurso’s Landing had been finished at this point, Jeffers would probably have listed it as the first poem, following his usual practice.
By early 1931 Jeffers had dropped this plan and sent Random House Descent to the Dead (SL 178). It seems more than coincidence that this also seems to be when he began making serious progress on Thurso’s Landing. In a February 11, 1931, letter to T. R. Smith (who had become his Liveright editor), Jeffers wrote: “I have been busy and unlucky with my verses, not wanting to take my mind off them for fear they’d flicker out—and they flickered out just the same, several times, but I expect everything will be all right now” (SL 178). Whether “verses” here refers to several attempts at a single “story” or attempts at several stories is unclear, but the sense of having been “unlucky” in developing a major narrative was perhaps a reason Jeffers had toyed with publishing a full-scale trade collection that would have lacked the usual long narrative. And in any case, the letter suggests that at least one of these “flickered” stories had been an anticipation of Thurso’s Landing and that he was now reasonably sure he knew how to develop the poem.
And Jeffers was right. By early summer he was far enough along to think he would have a collection ready for fall publication. This did not happen, but he had Thurso’s Landing drafted and typed no later than November 1932, when he apparently proposed that Liveright publish it in the spring, only to have Smith counter that the bleak economy would require pushing the book back to fall 1932, which Jeffers (in a November 18, 1931, letter to Smith) flatly rejected:
I am not at all satisfied to wait until nearly a year from now before the publication of “Thurso’s Landing”; that would be nearly three years between books, for “Descent to the Dead” is not more than a pamphlet in length.
I want “Thurso’s Landing” to be published promptly, partly because it seems to me the best thing I have written yet and I don’t want it lying around so long; partly because too long a vacation is not good advertising. (SL 185)
In the letter Jeffers offers to hold back “the shorter narrative poems,” which he thinks “might distract attention” from Thurso’s Landing, and to publish the long narrative with “a dozen short poems of a page or so each.” This enthusiasm for Thurso’s Landing probably reflected both his sense of the poem and his sense that he had recovered his momentum as a narrative poet. He was, in any case, prepared to take the book elsewhere rather than wait (SL 185), and Liveright finally agreed to spring publication (SL 186). By mid-December the typescript was on its way east (SL 187), and Liveright issued the book March 26, 1932.
If Jeffers had a dozen short poems in hand when he wrote Smith November 18, 1931, he had probably at that point completed all nine used in Thurso’s Landing. Of the three not already covered, “An Irish Headland” seems the earliest. The manuscript paper (Eaton’s) matches the Margrave manuscript and the first third of the Thurso’s Landing manuscript; this makes the end of 1930 or early 1931 the probable date, even though its setting and subject recall Descent to the Dead. (Not only does the paper show the poem must be later than the Ireland trip but so does its original opening: “I remember Fair Head in Antrim.”) The paper of the “Edison” manuscript (also Eaton’s) suggests it too is from the earlier part of 1931, but its subject (Edison’s death) and subtitle (“October 1931”) place it later in the year, perhaps during the writing of Thurso’s Landing, even though the later part of the narrative is on Hammermill Bond, not Eaton’s. Finally, the paper used for “Fire on the Hills” (Hammermill) places it after Thurso’s Landing was well under way. The episode it describes could plausibly be either late summer or fall.
The Give Your Heart to the Hawks Period, 1931-1933
Jeffers’ push to publish Thurso’s Landing in spring rather than fall 1932 reflects partly his sense of its merit and partly a desire to maintain his visibility, but his November 1931 letter to Smith reveals another factor: “In the fall [of 1932] you would be free to publish ‘Descent to the Dead,’ with ‘Resurrection,’ ‘Margrave,’ and a longer narrative poem that I would have ready by that time. This again would make a book longer than the ‘Dear Judas’ volume” (SL 185). Jeffers, it seems, already had an idea for his next narrative; believed he could develop it quickly; and was worried he would soon have more work than Liveright could handle in a timely manner unless Thurso’s Landing came out in the spring with another book later that year.
He did actually push forward quickly with new work. Soon after sending off Thurso’s Landing in December 1931, he began At the Fall of an Age, a verse drama based on the Helen and Achilles story that he had expected to use for a narrative while he was in Ireland (see above). By April, as a letter to Liveright (Bib 77) shows, he had not only completed this and several short poems, but had also started Give Your Heart to the Hawks, the “longer narrative” that would anchor the collection. “Crumbs or the Loaf,” “A Little Scraping,” and “Intellectuals” are the short poems likely finished by April 1932. They are written on the same paper as At the Fall of an Age (the watermark appears to begin with an “A”), while the other three Give Your Heart short poems are, like the narrative, on Hammermill Bond. But this April letter also shows that Jeffers had changed his mind about publishing a collection in the fall. Although he had ninety pages in hand (Descent to the Dead, Resurrection, At the Fall of an Age, and “two single-page poems besides”), he explained to Liveright that Give Your Heart would “run over a hundred pages”—more than he could manage in time for fall even though he was already working on it (Bib 77). As it happened, he barely finished the poem for the spring 1933 list. Not only did it end up being 172 manuscript pages, but the final conception emerged only after several false starts and discarded scenes. As late as November 11, 1932, he was still hoping to finish it by the first of the year (Bib 78), but he still had “three or so chapters to do” on January 10, 1933 (SL 203). He apparently managed to wrap up the book by February 1933, and Liveright would have issued it April 18, 1933, if financial problems had not forced it to hold the book back for the fall (Bib 74).
The scramble to complete Give Your Heart to the Hawks means Jeffers probably wrote few, if any, short poems in late 1932 or early 1933, but it is hard to be much more precise than that about the collection’s remaining three pieces: “The Stone Axe,” “Triad,” and “Still the Mind Smiles.” “Triad” was published in The Carmel Pine Cone August 19, 1932, and Jeffers may have written it and the other two late spring or summer 1932, during the early stages of Give Your Heart to the Hawks.
The Solstice Period, 1933-1935
Jeffers probably wrote little the first few months after typing Give Your Heart to the Hawks. For one thing, he may have needed a break after pushing to finish the book for spring publication. For another, Liveright’s problems escalated into bankruptcy, and he had to find a new publisher. In 1933 Jeffers was a major enough figure to make the cover of Time (when Thurso’s Landing was published), and both established houses and firms on the make came bidding. Random House in particular saw the situation as an opportunity and signed up several leading Liveright clients—including Jeffers. On May 10, 1933, Jeffers wrote Cerf authorizing him to “acquire” his “books, plates and copyrights” from Liveright (RHA). Random House completed production of Give Your Heart to the Hawks in fall 1933 and published Jeffers from then on.
With the distraction of finding a publisher behind him, Jeffers may well have been ready to settle down to work, but a June 1933 letter to Melba Bennett indicates the rest of the spring was also relatively unproductive: “I failed to answer [your letter] at once because I was in the cloudy stage of composition when theme after theme presents itself excitingly to be started and abandoned, because the next one seems more attractive. This survival-of-the-fittest kind of contest keeps the mind always preoccupied; whereas after you settle to work you do your little stint and are free for awhile feeling something done” (SL 206). Nor did Jeffers write much the first part of the summer. A July 29, 1933, letter shows that he had been traveling “in New Mexico” and “Wyoming and elsewhere” (SL 206), and it was probably late winter or early spring 1934 before he began At the Birth of an Age, the next major project. Writing Sidney Alberts from Taos on June 25, 1934 (OC), Una Jeffers noted that Jeffers was working on “Attila’s Wife” (i.e., At the Birth of an Age); two days later she wrote Random House that it was finished (RHA). Since the Taos trips to Luhan’s were primarily social occasions, this means the poem was mostly written before the Jefferses left for Taos sometime early June. This would place the start of At the Birth of an Age sometime early 1934, since he would have needed three or four months, maybe more, for a poem of this length.
The question, then, is what occupied Jeffers from late summer 1933 through early 1934. The manuscripts of several of the Solstice short poems have notes or bits from unfinished narratives. Boxed off on the left of the page of “Shine, Republic” is the comment:
Mike Archer or Lora Strange—a visionary content with visions, a poet who does not publish, life for life’s sake.
A thread of light insanity, from/for[?] the t.b. mother.
On the back is a sketch of the “First Scene”: “Lora, near-sighted, beautiful, trying to look at her drunk father to mock him. Vigil defending him. Violent quarrel between the sisters. Lora’s veiled accusation.” Workings on the back of “Gray Weather” also show “Vigil” as a character, but with a different plot and situation: “The little farmhouse described; the mountain, the wind, the ocean. The road passing the farmhouse, the cars on it. Later, the ghosts in it.” Perhaps most intriguing is a deleted line, apparently to have been the opening of a narrative, across the bottom of the “Praise Life” manuscript: “By Carmel River, where Jeffers’ tower’s on the shore, where he makes those[?] fertile[?]/crazy but true histories in verse / About the Coast.” The page also has notes that anticipate Solstice.
This evidence, though sketchy, suggests that Jeffers started and discarded several long poems during the second half of 1933 through early 1934, that these workings were mostly no more than a scene or two, and that most of the eighteen short Solstice poems are from this period and predate At the Birth of an Age. But which short poems and in what order is not as clear. Only one is dated, and the only real evidence—the papers used for the original drafts—is inconclusive.
Jeffers drafted At the Birth of an Age on Voucher Bond and Solstice on Hammermill. The short poems (other than a few on the backs of ad circulars and other scraps) are also on these two papers. Several factors suggest that the ones on Voucher are earlier than the ones on Hammermill and that they precede At the Birth of an Age. If Jeffers did write the majority of the short poems before At the Birth of an Age, then at least some would be on Voucher (the drafts of only three of the short poems are on Hammermill). Also some of the Voucher pieces question the writing of poems (implicitly the writing of narratives), a common theme for Jeffers after a major poem such as Give Your Heart to the Hawks. (The deleted line from the bottom of the “Praise Life” manuscript, a Voucher poem, seems to reflect this mood.) And some of the Voucher poems lament America’s slide into materialism, decadence, and mass culture. In the next three collections—Such Counsels You Gave to Me (1937), Be Angry at the Sun (1941), and The Double Axe (1948)—Jeffers became steadily less concerned with these matters as he increasingly focused on European affairs and the threat, then reality of another world war.
The poem that signals the shift to this new theme, “Rearmament,” can be dated with some precision. The original title was “Rearmament (March 1935),” and how it was added to Solstice helps confirm the date. In a February 26, 1935, letter to her friend Blanche Matthias (YU), Una Jeffers noted that Jeffers was then almost finished typing Solstice, which he sent to Random House about the beginning of March—without “Rearmament.” He mailed “Rearmament” separately, explaining that it was to replace “In Time of Change” (see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments” in Volume Four). This suggests that he wrote “Rearmament” after submitting Solstice, typed it soon after writing it, and then sent it to Random House not long after that. The “Rearmament” manuscript is on a stray sheet (the watermark seems to begin with a “P”) and thus does not clarify the relationship of the short poems on Voucher to those on Hammermill, but the typescript is on Hammermill. This suggests the three short poems for Solstice that were drafted on Hammermill—”Gray Weather,” “Red Mountain,” and “Ave Caesar”—were written after At the Birth of an Age, in and around the work on the narrative Solstice.
If the “politics” of these pieces reflects when they were written, “Ave Caesar” belongs midway between such Voucher pieces as “Rock and Hawk” and “Shine, Republic” on the one hand and “Rearmament” on the other, and is perhaps from summer or fall 1934. In “Red Mountain” the speaker is recalling a scene “we admired last year on our summer journey,” and a canceled phrase locates “Red Mountain” in Colorado. Jeffers, thus, is likely referring to summer 1933 (see above) when the usual Taos trip included “Wyoming and elsewhere.” “Gray Weather” is grouped with these two because it was drafted on Hammermill; little else indicates when it was written, though it was completed by October 16, 1934, when Una Jeffers, writing Bennett Cerf, noted that it, “Rock and Hawk,” and “Shine, Republic” had been sent to Scribners (RHA).
The sonnets “Return,” “Love the Wild Swan,” “Where I?,” and “The Cruel Falcon” seem the earliest of the other fourteen Solstice poems. Jeffers apparently wrote them as a sequence to be titled “Four Stanzas”; the original drafts are numbered rather than titled. “Return” was first issued December 1934, by Theodore Lilienthal, a bookstore owner and friend of the Jefferses, who arranged to have the sonnet published by the Grabhorn Press. Una Jeffers had answered his request for a poem to print—apparently sometime 1933—claiming that Jeffers “has in mind only one and that short” (SL 219). If “Return” was written sometime in 1933, the other three “Four Stanzas” were probably also written in that year.
