Towers of Myth and Stone
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In this critical study of the influence of W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) on the poetry and drama of Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), Deborah Fleming examines similarities in imagery, landscape, belief in eternal recurrence, use of myth, distrust of rationalism, and dedication to tradition. Although Yeats's and Jeffers's styles differed widely, Towers of Myth and Stone examines how the two men shared a vision of modernity, rejected contemporary values in favor of traditions (some of their own making), and created poetry that sought to change those values.

Jeffers's well-known opposition to modernist poetry forced him for decades to the margins of critical appraisal, where he was seen as an eccentric without aesthetic content. Yet both Yeats and Jeffers formulated social and poetic philosophies that continue to find relevance in critical and cultural theory. Engaging Yeats's work enabled Jeffers to develop a related, though distinct, sense of what themes and subject matter were best suited for poetic endeavor. His connection to Yeats helps to explain the nature of Jeffers's poetry even as it helps to clarify Yeats's influence on those who followed him. Moreover, Fleming argues, Jeffers's interest in Yeats suggests that critics misunderstand Jeffers if