The paper used for “Distant Rainfall” is not known, for the manuscript was stolen (see the “Distant Rainfall” entry in Textual Commentaries). Nor is the paper for “Northern Heather,” an undated advertisement, of much help. The two read, though, as if they were written closer to “Love the Wild Swan” than to “Ave Caesar” or “Rearmament,” and the speaker in “Northern Heather” is “in the ebb of the mind / Between two poems, / When imagination is clearly a trap.” Since Jeffers apparently pushed forward with Solstice soon after At the Birth of an Age, “Northern Heather” was more likely written after Give Your Heart to the Hawks than after At the Birth of an Age. The remaining poems, “Life from the Lifeless,” “Praise Life,” “The Trap,” “Rock and Hawk,” “Shine, Republic,” “Sign-Post,” “What Are Cities For?” and “Flight of Swans” (all on Voucher), show Jeffers moving away from probing his own mood and toward a more declamatory stance. They could, then, follow the section’s more personal poems and trace a growing readiness to tackle At the Birth of an Age. At the least, it seems that “What Are Cities For?” is later than “Rock and Hawk,” since it was drafted on the back of the earlier of the two drafts of “Rock and Hawk,” presumably after the second “Rock and Hawk” manuscript superseded the original workings.
This construction is both approximate and uncertain. Since Jeffers also wrote Give Your Heart to the Hawks and the last few Give Your Heart lyrics on Hammermill, the short poems from Solstice on Hammermill could have been written soon after Give Your Heart instead of toward the end of the Solstice period. To further complicate matters, some of the shorter pieces in the later Such Counsels You Gave to Me poems are on Voucher, which could mean that some Solstice poems on Voucher are later than suggested above. There may be, then, no pattern to the use of papers in this period. Jeffers typed the Solstice collection on a mixture of Voucher and Hammermill sheets: At the Birth of an Age switches between the two papers, a third of the shorter poems are on Voucher, the others on Hammermill, and Solstice on Hammermill. Jeffers was perhaps buying paper in hundred sheet packets instead of reams, or perhaps he had reams of both and used whichever came to hand. But even so, the mood and subjects of a number of the shorter Voucher poems make them more likely to have come before At the Birth of an Age than the shorter Solstice poems on Hammermill.
What is clear is that the narrative Solstice was written mostly later in 1934, after At the Birth of an Age, though Jeffers may have been thinking about it earlier. The back of “Praise Life,” which apparently precedes At the Birth of an Age, includes notes that seem to be for Solstice, suggesting it might have been one of the narratives he started and dropped in late 1933. Material on the back of a June 25, 1934, envelope (HRC) also indicates that he might have worked at Solstice before At the Birth of an Age, set it aside for some reason, then picked it up later. The material—workings for what became “Note to At the Birth of an Age” and two lists—is probably no earlier than July 1934; the letter was posted from Vermont, went first to Carmel, then followed Jeffers to Taos. The lists read:
Attila’s Wife Victoire
New[?] Medea Tricidet[?] Victoire
Short poems Short poems
_____ Preface to Attila’s Wife
___ Attila’s Wife
Preface to Attila’s Wife’s Vision
Attila’s Wife’s Vision
The first poem in each list is apparently the same narrative, and the reference to “Medea” suggests these titles refer to what became Solstice, even though these notes are apparently from mid- to late summer 1934, which could mean Jeffers began Solstice before At the Birth of an Age. But even if he did begin Solstice this early, several other letters point to most of it being written after. In one (dated August 31, 1934) Jeffers notes that At the Birth of an Age (“Attila’s Wife”) is “(provisionally) finished” and that “the other long poem” for his “next book” is “not finished” but will be “contemporary” (SL 220-21). The poem with the “contemporary” setting is probably Solstice, since Una wrote Alberts December 29, 1934, that Jeffers was in the midst of “another long one” (OC), and by late February (see above) he had nearly finished typing the collection as a whole and so must have finished Solstice some weeks earlier. These letters, then, seem to pin down the main phase of composition and to suggest that Jeffers wrote Solstice (a relatively short narrative) more slowly than usual, as if he found this a difficult poem to write.
The Such Counsels You Gave to Me Period, 1935-1938
From Solstice forward Jeffers seems to have written more slowly and intermittently. Thurso’s Landing (140 pages) appeared in 1932; Give Your Heart to the Hawks (190 pages) in 1933; Solstice (150 pages) in 1935; Such Counsels You Gave to Me (120 pages) in 1937; and Be Angry at the Sun (150 pages) was published 1941. The slowing pace is even clearer if one contrasts the type and page size of Thurso’s Landing and Give Your Heart (both Liveright designs) with the later collections. The way long narratives dominate the first two books but not the next three also suggests the changing nature of production. Jeffers’ sense that he was expected to continue to write narratives (or his determination to do so) may have been one factor in his slowing pace: as the narratives became less ritualistic and realistic—as he increased (in his narrating) his distance from the characters and their situations—the long poems seem to have become occasions more for analysis and commentary than participation and catharsis; in them he is less the “ape of God” evoked in “Apology for Bad Dreams.” This could well have made the narratives less painful to write, less of a psychological risk, but also a less intense and rewarding process. He may also have been having trouble finding fresh plots and thematic perspectives. Personal distractions—coping with his celebrity, growing older, and the like—were perhaps also factors. Whatever the causes, he took a little more than two years (March 1935-May 1937) to draft Such Counsels You Gave to Me, his shortest trade collection to that point.
After submitting Solstice Jeffers apparently spent several months writing shorter poems. “Air-Raid Rehearsals”—originally titled “Equinox (March, 1935)” and a companion to “Rearmament”—was one of the first. A draft table of contents for Solstice on the back of a discarded typescript of “In Time of Change” shows that he considered adding not only “Rearmament” to Solstice but also “Air-Raid Rehearsals” (as “Equinox”), “All be Renewed” (probably “Shiva”), “River-mouth” (perhaps “The Fungus” episode from Steelhead, Wild-Pig, The Fungus), and “Tom Birnam” (“The Wind-Struck Music”). At some point he also seems to have had “The Wind-Struck Music” as part IV of a sequence, apparently with “The Purse-Seine” and “Blind Horses” as parts II and III. Except for p. 2 of “Blind Horses” (unwatermarked paper) and p. 3 of “The Wind-Struck Music” (on Hammermill), these three poems are on Voucher Bond. These factors suggest they were all written about the same time (spring through summer 1935), and “The Coast-Road,” also on Voucher, probably belongs to this period as well. “Memoir” is apparently from summer 1935, either during or after that year’s Taos trip (the first two sheets are hotel stationery from Gallup and Sante Fe), and the manuscript of “Hellenistics” (written on Voucher) concludes with the postscript “September, 1935.”
“New Year’s Eve” and the “Steelhead” section of Steelhead, Wild Pig, The Fungus are the remaining Such Counsels poems written on Voucher. If “New Year’s Eve” was actually written on a New Year’s Eve, 1935 is the likely date. The Such Counsels poems on Hammermill (a paper with a fainter watermark than the Solstice Hammermill poems) all appear to be no earlier than 1936, and if “New Year’s Eve” were written 1936 it should be on this paper, not Voucher. Oddly enough, Jeffers added “New Year’s Eve” to the book after he had already sent the collection to Random House, in June 1937, a date that fits neither its occasion nor the paper. Jeffers was, though, concerned that Such Counsels was too short (see below) and perhaps found the poem in his papers when he was looking for work to add to the collection. If so, “New Year’s Eve” could even be left over from Solstice and earlier than December 1935. “Steelhead” is also plausibly late 1935; Jeffers first titled it “November,” then “December,” and here also, if the poem were written late 1936, it would not likely be on Voucher.
Even if some of the other Such Counsels poems (those on stray scraps of paper or for which no manuscript survives) were also written March 1935 through early 1936, these months were relatively unproductive, and “Contemplation of the Sword” helps explain why. As printed in Be Angry at the Sun (1941) it is subtitled “(April, 1938),” but as first drafted the subtitle is “August 25, 1936.” The original date underscores how early Jeffers was convinced there would be a second world war, and a canceled passage—in which he admits, “I have no heart for writing any more tragedies,” then adds “Idyls, not[?] tragedies”—suggests the prospect was oppressive enough to disrupt his writing or for a time redirect it away from long tragic narratives.
If so, Jeffers had probably tried to start one or more long narratives in the months before “Contemplation of the Sword” but been unable to develop them. “Wild Pig” (from Steelhead, Wild Pig, The Fungus) seems the by-product of such an attempt. Notes and workings on various manuscripts show it was to be a longer piece, with characters and situations that partly anticipate Such Counsels You Gave to Me, and spring 1936 is the likely date of the work: a page of the actual draft is on the back of an April 9, 1936, letter. It is also clear that Jeffers had dropped his plans to make “Wild Pig” a full-length narrative before May 27, when Una Jeffers wrote Albert Bender that “Robin is working on a new book, a group of idyls” (RJN 62, 17). The timing of her comment suggests this was about the time Jeffers recognized that he might have to focus for a time on narratives that were briefer (and less tragically intense and violent) and that this move—allowing nature’s tragic violence to be more an implicit frame for the narrative than its dramatic center—was successful enough that he was able to imagine organizing a collection around such pieces rather than around one or two long narratives.
From spring 1936 through summer 1936 Jeffers probably attempted no major narratives. In that case, late winter or early spring 1936 is the probable date of “Beaks of Eagles.” At the bottom of the manuscript Jeffers noted, “First page to Eben[?] Allen,” as if it came from an abandoned narrative. The paper is the Hammermill Bond with the faint watermark that he seems to have started using after finishing the supply of Voucher. These factors suggest “Beaks of Eagles” is later than “New Year’s Eve” but earlier than “Wild Pig”—but whether Jeffers salvaged the passage before or after deciding to do a book of what he termed “idyls” is unclear. “All the Little Hoof-Prints,” also on the later type of Hammermill, was probably written specifically as an idyl. It occurs during the summer fire season and is thus likely summer 1936, since summer 1937 would be too late for Such Counsels. The easiest idyl to place is “Going to Horse Flats”; the manuscript, also on the faintly watermarked Hammermill, is dated “August, 1936.” Jeffers may also have considered “Oh Lovely Rock” an idyl. Like most of “Wild Pig” it is on the backs of mimeographed sheets that may be from a course taken by one of his sons at Salinas Junior College. It could, thus, have been written in spring 1936 about the time of “Wild Pig” or over the following few months, in response to a summer camping trip or to the boys moving to Berkeley in the fall of 1936 to attend the University of California.
“Nova,” “Give Your Wish Light,” and “Thebaid” were written on the fainter Hammermill Bond, so they are probably later than the Voucher poems. Since they seem more of a piece with the later 1935 short poems than the idyls after “Wild Pig,” they may have been written early in 1936, around whatever attempts he was then making to start a major narrative. “The Answer” and “The Great Sunset” may also be from this period, though there is no manuscript for the former, and the latter is on unwatermarked paper. The other two poems on the fainter Hammermill can, though, be placed more securely: “October Week-End” is based on an October 1936 episode (RJN 69, 17), and Jeffers gave December 1936 as the date of “Night without Sleep” in his 1941 reading tour scripts, “The Poet in a Democracy” and “Themes in My Poems” (see “Introductions, Forewords, and Miscellaneous Prose,” Volume Four). Although his memory of dates was at times impressionistic, “Night without Sleep,” “Hope Is Not for the Wise” (which he dates as “1937” in “The Poet in a Democracy”), and “Self-Criticism in February” read as if related to each other, and the last of these is on the back of a February 3, 1937, Red Cross circular. “Sinverguenza” may also be late 1936. No manuscript survives, but it was published November 9, 1936, in an issue of Pacific Weekly (for which Una Jeffers did book reviews), honoring the Jefferses’ neighbor Lincoln Steffens. The occasion and the slightness of the piece suggest there was little lag between when it was written and published.
Even though he claimed he no longer had the “heart” to write “tragedies,” Jeffers seems to have again been trying to develop a long poem by late 1936. “The Fungus” section of Steelhead, Wild Pig, The Fungus derives from some three pages of notes for a full-scale narrative that would have ended with June’s suicide. While the notes and poem may not be contemporaneous, “The Fungus” itself dates from the end of 1936 or the beginning of 1937; the first page is on the back of a December 22, 1936, letter.
The first clear mention of Such Counsels You Gave to Me is Una Jeffers’ January 25, 1937, telegraph to Bennett Cerf giving him the title of the collection in progress (RHA). Two later letters show that Jeffers “progress[ed] steadily” through the spring and finished April 20, 1937. The finished poem has at least one unit that seems borrowed from an earlier project (perhaps the work leading to “Wild Pig,” perhaps an abandoned earlier attempt at Such Counsels from the later part of 1936). Jeffers may have added this material to flesh out what (even so) ended up as one of his shortest narratives. He may also have been looking for ways to finish the poem more quickly. On January 28, 1937, Cerf had wired that the Book of the Month Club had awarded $2,500 for Solstice. The Jefferses decided to use the award to finance a summer in Ireland, but Jeffers wanted a collection ready before he left so it could be published in the fall (RJN 62, 19). He sent the typescript to Random House May 29 or 30, and he and Una left for Ireland the end of June for what became a six-month trip (including time in Michigan to visit family and some weeks in Taos on the way back).
From June 1937 through October 1938 Jeffers completed only a few short poems. The Ireland trip was a factor. Writing Cerf from Taos (December 1, 1937; RHA) Una Jeffers notes, “Robin has begun to write at something and I suspect he doesn’t realize himself yet how refreshed he is by this interval—I see him very eager to work.” This suggests Jeffers had written little since finishing Such Counsels You Gave to Me. Two months later, in a February 7, 1938, letter to Bender (Mills College), Una again says that Jeffers is working, but Jeffers’ own Easter 1938 note to Una (written before taking a trip in a small plane with his brother and having dreamed the plane might crash), suggests the writing episodes Una reported had yielded little: “As to the proposed ‘Selected’ [The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers issued November 1938]—in case what I imagine should happen—’Collected Poems’ go ahead with them. I trust your judgment more than I do my own. I will try to get the preface done more or less, and to copy legibly the two or three bits of recent verse that might be added” (SL 266). The Selected Poetry ends with four “New Poems and Fragments”; presumably these are the “bits” this note authorizes. “Now Returned Home” describes an episode from late in the Ireland trip, and the title places it soon after the return to Carmel. “Shiva” is on the back of an April 18, 1935, letter and is thus, as noted above, an earlier piece, but its absence from Such Counsels is odd; Jeffers worried (in his June 2, 1937, letter to Cerf; RHA) that the collection was too short and wondered about postponing it until he could add work to it. Perhaps he had forgotten about “Shiva,” or perhaps he left it out of Such Counsels because he felt it did not fit with the book’s other work. Of the other two poems that close Selected Poetry, “Decaying Lambskins” seems the earlier. More formulaic than “Theory of Truth,” it is the sort of warm-up Jeffers might have written after a period of inactivity. The way “Theory of Truth” refers back to The Women at Point Sur and revisits issues from it suggests he wrote it hoping this review might point the way to his next major project; if so, it may have been written around Easter 1938 or in the months after, as he worried over his inability to push ahead with new work.
By June 11, when he left for a month in Taos (SL 268, 269), Jeffers was unable to write and increasingly concerned. Things soon got worse. Mabel Dodge Luhan, apparently thinking an affair would renew his creative energy, paired Jeffers with another guest. When Una Jeffers found out, she shot herself. She recovered (the bullet hit a rib and deflected out), but the episode intensified Jeffers’ anguish over his inability to write and, as excised material from some of the Be Angry at the Sun poems shows, compounded it with guilt. An undated note to Una—probably written sometime between her August 8, 1938, inquiry to a friend about renting a studio on the chance that a new writing spot might help Jeffers work (RJN 51, 32) and her October 24, 1938, note to Melba Bennett that “Robin is writing again after a considerable hiatus” (SM 142)—underscores the crisis:
Una, I can’t write. I feel completely half-witted (not to diagnose the case) and ‘writing’—during the past 30 years—has become one of the conditions of life for me.
You see how morbid!
I believe I’ll have a new birth in course of time—not willing yet to grow old at fifty like Wordsworth, and survive myself—something will happen—and life through this hell come home to me—something will change, something will happen.
It is a little like my extravagances of 1917 to ’19, except that I was uncritical then, and able to keep myself fairly quiet by not writing a lot of foolishness. (Now I know too much.) After that we began to make Tor House—and that was worth while,—quite aside from the accidental new birth of my own mind.
Something like that will happen again. You were insensitive in Taos.—You thought too much about yourself,—as I am doing now. Either person of a pair of lovers ought to think of the other—.
(Do you understand?—Our love is something different from the love of people that live in apartments. You might have thought about our own peace here—.) (SL 269)
Jeffers was then compiling a 600-page monument to the prime of his career, his Selected Poetry, and must have been quite aware of the irony of both this gesture and the tone of his “Foreword” to the collection.
The Be Angry at the Sun Period, 1938-1941
While Una Jeffers’ October 1938 report that Jeffers was “writing again” may have been right, the lack of completed poems from late 1938 through summer 1939 indicates that this return to writing at first lacked focus and momentum. Jeffers drafted many of the Be Angry at the Sun poems on dated scraps of paper (letters, envelopes, etc.); others refer to specific event, and most of these are from fall 1939 through late 1940. In the months before these short poems were written, Jeffers was apparently trying to launch a new narrative and having little luck. One two-page fragment (Stanford) opens “Late in September nineteen-thirty-eight” and is probably from this period. Also, both “Nerves” and “Come Little Birds,” judging from the manuscript workings, derive from attempts at narratives. “Nerves” at one time opened, “I begin this February nineteen thirty-nine, / But the poem is a timeless story.” Nothing places “Come Little Birds” as precisely, but it appeared in the October 1939 issue of Poetry; the process of submission and production means it had to have been finished sometime in the summer of 1939, and its self-critical tone suggests it was some months earlier than this.
In late 1939 through early 1939 Jeffers also managed a few short poems. He noted “written about January, 1939” on the copy of “Watch the Lights Fade” he made for Albert Bender, and in “The Poet in a Democracy” and “Themes in My Poems,” the 1941 reading tour scripts, he added that it “came” to him while “walking along our shore in a stormy twilight” “in 1938, the year of Munich,” which suggests he wrote it about the turn of the year. “Faith” and “Sirens” also seem from this period. The former resembles “Nerves”; the latter seems an indirect comment on the creative dry spell; neither—unlike most of the poems clearly from fall 1939 through 1940—allude to the European crisis. “The House-Dog’s Grave,” drafted partly on the back of a March 17, 1939, form letter, and “Prescription of Painful Ends,” written in part on the verso of a May 14, 1939, letter, are probably the next poems completed and seem to lead to a summer where Jeffers was either not writing or again trying to start a narrative.
It was not until late summer 1939 that Jeffers began writing with something like his earlier momentum—catalyzed it seems by the European war. The day before Germany invaded Poland he wrote “The Soul’s Desert” (first titled “Whether Peace or War”), the first of a series of poetic notes that log his reactions to the conflict through the fall of 1940. He used some of these in Be Angry at the Sun but omitted a number of the briefer ones, which he had grouped in various combinations under such titles as “Memoranda.” These “notes” chart his acute awareness of the war, his dismay, and his belief that the United States would be drawn in. “The Soul’s Desert” manuscript shows the pattern. Below the poem is “September 3” (the day Britain and France declared war on Germany), placed as if the title of another poem; it leads to two lines, apparently the start of that poem-to-be: “They have launched into waters / That no man can see the end of.” Below this is a note showing that “The Day Is a Poem” (published in Poetry as “9, 19, 1939”) was to complete the grouping.
“Moon and Five Planets,” “Battle,” and probably “Shine, Empire” also reflect specific events. In the notes for “Moon and Five Planets” the title is “March 10” and “March 12, The Surrender”; in Poetry is “Finland Is Down.” “Battle,” as first typed, was “May 28, ’40” and before that “The Great Attacks” (i.e., the blitzkrieg of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg). “Shine, Empire” evolves from a unit labeled “Notes for a Poem” and subtitled “(September 27: Jap-Axis agreement published.),” which places it at least fall 1940. (As completed, the U.S. decision of September 1939 to ship war materials to Britain and to fire on sight at possible attacking ships may also be an element.) “The Bloody Sire” is not linked to a specific event, but the manuscript ends with the notation “June 1940.”
Neither the papers of the manuscripts nor allusions to specific events locate “Great Men” or “Be Angry at the Sun,” but they respond to the war in the general manner of the work from fall 1939 through fall 1940 (“The Bloody Sire,” for instance), and both are probably from this period. An entry on the back of the “Great Men” manuscript that anticipates the grouping Jeffers published in the December 1940 Poetry (“Great Men,” “The Day Is a Poem,” “Moon and Five Planets,” “The Stars Go over the Lonely Ocean,” and “The Bloody Sire”) also suggests this. (See the introduction to Be Angry at the Sun, Textual Commentaries.)
In the 1941 reading tour scripts Jeffers notes that “The Bloody Sire” was written in June 1940. That the manuscript date confirms the date in the script suggests the dates in the scripts for other recent, unpublished pieces are also accurate. If so, “My Dear Love” and part II of “For Una” were both written October 1940, and they reflect a shift in focus. With the exception of “Birthday,” presumably written January 13, 1940, the short poems from late summer 1939 through summer 1940 respond to the war in Europe. Those of late summer and fall 1940 are more personal in focus. “The Stars Go over the Lonely Ocean” (drafted partly on the back of a July 23, 1940, letter) initiates the shift; in it the speaker tells himself that his attention should be the stars and ocean, not his unhappiness over “far off things.” The unpublished “Less Blind, Less Blind” (written on the back of an August 5, 1940, letter) and “Phoenix and Turtle” (on the back of an envelope postmarked August 25, 1940) were companion pieces to “My Dear Love” (see that entry in Textual Commentaries); the three offer still-anguished responses to the events of summer 1938. “I Shall Laugh Purely” and “For Una”—both compiled from separately written units—also fit the pattern. The notes for what become parts I and II of “For Una” are on the back of an envelope postmarked September 16, 1940, and part II (see above) was apparently then finished October 1940 as a separate poem to be titled “The Great Fall.” Part III is, it turns out, reworked from a discarded conclusion to “Battle” (spring 1940), and other workings suggest that Jeffers at one point planned to use part III of “I Shall Laugh Purely” as the conclusion to “For Una.” “I Shall Laugh Purely” is written on the backs of envelopes and various stray sheets (flyers, etc.); five are dated, ranging from August 22, 1940, through October 15, 1940. Here, too, the poem was probably written as separate units over several months, then compiled, revised, and typed. “Two Christmas-Cards,” while not as directly personal as “For Una” or “My Dear Love,” is also probably from later 1940. On November 20, 1940, Jeffers sent Theodore Lilienthal the typescript that Lilienthal used for the broadside publication of the poem. Jeffers also apparently read the poem on February 24, 1941, in Pittsburgh, noting that it “was written three months ago” on the copy he made from memory when someone asked him to read it (see the “Two Christmas-Cards” entry in Textual Commentaries).
Jeffers perhaps began sketching Mara, the major Be Angry at the Sun narrative, as early as fall 1939, but the papers used for the main draft place most of it later. Much of the first half is on sheets from a November 15, 1939, mimeographed report. The draft also includes a few pages (a card and advertisement) apparently from Christmas 1939 and some recycled letters from April 1940. Jeffers probably worked at the poem in fits and starts from late 1939 through nearly the end of 1940, with the “On the Calendar” pieces (see the introduction to Be Angry at the Sun in Textual Commentaries) coming in the gaps, in an ongoing dialectic with the narrative rather than as preliminaries to it or reflections back on it. This would explain why some of the short poems have notes that seem to be for Mara and why these notes suggest Jeffers’ conception of the narrative shifted more than usual as he wrote it. Certainly spring 1940 was a period when he was working on Mara (in the gap, that is, between “Birthday” and “Moon and Five Planets” on the one hand and “Battle” and “The Bloody Sire” on the other). In an April 3, 1940, letter to Cerf (RHA), Una Jeffers reports:
Robin says he cannot promise the book for fall publication. He expects it to be done by August 1, but summer (even here) slows him up & so it might be late. I am disappointed but he says it is longer than his last two & better. He seems full of confidence about it & writes away like mad every morning with just an occasional hiatus. I am so happy to see him absorbed that I can’t scold him for his slowness.
But by late 1940 Mara was still not finished. Writing George Dillon of Poetry on November 26, 1940, Jeffers explains he had put off writing because he had “been swimming up-stream in a long poem through the wind and fury of Thanksgiving week” (SL 282). The final section of “For Una,” probably written about this time, where he complains about having to “take up that heavy poem again / About Ferguson,” also suggests he had difficulty completing the poem. The way the narrative combines the political (Ferguson’s meditations on the war, for instance) and the personal (the plot turns on infidelity and ends in suicide) may have been a factor in this, since Jeffers mostly kept these strands separate in the period’s short poems.
By late 1940 Jeffers was also working, it seems, on The Bowl of Blood—a masque that explores Hitler’s psyche and projects him as the dupe of history. The dated manuscript sheets are all late 1940, with one near the end dated November 28, 1940; this piece—not Mara—could, then, be the “long poem” mentioned in the letter to Dillon. Jeffers may have finished Mara late November and immediately started The Bowl of Blood. Or his reluctance to work on Mara toward the end may have led him to set it aside to work on The Bowl of Blood. The order of completing Mara and starting The Bowl of Blood is, thus, unclear, and Una Jeffers’ December 20, 1940, letter to Cerf further muddies the picture. She implies that Jeffers was at this time doubting his work (perhaps referring to Mara) yet also quite engaged (perhaps referring to The Bowl of Blood): “I wish I could tell you for a certainty that Robin will have some thing ready for you. He has a prodigious ms.—but he grows more & more self-critical—besides ideas seem to be literally bursting in showers around him” (RHA). In any case, Jeffers had finished both Mara and The Bowl of Blood by January 20, 1941, when Una Jeffers wrote Cerf (UCB) that the new book was ready except for a final revision and the typing, which Jeffers would handle after the reading tour. (The trip ran from early February through later March.) On April 4, 1941, she wrote Donald Friede that the typing of the collection, then to be called “This Pallid Comet” would be finished in about ten days (UCB).
Jeffers did not, however, send the book (now titled “Give Us Time”) until May 13, 1941. Perhaps he reworked Mara and The Bowl of Blood more than he had expected or replaced some sections. The two manuscripts, however, do not indicate this. A discarded table of contents (see Appendix A) raises another possibility. It lists only the two longer poems—”Give Me Europe” (The Bowl of Blood) and “The Cause Is Far” (Mara)—and eight short poems. The set omits the short poems (“The Day Is a Poem,” “The Bloody Sire,” etc.) that respond to the war in Europe, even though some were already in print. (The Bowl of Blood does present Jeffers’ own reactions—and anguish—but displaces them onto the figures of the drama.) In the “Note” to Be Angry at the Sun Jeffers “lament[s] the obsession with contemporary history that pins many of these pieces to the calendar, like butterflies to cardboard.” This apparently troubled him enough that he considered erasing this strand from the book, and this uncertainty over what to publish and how to shape it may be why he took a month and ten days—not ten days—to send the copy.
This preliminary table of contents also helps date “Drunken Charlie.” In the “Note” to Be Angry at the Sun Jeffers claims it is “the next-to-latest written poem of this book.” This would make it later than Mara and The Bowl of Blood, but even though it is not a war poem, it is not included in the draft table of contents. In fact, Jeffers wrote the third page of “Drunken Charlie” on the back of the preliminary table, which means the poem is later than the table. Since the table itself is probably February 1941 or later (it is a sheet of stationery from a Pittsburgh hotel, a stop on the reading tour), “Drunken Charlie” could have been written during the reading tour or (more likely) in April or early May as Jeffers tried to resolve his conflicting impulses to include and exclude the war poems.
If “Drunken Charlie” reflects the impulse to drop the political poems of 1939-1940, “That Noble Flower” reflects the decision to use them. On May 26, 1941, Una Jeffers sent a poem to Cerf, instructing that it be added after The Bowl of Blood (UCB)—the position of “That Noble Flower” in the published book. An earlier version of the last paragraph of the “Note” to Be Angry at the Sun also points to “That Noble Flower” as the added poem: “after playing with that drunken fisherman I wrote the final poem of the book; not as poet but American; one who perhaps does not love his country extremely, except in comparison to others, but feels a duty towards it.” In the book, only “That Noble Flower” matches these sentiments, though three other brief May-June 1941 poems (not in Be Angry at the Sun) show that “That Noble Flower” cannot be read simply as Jeffers rejecting the politics of the 1939-1940 pieces. He was serious enough about “Miching Mallecho” (the earliest typescript is dated “May, ’41”) to include a revision of it in The Double Axe as first sent to Random House in late 1947, and this version of The Double Axe also included “Fantasy” (dated “June, 1941”). These two poems and “The Meddlers” (also dated “June, 1941,” but which he apparently did not consider publishing; see the entry for “Miching Mallecho” in Textual Commentaries) are sharply critical of the motives and judgment of those leading the United States toward war
The Double Axe Period, 1942-1947
Jeffers finished proofing Be Angry at the Sun mid-July 1941 and apparently wrote little the rest of the year. Family matters may have been a factor—the draft status of Garth Jeffers was a concern, and that fall Una underwent a mastectomy. The bombing of Pearl Harbor triggered the first of the poems written over the next four years, as Jeffers tried to accept what he had seen as inevitable but still found deeply troubling. “West Coast Black-Out” (later part II of “Pearl Harbor”) came three days after the attack; one typescript is dated “December, 1941,” and a draft table of contents for The Double Axe specifies December 10. He wrote part I six months later, on the back of a June 12, 1942, letter; the April 18, 1942, raid on Tokyo may have been the occasion, or perhaps the Battle of Midway (June 4-6, 1942).
“Fourth Act”—subtitled “(written in January, 1942)”—resembles part II of “Pearl Harbor” and was probably written soon after it. Part of the manuscript is on an October 6, 1943, letter, but the typescript has “January, 1942” added in pencil, and most of the revisions are to the latter half, as if the manuscript was reworked from an earlier draft; that the poem was first “scene one act four” instead of “scene two act four” also suggests it was written early in the war. The evidence for “Wilson in Hell” is also ambiguous. The manuscript—which may not be the initial draft—is on the back of an April 1943 Red Cross Radio Report form. It shows that Jeffers considered “Neutrality Act Repealed” (March 1941) for a title, but at the bottom of the page he wrote “March 1, ’44.” As typed for The Double Axe, the poem is subtitled “(written in 1942).” “Advice to Pilgrims” though, seems clearly to be from 1942; both drafts are on 1942 Red Cross fund-raising flyers. “Their Beauty Has More Meaning” is probably early 1943; the paper is a Red Cross War Fund circular from the first quarter of 1943. The paper used for the manuscripts of “Diagram” (an envelope postmarked April 15, 1943, and a book catalog page announcing a December 1942 title) and “Cassandra” (a May 17, 1943, letter) suggest both are spring 1943.
If these dates are mostly accurate, Jeffers’ goal in the eighteen months following Pearl Harbor seems to have been partly to distance himself from the war (as a way to contain his dismay at the violence and its threat to his assertions that nature remained a source of beauty and meaning) and partly to protest the capacity of leaders to dupe their followers. These poems (even “Pearl Harbor,” in spite of its title) do not, however, engage the war directly. With “Historical Choice” the war’s details assume more prominence—as if, having projected a general response to the collapse of his political hopes, Jeffers next found it necessary to test his claims (his hopes) against circumstances that were apparently increasingly real and oppressive to him, even as the Allies’ military situation improved.
The first draft of “Historical Choice” is on the backs of two envelopes, one postmarked May 20, 1943, the other May 1943. The occasion seems the Allied victories in Africa (May 12, 1943) and the Aleutians (May 23, 1943). Two of the original drafts of “Tragedy Has Obligations” (see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four) have “June ’43” as a postscript, and part of the workings are on an envelope postmarked 1943. (The allusion to the German defeat in Russia, in any case, places the poem no earlier than February 1943.) “The Eye” is also apparently June 1943. When Jeffers wrote it out on the fly leaf of a gift copy of Selected Poetry, he dated the page “June, 1943” and called it his “latest bit of verse.”
Jeffers apparently finished few (if any) poems during the rest of the summer and fall of 1943. In a letter of September 18, 1943, to the scholar Frederic I. Carpenter, he writes,
Months have gone by like drops of water, and it isn’t because I am particularly occupied with anything. Writing verses and usually burning them, and cutting firewood and heaving stones, with Time and the newspapers for anesthetic in the evenings. We don’t often see the coast mountains any more, except from the window, on account of gas-rationing. I might walk to them, and in them, but don’t like to leave my wife and bull-dog alone. (SL 293-94)
This may be exaggerated, but the next poems seem from late 1943 and early 1944.
“Calm and Full the Ocean” is drafted partly on a September 25, 1943, flyer naming Irish potatoes a “victory food selection”; the poem’s speaker notes that “autumn slopes to December”; and the “unimaginable agonies” in “the islands” seems to refer to the series of Pacific island landings that began November 21, 1943, with Tarawa. (The Guadalcanal landing of August 7, 1942, would have been too early and was more an isolated episode.) The Teheran Conference (November 26-December 2, 1943) is the occasion for “Teheran”; its phrasing suggests it was written during the conference. “Ink-Sack” is written on the back of a form letter sent New Year’s week 1944. Jeffers wrote “An Ordinary Newscaster” on the back of an April 15, 1942, letter, but both this draft and the typescript are dated “January 13, ’44.” Since the poem refers to a lunar eclipse of Jupiter, the date Jeffers reports is probably right. The manuscript of “The Blood-Guilt” is dated “Feb. ’44.” One line on the manuscript (“Belsen and Lidice and Battaan will not be remembered; nor Hiroshima forgotten”) suggests it was written later than that, but neither the first nor the third typescript includes this line, which suggests Jeffers started to update the poem’s references sometime after the war, then chose not to. “Real and Half Real” also seems to be from early 1944; the reference to Eisenhower as the one “chosen to crack the iron shell of Europe” (129.26-27) places it between Teheran and D-Day.
“Invasion,” “So Many Blood-Lakes,” and “Eagle Valor, Chicken Mind” are probably late spring through early summer 1944. “Invasion” (first titled “Eve of Invasion”) is subtitled “(written May 8, 1944)” and seems an anticipation of the Normandy invasion. The opening of “So Many Blood-Lakes” (“We have now won two world-wars”) suggests it was written near the end of the war or after it, in spite of the subtitle, “May 12, 1944.” But “Fortress America,” a discarded poem that anticipates “So Many Blood-Lakes” (see the entry for “So Many Blood-Lakes” in Textual Commentaries) shows that he thought the war had already been decided by July 1943. The victories in North Africa and Russia and the July 1943 invasion of Sicily seem the occasion for “Fortress America”; Anzio, where the Allies broke through the German defenses in May 1944, was perhaps the occasion for Jeffers’ recasting “Fortress America” as “So Many Blood-Lakes.” “Eagle Valor, Chicken Mind” is later than April 1944—the date of the solicitation on which it is written—and earlier than November 1944, since it first appeared in New Poems: 1944, an anthology issued sometime before November 9, 1944 (SL 296).
If Jeffers worked on any narratives from summer 1941 through spring 1944, he apparently accomplished little. The first suggestion of a new narrative is Una Jeffers’ April 24, 1944, note to Rudolph Gilbert, whose Shine, Perishing Republic (Boston: Bruce Humphries, Inc., 1936) was one of the first critical studies of Jeffers. She comments, “He is writing very busily these days.—I don’t know what” (RJN 73, 15). This suggests a longer project, not just short poems. A set of four notes clustered around the word “Preface” on the “Invasion” manuscript also indicates he was again trying to shape a narrative:
It was forced on me, I tried to avoid it—refer back to “Rearmament” 1934
Long poem also—forced on me—obsessive. A picture perhaps of the emotional state of the time.
It is a feminine role—I dislike it—one ought to choose one’s subjects.
Title for the Series: The Political Animal
These notes, which seem contemporaneous with “Invasion,” show that Jeffers was considering a collection of the Second World War poems that would begin with a “Preface” similar to the “Note” for Be Angry at the Sun, would group some of the short poems as a series (the phrase “The Political Animal” comes from “Fourth Act”), and would include a narrative. They also show he was far enough into a narrative (or had one enough in mind) to assume he would finish it. The term “obsessive” suggests the narrative was The Love and the Hate, even though the dated sheets in the completed draft are from October 1944. If Jeffers did begin The Love and the Hate in spring 1944, he may have set it aside for the summer, then resumed it in the fall, or he may have spent the spring and summer on a different “obsessive” narrative.
Either way, most of The Love and the Hate seems from the latter third of 1944 and first few months of 1945, and Jeffers apparently finished it about the time he agreed to compose a “Medea” for Judith Anderson, as Una Jeffers’ April 1945 letter to Melba Bennett explains:
Jed Harris has bombarded Robin with telegrams, telephones, letters, etc. to do a translation or completely new version of Euripides’ Medea. Robin consented to try—much to my surprise as he was in the midst of a poem—and besides he has never been able to bend his mind immediately to suggestions for themes. But “Medea” interested him and when he had 27 typed pages done, Harris flew out from N.Y. to see him. Judith Anderson came up from Hollywood. (SM 194)
A letter to Phoebe Barkan (April 6, 1945) also notes the meeting with Harris (RJN 47, 16). The first work on Medea was, thus, no later than March 1945, and when the initial plans for the production fell through that summer, Una Jeffers wrote Anderson:
There is a good side to the affair. The unfortunate side is that Robin was interrupted in a thing he was writing just when it was going full tilt, the good side is that he has written (in the Medea) a fine thing which will be nice for his next book and I am pleased that his mind is flexible enough to have bent itself to the work. (July 18, 1945; RJN 65, 16)
The “interrupted” project was probably The Love and the Hate, which was already probably mostly drafted—and which Jeffers may have been typing it at this point, since the initial typescript of it and the earliest of Medea are on Croncon, a paper he used for these two typescripts and little else. But whether he was “going full tilt” on The Love and the Hate or revising a largely completed draft when Harris proposed Medea, his willingness to set it aside is surprising. Perhaps his uneasiness over its “obsessive” nature and a sense of its likely reception if published during the war made him more willing to shift to a project that did not directly involve the war.
Jeffers apparently gave Medea his full attention for several months, and on April 23, 1945, Una Jeffers wrote Cerf that it would be ready in several weeks. In fact, Jeffers did not send it until after October 22, 1945. (Random House had the Medea typescript by November 12 and sent the proofs December 18.) The early drafts show that Jeffers reordered some of the later part of Act I, revising some passages as he did so, which may explain the delay. It seems, then, that Jeffers put most other projects aside from about March 1945 until sometime May 1945 or even a bit later for Medea and that, perhaps after an interval of a few months, he then reworked it during the early fall. A note on a sheet of workings for “Displaced Person” (see the entry for The Inhumanist, in Textual Commentaries) suggests another possible reason for the delay. Off to one side is what seems a list of titles:
The Quiet Hills in the Age of Monsters
Deliver Us from Evil Euripedes’ Medea
Euripedes’ Medea Deliver Us from Evil
“Deliver Us from Evil” is an early title for The Love and the Hate; “Diary” is probably a sequence of the shorter war poems (at one point Jeffers organized the short poems in The Double Axe as “Mornings in Hell”); and “The Quiet Hills” might be some of the early meditative units of The Inhumanist or perhaps a title for what would have been an introductory prose piece, one that would have contextualized or offered some defense of “Deliver Us from Evil.” This list, then, seems to be a projected table of contents, and it suggests that Jeffers was thinking of using Medea in a collection rather than by itself. The attempt to pull this together was plausibly the reason for the delay.
The periods apparently devoted to The Love and the Hate and Medea help date some of the remaining short poems in The Double Axe. “Staggering Back Toward Life,” written on a 1944 Red Cross Fund Drive flyer and originally dated 1944, is probably later summer 1944; the opening line seems to refer (as Robert Ian Scott has noted) to the Messerschmitt 163 jet, introduced in late July 1944. “The Neutrals,” drafted on the same sort of flyer as “Staggering Back Toward Life,” may be late summer or early fall 1944, when Germany’s eventual defeat seemed clear. “What Odd Expedients” is no earlier than March 1944 (it is on the backs of two March 1944 Red Cross flyers) and was perhaps written about the same time as “Staggering Back Toward Life” and “The Neutrals.” The allusion to death camps in “The King of Beasts” places it no earlier than spring 1945, when Allied troops began encountering the Nazi concentration camps.
The rest of the shorter Double Axe poems seem later than the initial draft of Medea and Germany’s surrender. The Potsdam Conference (mid-July 1945) and the Hiroshima bombing (August 6, 1945) place “Moments of Glory.” “Curb Science” and “What Is Worthless?” also seem to reflect the atomic bomb. The suffering of European civilians at war’s end is the context for “We Are Those People.” And “War-Guilt Trials,” as Scott notes, refers to Ezra Pound’s return to the United States (November 18, 1945) to be tried for treason; the draft is on the back of a November 15, 1945, announcement and was at one point titled “War Crimes: November, ’45.” “Orca” and “Original Sin” are also probably late 1945. The bottom of the “Moments of Glory” manuscript has workings that anticipate the “pitfall” in “Original Sin” and the way the sea lions sense danger in “Orca.” Both poems might, then, like “Moments of Glory,” be late summer 1945, but the last of “Original Sin” is drafted on a November 10, 1945, letter, and “War-Guilt!” was an early title, as if it and “War-Guilt Trials” are contemporaneous. “Orca,” too, seems from about this time; Jeffers wrote part of it on a sheet he had started to use for the Medea typescript, which places the draft later than early November 1945. (The sheet also has workings that seem part of a revision of Medea’s final lines.) The back of the first page of “Orca” also has a brief, untitled poem that invokes Hiroshima, turning on whether the atomic bomb represents “salvation or only trouble” and characterizing the “world” as “a poem that needs mending or burning.” These questions shape “The Inquisitors,” suggesting that this is probably later than “Orca” and perhaps later than “What of It?” with its allusion to the July 1946 Bikini Atoll test. “Greater Grandeur” was perhaps also written around this time.
Jeffers seems to have begun trying to shape his next narrative in late 1945 or early 1946. Workings for “Displaced Person” involve a Normandy war bride brought to live with her in-laws in the Coast Range; one sketch projects it as a sequel to Give Your Heart to the Hawks, with Fayne Fraser as the observer-narrator (see The Inhumanist entry, in Textual Commentaries). This evolved into plans for a narrative to center on matricide. The “Orca” manuscript has a few notes for it, and Jeffers apparently wrote at least some of it. The Vere Harnish plot in The Inhumanist involves matricide, and the way Jeffers constructed some of The Inhumanist manuscript from scenes apparently written at different times (with new passages written as bridges between the pieces) suggests that he developed The Inhumanist by melding what were originally different projects, then extending them through the poem’s concluding sections. If so, at least some of the Vere Harnish material is probably from the first half of 1946. The old caretaker’s meditations are perhaps from the second half of 1946, and the whole poem was probably finished over the first third of 1947. Most of the dated sheets in the completed manuscript are from August 1946 through January 1947, with one from February 1947 and another from April 1947. The various notes show that Jeffers was deeply troubled both by U.S. military strategy in the last part of the war (one note [HRC] reads: “Our bombing of civilians might be called the greatest atrocity of the wars”) and by the potential of the atom bomb for destruction, even apocalypse.
The Vere Harnish work from early 1946 helps date the short poem “Dawn.” The poem’s details place it during the winter, and the top of the manuscript has a few lines that seem from early Harnish workings, suggesting it was written winter 1945-46, rather than the year after, during the later work on The Inhumanist. The title of “New Year’s Dawn, 1947” does, though, place it during the composition of The Inhumanist, and “Quia Absurdum,” drafted on a 1947 Red Cross pledge form, may follow The Inhumanist.
Jeffers apparently finished The Inhumanist in spring 1947, and by July 27, 1947, he was nearly finished typing The Double Axe. Yet he waited until the end of September or beginning of October to send the book to Random House, where it arrived October 7, 1947. The production of Medea may have been a factor; the play, starring Judith Anderson, opened October 20, 1947, at the National Theater. In spring 1947 Jeffers had worked on refining the poem for the stage, and he made additional revisions in the fall while Medea was in rehearsal. At the same time, he was also apparently trying to resolve how best to organize the Double Axe collection. A series of preliminary tables of contents (see Appendix A) record his shifting strategies for presenting what he knew was politically volatile material.
Jeffers probably wrote little in the rest of 1947 and early 1948. He traveled to New York for the opening of Medea. The production was a critical and popular success, but Saxe Commins and Bennett Cerf at Random House were deeply troubled by the isolationist rhetoric of The Double Axe, especially the indictments of Roosevelt for leading the United States into the war. Commins urged Jeffers to modify the collection, both (he claimed) for Jeffers’ own sake and for the sake of Random House. Between the New York trip, “a very sharp attack of the flu” when he returned to Carmel, and drafting “Poetry, Gongorism, and a Thousand Years” for the New York Times, it took Jeffers until December to begin reviewing The Double Axe and Commins’ critique (RHA); he deleted some poems, adjusted the phrasing in others, and reordered the poems. He apparently sent Random House the revised book in early February 1948 and the Preface in early March. Thus, Jeffers was busy yet relatively unproductive from spring 1947, when he completed The Inhumanist, through spring 1948, when he gave The Double Axe its final shape. These months brought him one of his greatest popular successes (Medea) and brought him to the eve of the book (The Double Axe) that would undermine his reputation. As it turned out, Cerf and Commins were right in believing that the collection’s politics would offend many.
The Hungerfield Period, 1948-1953
In writing The Inhumanist Jeffers seems in part to have confronted his dismay at Europe’s political collapse, Una Jeffers’ attempted suicide, and the war’s unprecedented destructiveness. The following year—as he shaped The Double Axe, drafted various introductions for it, and wrote “Poetry, Gongorism and a Thousand Years”—provided other occasions to reflect on his work and career. This process by itself might have led him to explore new directions following The Double Axe, but the health of both Robinson and Una Jeffers apparently intensified the break between the work of the 1940’s and what followed.
On June 7, 1948, with The Double Axe done except for the negative reviews to come, the Jefferses left for their third trip to Ireland. On July 11 Jeffers fell critically ill. In the unpublished “Descent to the Dead”(see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four) he described it this way:
In ’48 back in Ireland
He was really tired and wrote nothing,
And what he had spoken of nineteen years before—came to pass.
Empyema and embolism,
In Kilkenny empyema drove him down to the doors
Of death, and in Dublin embolism
Suddenly killed him. He fell pole-axed, ax-dead, buriable.
The doctors revived him, but it was late September before he was able to return to Carmel. By late 1948 he was, in Una Jeffers’ words, “finally emerging from his long convalescence” (SM 220)—just as her own health failed. Her fatigue, nausea, and fevers, led to exploratory surgery in January 1949 for what was thought to be an abdominal infection. She was hospitalized again in February and for much of March (SM 220). By June 1949 she apparently knew it was cancer. She died September 1, 1950. Jeffers’ dismay at her protracted suffering is plain in a scrawled, undated note (grouped with the “Animals” manuscript) where he prays to “God” to set “Una free” from her pain and considers killing her and himself.
For Jeffers the writing in this period may have been an important distraction, but it is understandable that the two primary projects, both verse dramas, were adaptations which—like Medea—came with a set of elements to elaborate. Jeffers later noted, in a July 1954 interview in the New York Times, that he began The Cretan Woman in the hospital in Ireland: “another actress [Agnes Moorehead] who was almost as famous [as Judith Anderson] asked me to write for her a version of [Euripides’] ‘Phaedra'” (SM 228). Several pages of The Cretan Woman are on the backs of letters. The dates range from March 25, 1949 (p. 8), to July 5, 1949 (p. 48), which suggests that he worked on the poem (probably slowly) during Una’s illness. Bennett also reports that he attempted but abandoned an adaptation of Schiller’s Mary Stuart in 1948 (SM 215); the pages of this project (HRC) on dated sheets, from September 1949 through April 1950, place it after The Cretan Woman.
Jeffers also wrote seven of the lyrics later included in Hungerfield during Una Jeffers’ illness; these were published in the January 1951 issue of Poetry. “Time of Disturbance” (on the back of a March 1, 1949, letter) seems the earliest. The recycled letters used for “Fire,” “The Beauty of Things,” and “The Old Stone-Mason” indicate they are from late 1949. “Animals,” “The World’s Wonders,” and “To Death” read as if they are also from this period. Jeffers’ comments in “Death’s Little Dog” (HRC), a fragment of an introduction for a proposed collection to have included selections from Una Jeffers’ travel diaries, some short poems, and the narrative Hungerfield, also suggest this: “My ‘Stone-mason’s verses’ were written in the mornings by her bedside while she was ill.”
In this same piece Jeffers reports that he wrote Hungerfield, his last narrative, “a year after her death.” The workings leading to it suggest that he developed it only after various false starts, as he tried to find a way to record his grief, yet make the poem more than confession and self-pity. The preliminaries and draft seem to represent at least several months of work, and Jeffers probably finished it in the later part of 1951; a page of the conclusion has at the bottom the start of a draft of a business letter dated September 15, 1951. Hungerfield first appeared in the May 1952 Poetry.
Jeffers again fell ill in early 1952, soon after writing Hungerfield. A passage on the back of a February 1, 1952, invitation (see “I can guess the future well enough” in “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four) shows that he considered an “autobiography” for the “few things” he still hoped to “say”:
I am again rather shockingly ill, and I think it is not likely that I shall die this winter, but probably the next. You must understand that I am sixty-five years old, and that my dear Una died rather recently—that is, a year and a half ago—and I have never taken care of my health, nor cared much whether I lived or died—and certainly now still less. So the odds are that I shall not again have time or energy to write another long poem….I have still a few things to say, and perhaps had better say them in the ordinary clack-clack of newspaper prose than not at all. Every man, except Shakespeare, has his life-story to tell. Perhaps Shakespeare too, though he left the sonnets a little obscure; and who knows what we have lost of Homer’s?
I will put this thing in the form of autobiography; and I apologize for having named Shakespeare and Homer in the near paragraph. This story has nothing to do with either of them.
Jeffers apparently never extended this piece, but while his health may have kept him from writing for a time, it is clear that he had not abandoned the hope of writing another long poem, since the workings that evolved into part I of “De Rerum Virtute” seem an attempt to begin a narrative.
How soon this attempted narrative followed Jeffers’ illness and temporary resolve to work in prose is not clear, but “De Rerum Virtute,” which combines several strands of material, was finished about February 2, 1953—the day Jeffers sent it to the Grabhorn Press to be printed as a birthday present for Theodore Lilienthal. He claims in his cover letter that he had “just to-day…finished” it and that it “seems to be the best I have written lately” (USF). “Morro Bay” also combines various workings. Una Jeffers’ death is prominent in the earliest, least resolved draft, which may be about the time of the early Hungerfield sketches. In a note near the bottom of this sheet, however, Jeffers gives his age as sixty-five (which would make the year 1952), and the second draft is on the back of the first page of the primary manuscript of “De Rerum Virtute.” If he did start the poem in 1951, he apparently completed it sometime in 1952. “Skunks” and “The Deer Lay Down Their Bones” are from March 1953. On March 28, 1953, Jeffers wrote Saxe Commins to say that he had “just finished two more little poems” for Hungerfield, which he had recently submitted, and that he would “send them…as soon as they are typed”; the poems reached Random House April 2, 1953 (RHA). “Ocean” is perhaps a month or so earlier. Its setting is February. If February 1950, it might have been part of the January 1951 Poetry grouping, and it does not seem like something Jeffers would have written in the interval between Una’s death and trying to start Hungerfield. His own illness in the winter of 1951-52 argues against February 1952. February 1953 is thus probable, especially since “Ocean” resembles “Skunks” more than the short poems from Una Jeffers’ illness. “Local Legend” and “Carmel Point” also read as if they were written after her death, but there is no real evidence as to precisely when.
Last Poems, 1953-1962
Jeffers lived nearly nine years after sending the last Hungerfield poems to Random House, and the notes and manuscripts from this period show that he hoped to publish a last volume featuring a final long poem. He generated over a hundred pages of sketches and preliminary workings for various narratives but was unable to develop any of them. He also considered making his final long poem a sequence that, in some notes, would have mixed lyrics and meditations and, in others, would have also used narrative and prose units. Although he drafted some of the units and made several starts at splicing them together, the sequence was never completed, partly because he wrote only some of the pieces, partly because he never resolved the work’s overall scope and shape.
Una Jeffers’ death was probably one element in his failure to manage a final long poem. Her ambitions had been a prod and source of discipline, and the tensions in their relationship may well have been a factor in his creative energy. Jeffers saw her as his muse, and the one narrative after her death, Hungerfield, was an extended elegy—a meditation on what had been and an attempt to come to terms with her death. But it was also the last time she would (or perhaps could) be the “muse” for a narrative. His own declining health was probably another factor (SM 230-37). Cigarettes, wine, and whiskey had weakened a once strong constitution. A page of notes for a narrative (perhaps from late 1954 or early 1955 and with some of “The unformed volcanic earth” on the back) includes this fragment:
Perhaps the last…
I thought I should never end,
But age and the evil habit of alcohol
Hinder long flights.
Although Jeffers traveled to Ireland with his son and daughter-in-law in 1956, in June 1955 he had been too ill to attend the Occidental College celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his graduation, and Bennett reports that “From the winter of 1958 through 1961, one illness followed another” as he grew “weaker,” less able to write, and less interested in doing so (SM 231).
If Jeffers did not manage a last long poem, he did write a number of shorter ones. His intervals of health and illness are one matrix for dating this work. Most of the late poems are apparently from either late 1953 through about spring 1955, before the illness that kept him from the Occidental celebration, or in 1957 and the first half of 1958. A few are from 1959 and 1960 and probably a couple from summer 1961; Bennett notes “a brief return to well-being” in August 1961 before his final illness. But which poems are from which period is uncertain. Few reflect specific events, and the manuscript papers do not always fit a clear pattern. Jeffers’ handwriting, though, worsened across this period, perhaps as his sight also worsened. Bennett reports that his cataracts meant “he could no longer decipher his own writing” by 1961 (SM 236). Another guide is the angle of the lines on the page, which slowly changed across these years, and notes for the various longer poems on the manuscripts of some late short poems offer additional clues.
“The Shears” and “To the Story-Tellers” seem from spring 1953, soon after Jeffers sent the last Hungerfield poems. “To the Story-Tellers” is on a mistyped carbon from a typescript of “The Deer Lay Down Their Bones.” The handwriting and angle of the lines suggest that “To the Story-Tellers” came soon after “The Deer Lay Down Their Bones.” Also both this and “The Shears” manuscripts have notes for narratives about a character—called “Fawks” in the one and “Fawkes” in the other—which seem contemporaneous and show that Jeffers was thinking about a narrative as early as spring 1953. There is no evidence that he ever wrote much of this narrative, and “Animula” (which appeared April 1954 with “The Shears” in New World Writing: Fifth Selection) seems the only other 1953 piece.
Jeffers managed a somewhat larger cluster of poems from late 1953 through spring 1954. “Salvage,” on the back of an abandoned December 11, 1953, letter, is probably from this period, and a stain on this manuscript and stains on the manuscripts of “The Last Conservative,” “Monument,” and “Patronymic” all match—as if they were stacked on Jeffers’ desk when something sloshed on them. “The Last Conservative” and “Monument” seem contemporaneous with “Salvage,” though “Patronymic” (see below) is a year or so later.
By spring 1954 Jeffers was again sketching possible long poems. The “Explosion” manuscript (one page is the back of a March 5, 1954, mailing) has this fragment:
The inhumanist….good and evil—sense of sin—
Violent debate between grandfathers—the inhumanist old man and the the inhumanist, who has really sinned and killed (though never been mean)—and now he thinks nothing human matters—and the confessional, remorseful man, like who shouts repentance and sins again, yet unconsciously sly, takes care of his own interests. He seems to fling all to the wind, but lets nothing go. He is like Ivan Terrible, or a Dostoievksy character.
They live on adjoining ranches? There is a story…
This suggests the “story” would have been mostly a scaffolding for the debate between the two positions had Jeffers developed the poem.
The narrative element is also secondary in the sketch for “Blind Horne,” another project Jeffers seems to have considered about this time:
The drama and pageantry of the coast—southeast hurricane—fire on the hills before the first rain—the rain, falling everywhere, rock-slides and running gorges, etc.—the tawny patience of the long autumns—etc.—The madrones of Palo Corona—the cathedral redwoods, the spring below them, and tracks of many animals in the black mud.
[The story is put back in time before 1914. The old man has been blind for 20 years before that, and the coast he remem visualizes is the really primitive coast (except the grizzlies are dead). The future he vaguely prophesies, and mixes with the present, is th our more recent past.] He is “an old rock in the hills on the hill,” senseless and lost and useless; but the fate morgana of memory and imagination flashing and fading in the dark structure of the granite.
He did not think in words but emotions and images,
But words must do it.
He is tall, thick and powerful, but [ ] like a Michael Angelo old man, still as a gray rock.
He has a huge half-bred black dog, (bitch?) that seems to be Labrador-mastiff, for a guide-dog. It is with him day and night faithfully, only seduced by a chance to fight any other dog, or group of dogs, (red bone hounds—mountain-lion pack) or wild boar. It roars like a lion for battle. The old man’s son’s wife hates it, and finally poisons it. (Also the German-shepherd-coyote wolves mob it, and it kills 2 or 3.)
(?) The grandson, amateur sculptor with concrete, makes a life-size image of the old man and dog.(?)
He wants whiskey—”It makes the lightning-bugs//Crawl in my mind.”
I speak of a time before these wars began,
But they were in the wind
Quiet and helpless, brooding in his mind the beautiful coast—but at last he rages into fury, strangles his treacherous daughter (or d.in l.) breaks the house with an axe, and bleeds to death in the storm. They had forgotten that he could become angry.
War of the women, his daughter and his daughter-in-law precipitates the story.
At the bottom of the sheet below the last sentence Jeffers wrote “(over)” and the back sketches, instead, a sequel to Cawdor:
Make it the second part of “Cawdor”—but an integral poem in itself—Oedipus story, Lear story—changed name retell Cawdor through the old man’s memories. He has killed his son, who was entirely innocent, and scratched his eyes out with a flint, made confession and gone to prison. Now, after many years, he is let out; his daughter Michal and her husband bring him home. His son George has married and lives on the ranch. “Cawdor” still owns the ranch, though he has been in prison, etc. [He has bitter scars beside the blind eyes—scars on his face, throat and the palms of his hands—he says that “another murderer,” named Thomson, attacked him with a knife, and being blind he could not defend himself, but he caught the man and dislocated both his shoulders.] Being blind he can’t shave; he has a heavy white beard and thin gray hair.
– – – – Persons: (Make it 10 instead of 20; or even less. He had repented, even to scratching
out his eyes. It was temporary insanity.)
Cawdor, age 50 + 10 60 two or three servants
Fera 17 + 10=27 George ” 24 + 10 34 time, 1920 more or less.
Is she there? Has she divorced Michal ” 14 + 10 24 “Between the wars.”
and remarried? Or died? Concha’s boy ” 8 + 10 18 Concha might be there too,
She is there. She is bitter Romero, Cawdor’s bastard bulky and black.
and wishes destruction. George’s wife, 30 and 2 children
Michal’s husband and 1 child
/ Cawdor, wandering alone, smelled a horror, and found the dead buck on the barbed wire.
Not seeing, he had to investigate the horror with his hands in order to understand it.
Cawdor is tough. He remains living, even after the crash-up.
He has kept, and still retains ownership of the canyon.
Several other pages include notes toward the Cawdor sequel:
Odes — — — — The Mind in Things
The Blind Prophet Fera—thin-faced and yellow-haired, with sharp features
And light-gray eyes
Michal was 15 when Cawdor blinded himself and went to prison.
Fera, was 18 her stepmother, was 18. Hood, whom Cawdor killed, was 18 or 20, and George 22.
They remain on the ranch. George brings home a bride, who is superior to him. Michal, grown up, hates Fera. [Romero Rosas—Cawdor’s bastard—was 6.] Cawdor remains ten years in prison. He is too tough to die. The action begins when he is released and they bring him home. A pitiful old blind man, but still terrible.
(Does Fera who feels to blame for all, but bitterly defends herself. She more or less Does she gather the poison mushrooms?
The conflict is between Michal and Fera, around the old blind man.
A quarter century
The Tragic//Saga of Cawdor…
Later on this sheet Jeffers adds, “First an incident, then about Cawdor in the past, then continue the story.”, and the bottom corner of the sheet has what is apparently the sketch for a scene:
Incident: Fera tries to make peace with Michal, who hates her, and says so, “If you were decent//
You’d ‘a’ killed yourself.—but at least have left the place,
And gone to the city maybe—taken yourself//out of our eyes.”
Comments on another sheet also involve the conflict between Michal and Fera:
Fera testifies in court and publicly that she had pursued Hood, and when he refused her she had falsely accused him to his father.
“I tried to make him kill me also: I wanted to die:
And he refused.” She laughed: “He and his son
Were a refusing breed.”
And Cawdor’s having blinded himself in remorse for his deed evokes compassion. His prison sentence is only a year or two. Fera dedicates her life to take care of him when he comes home: therefore she will not leave the ranch.
Michal, after recovering from shock, hates Fera and is bitterly ashamed of Cawdor. And George a little while, is scornful of him.
Jeffers, though, apparently got no further than the sequel’s opening:
If you have seen my poems—Cawdor was the man
Who killed his son. Deceived by his young wife
Who said he forced her, under a laurel tree
In the wild wood, the ancient voluptuous imagination
Of Phaedra, and if you will Potiphar’s wife—
The women are so deep in need that they half believe it. He killed him of course,
It was natural for a man like Cawdor to do. And it was natural,
Having learned that his son was innocent, to make repentance
In the grand style. The Indians were up and down this country
Long before it was ours; they have left no mark
But flint scraps and shell mounds and a few arrowheads:
Cawdor picked up a scraper from a new grave
And scraped his eyes out, those vile blue jellies
That didn’t know truth from lies.
I wrote my poem
Up to that point, and ceased, blood and slime running
Down the stiff jaws. I have lived more than a quarter century
Further, and bear the marks. Cawdor’s eyes’ death
Does not mean much since my dearest has died,
Who was my eyes and ears. Now I must go
On further; and like Cawdor alone. like Cawdor
Cawdor’s free confession
And self-punishment, blinded black eye-sockets,
Being considered, he was not more than six years in prison,
And went home to his place without eyes.
Have you ever imagined
What it is to be blind? Cawdor had lived
Fifty years free, self-reliant as a wolf
That lives lone on the hill and howls at twilight
For the world’s pain: which he had felt but never lamented: now
He was a helpless old man led by the hand
Into strange places. but now Cawdor by his own fault
a helpless old man dependent,
For his own misery,
Led by the hand.
These “Blind Horne” and Cawdor workings suggest that Jeffers had become less interested in narrating stories and was instead looking to use narrative as a framework for a set of meditations, as he had done to some extent in The Inhumanist. And by late 1954 or early 1955 he was beginning to map long poems where the narrative dimension was even more secondary or completely absent. Subject and handwriting suggest that “Ode to Hengist and Horsa” and “Patronymic” are contemporaneous; “Patronymic” is on a sheet from the same mailing from The National Institute of Arts and Letters, postmarked November 11, 1954, as “The Beautiful Captive” and part of “The unformed volcanic earth” Notes on the back of the “Ode to Hengist and Horsa” manuscript start by sketching a possible plot (to involve poison mushrooms), followed by a unit stressing the situation’s visual possibilities:
Picture of the coast. Not photography but in words. Far, with the ocean. Nearer, the tilt of the hill. A voice describes the terraced scenery, and the stooping shawled figure in the haze of rain—
“An old woman gathering mushrooms // To feed her people.”
While the bottom half of the page has plot notes, above the draft of the “Ode” itself Jeffers wrote: “Scenes, landscapes, dialogue—sometimes the train of thought in someone’s mind—soliloquy!—no explanations and little or no narrative. Let the scenes explain themselves.” These notes may reflect his thinking on how to develop the story or point to a different project. Either way, they indicate a desire to explore elements other than “story,” and the approach is in the same spirit as a set of notes on the manuscript of “The Urchin”:
Poem, begins with “Explosion” (may be a kind of metaphor//But certainly change and giant violence are of the essence.
II The chapter on origin of life—from foul air, etc.
III Descent of Man—”The Ice-Killed Wood.” The first of the ice ages killed his forest—shifts and expedients, weapons and traps and the use of fire—permanent state of alertness—forced to descend from the trees and fight it out with the ice and wolves.—As the bear rises on his hind legs to fight—so man//Perpetually alert stands up.
Also, from the death of the forest, his irritable nerves//His terrors, which imagination provides if nature does not.
This unit is below notes for a narrative involving “Auda Hawkins” and to the right is the comment: “This, with the Auda poem and short ones, should make a book.” The notes for “II” and “III” point to “The unformed volcanic earth” and an impulse to try to place nature in God and man in nature more directly than narrative would allow.
“The Urchin” and these notes are probably late 1954 or early 1955, since one page has an early draft of the fifth and sixth verse paragraphs of “The unformed volcanic earth” (see above). If so, “What’s the best life” and “Birds and Fishes” are also probably from this period: the manuscript of the former has notes for “Auda”; the manuscript of the latter has workings for the ending of “The unformed volcanic earth”; and the first page of “What’s the best life” includes workings for the ending of “Birds and Fishes.” “Passenger Pigeons” was probably written not long after these poems. One page is from a list of nominees for the Academy of American Poets, which appears to be from 1955 since it gives the age of Richard Wilbur as thirty-four.
That “Birds and Fishes,” “Patronymic,” “The unformed volcanic earth,” “The Beautiful Captive,” and “Passenger Pigeons” were each typed is also suggestive. The only other typed late poems (other than “The Shears” and “Animula,” which appeared in New World Writing) are “Metamorphosis” and “The Ocean’s Tribute.” The paper for these typescripts and the handwriting of the manuscripts indicate that at least “Metamorphosis” belongs to this 1954-55 period. “The Ocean’s Tribute,” a Grabhorn Press broadside printed for Theodore Lilienthal in 1958, may be somewhat later than the other typescripts, though the draft of Jeffers’ note to Lilienthal on the manuscript suggests the poem is earlier than 1958: “I have dug through the drawer and come up with this in my month: will it serve your purpose? There are others, but too long or too short, or unfinished, and mostly about death and bones. The most interesting is 140 long lines [“The unformed volcanic earth”]—5 typewritten pages—I’m sure you don’t want that.” The handwriting of “An Extinct Vertebrate,” drafted on an undated magazine circular, suggests it too is from this 1954-1955 period. “Let Them Alone” may be as well, since the Eatons Corrasable paper used for it matches some of the other 1954-1955 poems.
Jeffers apparently wrote little in the rest of 1955 and during 1956, but turning seventy (January 13, 1957) evoked both “Seventieth Birthday” and “Birthday (Autobiography).” These reflections on aging, death, and his own past seem to initiate another productive period. “End of the World” and “Birth and Death” seem part of this phase, and “Eagle and hawk with their great claws” and “It was good of my father” (drafted together on the same page) link even more clearly to the birthday poems. All these pieces are on yellow notepad paper, as are “It flows out of mystery,” “I have been warned,” “Nightpiece,” and “Carmel,” which are probably also from the first half of 1957. “It flows out of mystery” is on a sheet that has both the start of a “February 1957” letter and a preliminary draft of “I have been warned” In turn, “Nightpiece” is on the back of the more realized draft of “I have been warned.” The “Carmel” manuscript includes a draft of what seems the start of Jeffers’ April 29, 1957, letter to Saxe Commins. Handwriting indicates that “On an Anthology of Chinese Poems,” also on a yellow sheet, is early 1957.
One problem with this scenario is that a pair of crossed-out lines below the draft of “It was good of my father” echoes “Ode to Hengist and Horsa” (“The broken-boned Saxon chief: They were perhaps right / In limiting as far as possible the power of the dead”). This could mean that “It was good of my father” is from early 1955, in spite of the paper, or that “Ode to Hengist and Horsa” was written 1957, not 1955. The deleted lines, though, seem to relate to a deleted title at the bottom of the page (“Autobiography”) and another canceled unit: “I wish the rest of past times would gather / Under my windows. I should like to see my Saxon ancestors, / The cruel beasts with long knives….”—as if Jeffers was considering “It was good of my father” for an autobiographical sequence and considering recasting “Ode to Hengist and Horsa” for it. “It was good of my father” is, thus, plausibly 1957, in spite of the other workings.
Material on the manuscripts of “I walk on my cliff” and “At the near approach of a star” also suggests that Jeffers in 1957 was considering a sequence to include the “Ode to Hengist and Horsa” material. The first has a preliminary fragment with the line “And I at seventy curse myself for being old.” Also, both poems are on account sheets from Vinings Carmel Meat Market. Donnan Jeffers kept the books for some local businesses and apparently recycled the pages after entering the charges. The poems on the Vinings sheets that can be dated most securely place the use of this paper mostly in late summer and fall 1957. The November 3, 1957, Sputnik II mission is the occasion for “The Dog in the Sky.” Both “Goethe, they say, was a great poet” and “The Old Wolf My Father” apparently stem from Kenneth Rexroth’s dismissive Saturday Review of Literature piece of August 10, 1957 (perversely titled “In Defense of Jeffers”). “Granddaughter” is not necessarily the later part of the year but is apparently 1957, since the child in the poem is five, and Jeffers’ granddaughter Una—born December 1951—would have been five in 1957. The handwriting of these and the other Vinings sheets poems (including “Ghost” on the back of a draft of a letter that may refer to Rexroth’s “defense”) is similar enough to indicate that most or all are from the same period.
The various sketches for the projected sequence show that Jeffers wanted it to have the scope of a narrative and intended to explore the nature and implications of consciousness. In workings for an alternate ending of “The unformed volcanic earth” (on the back of a sheet of the typescript and perhaps from this 1957 period) he figures consciousness as an “ancient wound”:
We endure ours. That ancient wound in the brain
Has never healed, it hangs wide, it lets in the stars
Into the animal-stinking dungeon the human skull ghost-ridden darkness
The mind of man…
Notes following the draft of “At the near approach of a star” offer one scenario for developing this impulse:
“…It lets in the stars.”
Invocation….dramatic scenes from human history: fire-makers,
arrow-makers, etc… Genghiz, Julius Caesar…Hengist and Horsa…__________________
the physics-men… (Harold and the comet) |little visions…Ragnar in the snake-pit
|the funeral march of Genghiz…——————————————————————————————————————–
History of the Human Race |God also.| | the crucified on Golgotha Calvary
| a Chinese artist carving a piece of ivory
it lets in the stars | or a pebble of jade: he labors with his
II I walk along my cliff by the ocean | little hammer and chisel from dawn to sundown
Ages before this time
The first phrase of the crossed-out material echoes a provisional ending of “The unformed volcanic earth” The second is a variation of the opening of “I walk on my cliff,” and the notes on that manuscript offer another view of the sequence:
“lets in the stars.
No doubt I have undertaken a greater theme
Than man or spirit any mind can accomplish
….. the glory of God
…the history of the earth and the glory of God
Man is the most important beast on this planet
But before him there were great games. I walk on my sea-cliff
The fullest abstract for the sequence (on a page by itself) reads:
I Origin of the moon
II — The unformed volcanic earth
Into the animal-stinking ghost-haunted/laden cave
The mind of man.
III , and following, have little or no narrative connection. But they have their logic. Pictures— (equal
idyls)—of—…the Saxon warrior with his broken bones…the buck on barb wire….the confessional
items: my blind eye—my first and last jealousy….birds on the roof—like raindrops—etc. ….
Even to the universal God and the death of the stars.
The great music, the organ music of time and the universe.
“At the near approach of a star” and “I walk on my cliff” both invoke the “Origin of the moon,” and Jeffers apparently expected to use one of them as part I or to elaborate one into the opening. Whichever, a note on a page of sketches specifies the basic analogy: “The great poem—’the unformed volcanic earth’—the flight of the moon comes first and the first chapter. Then the earth with the great scar, the Pacific basin corresponding to the wound in man’s mind.” (The phrase “death of the stars” in the abstract suggests that “The Epic Stars,” drafted on a Vinings sheet, is also from this period.)
Jeffers considered several alternatives for developing this material. In one that may precede the above workings (the moon “fluttering” away from the earth like a “butterfly” points toward “like a bat’s wing fluttering” in “I walk on my cliff”) “The unformed volcanic earth” would apparently not have been used:
Odes — Ode to Death (passenger pigeons and so forth)
Ode to America (the embattled farmers, the great mechanics,etc. And the ru The scorned and unpitied
Indians. The ruin of all.)
Ode to the wounded earth (the great wound, the Pacific basin, the moon flying fluttering up like a great butterfly.) (Huge cumulative tides of fire breaking loose from the earth at last.)
(molten rock—the young skin of the earth
The Fate of the Moon
In other notes the analogy of the earth’s wound and the mind’s wound would have been cast as a narrative. On the page beside “lets in the stars” is “I speak of a man whose fate and his forefathers had made wide windows into his mind… — —The man must equal the poem.” This piece was to have been titled “Dirge for David Hawker,” and a unit at the bottom of the page with this title (HRC) shows Jeffers looking for the gesture to launch this poem:
Has never healed, it hangs open, it lets in the stars
Into the animal-smelling darkness, and dreams, and nightmares
Moral goodness and evil, heaven and hell—or maybe they are made
Under that light.
¶”I have to know,” he thought
The earth has that wound and the Pacific Ocean
Dwells in that gulf, the mind of man has that wound
But the old man David Hawker had nearly outgrown it
If “I walk on my cliff,” “At the near approach of a star,” and the main sketches for the sequence that would have joined “The unformed volcanic earth” and the moon’s origin are from mid-1957, this helps place several other short poems. “I have told you in another poem” and “Our eyes by day are good enough” are on yellow notepad sheets like the early 1957 work. The manuscripts each have fragments where the “mind of man” as a “stinking darkness” is a motif. This suggests they are before the group on the Vinings sheets but after the ones on yellow sheets from early 1957. “Our eyes by day are good enough” also has this canceled fragment: “Is it so hard to be a widower and seventy years old? / —I have always been sad, perhaps it has condensed a little / As time passes.” It also contains what seems a first sketch for “It was good of my father,” which suggests that “Our eyes by day” was drafted in 1957, later than “It was good of my father,” but not much later. The evidence for “I have told you” is, however, less clear. The handwriting, paper, and image of the mind as “animal-stinking darkness” point to mid-1957, but one passage shows it could be later: “Youth made the poem: Homer grown old got the blind bust. / Is that what I want? For I am half blind already. / And well past seventy, jogging along to meet my death-rattle. It had better be good then.” These lines, though, seem less directly biographical than does a comment about being a “widower and seventy” on the “Our eyes by day” manuscript, so these lines may sketch a persona for a piece to be spoken by a man nearer death than Jeffers was at this point or may have been added later.
“The mathematicians and physics men” clearly overlaps with the descriptions of the moon’s origin in “I walk on my cliff” and “At the near approach of a star” Like those two it is on Vinings sheets and was probably written summer or fall 1957. Similarly, a canceled draft and more finished one of “Heavy and yellow with the clay wrack” are on one Vinings sheet, and a preliminary draft of it is on the back of “At the near approach of a star.”
A few poems that seem part of the mid and later 1957 work—”There is no God but God,” “There is this infinite energy,” and “The storm blowing up”—are on unwatermarked paper, instead of yellow notepad or Vinings sheets. But the first page of “I walk on my cliff” is also on a sheet of unwatermarked paper, with a scrap of “The unformed volcanic earth” typed on the back (the second page is a Vinings sheet). The manuscripts of “There is an infinite energy” and “The storm blowing up” both include notes for what seems the same narrative, which would, as Jeffers put it, “Expound” the religion of an old man, who is not Jeffers “except perhaps in root, with tremendous moral additions.” It was apparently to be called “By Moonlight Among the Dogs,” a title also found on the back of the manuscript for “At the near approach of a star,” a Vinings sheet (see also the entry for “Ghost” in Textual Commentaries. Jeffers seems, then, to have been using unwatermarked sheets in and around the Vinings sheets. If so, “After Lake Leman” (an unwatermarked sheet) is also plausibly mid- to later 1957. It opens with several canceled lines, including “I think of the vast funeral of Genghiz.” In the notes on the draft of “At the near approach of a star” the “funeral march of Genghiz” is one of the images to be developed, and notes on a stray sheet also show that the sequence was to have such a unit:
hangs open, it lets in the stars
Into that animal-smelling ghost-ridden darkness man’s mind.
There is the wounded earth with that great moon-scar
Gouged in her flank Sunk in her side; there is the wounded mind of man, they are fit for each other.
Jesus. Judas and Gengis—no great poem event (correction)
Without the blood-splash
The canceled lines that begin “After Lake Leman” suggest that Jeffers set out to write this piece, then veered off to write something quite different.
Notes on several manuscripts on the Vinings sheets indicate that by late summer or fall 1957Jeffers had given up the attempt to combine “The unformed volcanic earth” and the moon’s origin material in a sequence. Below the draft of “I used to know that I despised fame” (see “Unpublished Poems and Fragments,” Volume Four) is the unexpected allusion to Matthew Arnold: “The Raggle-Taggle Gipsies Oh/ / For title of series”; the opening of this poem—”Let dead men have their follies: fame’s nothing. / To do one’s work is fulfillment; to make a great name is nothing”—along with the paper and handwriting suggest it was also a reply to Rexroth’s August 1957 attack. Similarly, the draft of “Hand” is preceded by this note: “The little poems are labelled 1, 2, 3 etc., without titles” and that this series “might be called ‘Autobiography.” The second page of “Vulture” has the note, “Memoranda might be the name of the series.” And above the draft of “To Kill in War Is Not Murder” is the deleted heading: “Meditations—or—Things observed, things thought.”
These notes on manuscripts probably from 1957 suggest Jeffers continued to look for a narrative idea even while experimenting with a sequence, but by the later part of 1957 he seems to have been focusing more on starting a narrative. Many of the notes and workings toward these unwritten narratives from these last years(HRC) seem from 1957 or later. “Cristane” is an important figure in much of this material. The names and plots, though, shift so much from page to page that the units can be neither clustered nor ordered for the most part. (The situations include a father-in-law lusting for a daughter-in-law, castration, poisoning, conflict between brothers, embezzlement, etc.)
Jeffers apparently continued to write short poems into 1958 while trying to develop a narrative. Somewhere in this period he seems to have stopped using the Vinings sheets (perhaps he had used them up) and started using yellow notepad sheets again. This, at least, would explain why the first version of “The Silent Shepherds” (then titled “The Seven Arts”) is on a Vinings sheet, while the later draft is on a yellow notepad sheet. “The Great Explosion,” “Pleasures,” “Oysters,” “The polar ice-caps are melting,” and “It is a pity the shock-waves” are also on yellow notepad sheets and read and seem later than the Vinings work. “Oysters” was first to have been the opening scene for a narrative (see The Cretan Woman entry in Textual Commentaries), but the only draft that treats the material as an independent episode seems later than the work toward the sequence. The “Pleasures” manuscript has a brief set of notes for “Cristane,” which suggests it is also from late 1957 or 1958. And at least one poem on a yellow notepad sheet, “I saw a regiment of soldiers,” was apparently written mid-1959, since it is on the back of a draft of a July 20, 1959, letter to Mark Van Doren. “It is a pity the shock-waves,” on a yellow sheet, may also be this late. The “Cristane” notes on the back of “It is a pity” seem later than some others, and the draft has “keep” written above it, as do the drafts of the last few short poems.
The last seven poems are mid-1958 and or later. The second draft of “It nearly cancels my fear of death” is on the back of a May 8, 1958, letter, but the handwriting and pencil impression of the revisions (which match the “Keep” written beside the poem) seem later—as if Jeffers reworked the poem when he wrote the “Cristane” notes on the lower half of the sheet. In “As the eye fails” Una Jeffers “has been dead for ten years,” placing the poem late 1960, and the handwriting also points to its being this late. The handwriting of “All night long” suggests it precedes “As the eye fails,” and it may have been written about the same time as “It nearly cancels my fear of death” “I am seventy-four” is relatively easy to place, although the first draft begins “I am seventy-two/four” and could, thus, be as early as 1959, even though the second draft is plausibly 1961. The shakiness of the handwriting suggests that “Old age hath clawed me,” “For fifty thousand years,” and “The old half blinded hawk” (the last two are written on the same page) are also among Jeffers’ last poems.
Even as the brevity of these last pieces suggest Jeffers’ lack of energy and frailty in his last few years, notes on the back of “I am seventy-four” show that he was still searching for the thread, the conception, that would drive one last narrative:
A dying man is our champion against the world, a sick man our President
…and the weapons…
Nothing is too fantastic…
Morse Crawford Carson—the avenger. Aaran Carson, his brother, who warns and disapproves but helps. Cristane their sister.
The old man is in love with his daughter, but unconsciously—innocently. But his old wife knows it—and hates him the more.
This tale is too fantastic though no doubt true.
There was a man who fell in love with his son’s wife—
But innocently: he was not a fool nor a maniac,
And knew how ugly old age is: his old eyes followed her
In the house and on the mountain—how beautiful youth is—
But revealed nothing
 In preparing the Bibliography, Alberts found the poems published at Occidental but apparently did not realize that Jeffers had continued to publish while at USC. For details on this material and other poems and manuscripts noted in this discussion of chronology, see below, in Textual Commentaries, the introductory section for each of the groups of poems, as well as entries for the individual poems.
 Terence Diggory has argued (in Yeats and American Poetry: The Tradition of the Self [Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983], pp. 118-22) that the manner of Flagons and Apples, some of its imagery, and the strategy of having a single figure narrate the poems (and thereby define himself through his comments on a single theme) reflect Jeffers’ interest in Yeats’ The Wind Among the Reeds (1899).
 James Karman, “Introduction,” in Karman, ed., Critical Essays on Robinson Jeffers (Boston: G. K. Hall & Company, 1990), p. 6.
 In his compilation Brides of the South Wind: Poems 1917-1922 by Robinson Jeffers (Cayucos, Calif.: Cayucos Books, 1974), Everson combined a fragment from “Lamp of the West” (1917), where Jeffers is the speaker, with two fragments of “The Valley” and titled the set “Three Fragments.” The rest of “The Valley” typescript and the complete, dated draft of “Lamp of the West” were not available when Everson prepared this collection.
 See William Everson’s “Introduction” to Brides of the South Wind, pp. xi-xii.
 For Everson’s analysis of Jeffers’ development in this period and some of its possible psychological and biographical elements, see his commentaries for Brides of the South Wind, his edition of Californians (Cayucos, Calif.: Cayucos Books, 1971), and his reconstruction of The Alpine Christ (The Alpine Christ and Other Poems, Cayucos, Calif.: Cayucos Books, 1973).
 Herbert Klein’s unpublished Masters thesis, “The Prosody of Robinson Jeffers” (Occidental College, 1930) was the initial study of Jeffers’ versification and the basis of Lawrence Clark Powell’s chapter “Some Elements of Style” (pp. 115-143) in Robinson Jeffers: The Man and His Work (Los Angeles: The Primavera Press, 1934). In a May 16, 1930 letter to Klein Jeffers responds to Klein’s work:
People talked about my “free verse” and I never protested, but now I am quite touched to hear that someone at last has discovered the metrical intention in it. Thank you.
I never before read the passage that you quote from Robert Bridges, but a short essay on Bridges’ poetry by Arthur Symons made me familiar with the sense of it, fifteen or so years ago, and no doubt it worked in my mind. Before that I had read a prefatory note of Coleridge to his Christabel, in which the same idea is produced.—I’ve just looked it out: “Preface” to the 1816 edition. —”Metre not properly speaking irregular—new principle: namely, that of counting in each line the accents, not the syllables”—etc.—Of course, the principle was not quite new, since Anglo-Saxon verse built on it—probably primitive Germanic verse in general—I don’t know. No doubt you’re already familiar with these instances.
It seems to me (as you have remarked) that the counting of stresses is not enough, without some regard to the quantities of the unstressed syllables, to make well-sounding lines. But there I can’t propose any rule, it is a matter of ear and rhythmic sense. A line made up of syllables like “many” or “easy” couldn’t balance rhythmically with a line made up of syllables like “storm-bent,” “oak-trees,” though the number of stresses were the same.
Several modern poets, especially in England—Rupert Brooke for one—have caught Coleridge’s and Bridges’ thought, or found it out for themselves, but it seems to me that there remains “an infinite field of rhythm as yet untouched” or hardly touched. English is a language of very diverse and tolerably stable quantities besides being a strongly accented language, great and new things might be done with it if we had time and ear. (SL 173)
David Rothman’s Ph.D. thesis, “The Whitmanian Poets and the Origin of Open Form” (New York University, 1992), offers an alternative approach to Jeffers’ versification.
 Everson, “Introduction,” Brides of the South Wind, pp. xvi-xxii.
 See Everson, Brides of the South Wind, p. 134, for the text of this letter.
 Everson, The Alpine Christ, pp. 199-200.
 The date is part of the note Jeffers wrote on the handwritten manuscript (now at Stanford) when he sent it to Robert Gros, April 4, 1939.
 Alberts thought that the collection this two-page typescript reflects “was submitted to a publisher as Brides of the South Wind” (Bib 19). But nothing shows that Jeffers ever sent it out, and Everson has argued, plausibly, that the title refers instead to the section of narratives in the next collection Jeffers assembled (see Everson’s “Preface” to Brides of the South Wind, pp. ix-x). Still, Jeffers did at some point apply the label “Brides of the South Wind” to the cluster of longer poems (Fauna, Storm as Deliverer, Peacock Ranch, Sea-Passions, and The Coast-Range Christ) at the center of this collection and the next, and Everson adopted this title for his reconstruction of the work between The Alpine Christ and Tamar. Lacking a better option, these two collections are here referred to as “Brides of the South Wind 1” (hereafter BSW.1) and “Brides of the South Wind 2” (BSW.2)—both for convenience and because using this title for the transitional work has become convention.
 William Rose Benet, ed., Fifty Poets: An American Auto-Anthology (New York: Duffield & Green, 1933), p. 88.
 See Tim Hunt, “The Problematic Nature of Jeffers’ Tamar,” in Robert Zaller, ed., Robinson Jeffers: Centennial Essays (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1991), pp. 85-106.
 This sheet of notes, with a page of Fauna typed on the back, is privately held; see the Fauna entry in Textual Commentaries.
 Brides of the South Wind, pp. xxxii-xxxiii, 126-27.
 See Lawrence Rainey, “The Price of Modernism: Publishing The Waste Land,” in Ronald Bush, ed., T. S. Eliot: The Modernist in History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 91-133, esp. pp. 115-16.
 See James L. W. West III, American Authors and the Literary Marketplace Since 1900 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988), pp. 24-25; also, Rainey, “The Price of Modernism,” pp. 95-96.
 Jeffers to Mrs. Keith Hutchinson of Boni & Liveright, Special Collections, University of Maryland Library.
 Special Collections, University of Maryland Library.
 See Jeffers’ May 26, 1929, letter to Bennett Cerf, RHA.
 See Una Jeffers’ June 2, 1931, letter to Sidney Alberts, OC.
 Una Jeffers to Bennett Cerf, March 21, 1937, and April 20, 1937, RHA.
 See Jeffers’ June 2, 1937, letter to Cerf, RHA.
 See Una Jeffers’ May 13, 1941 letters to Bennett Cerf, UCB.
 See Una Jeffers’ October and November 1945 correspondence with Bennett Cerf and Saxe Commins, UCB.
 Robert Ian Scott, ed., What Odd Expedients (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1981), p. 92.
 Ibid., p. 103.
 Una Jeffers to Saxe Commins, July 27, 1947, RHA.
 See Tim Hunt, “Double the Axe, Double the Fun: Is There a Final Version of Jeffers’ The Double Axe?” TEXT 7 (1995): 435-57.
 See Jeffers’ March 2, 1948, letter to Commins, RHA.
 In a March 27, 1949, letter to Melba Berry Bennett, Una Jeffers comments on both Robinson Jeffers’ health following the trip to Ireland and her own illness of the previous year. In SM, Bennett incorrectly reports the date of this letter as March 27, 1948.
 James Karman, Robinson Jeffers: Poet of California (Brownsville, Ore.: Story Line Press, 1995), p.139.
 See also ibid., p.144.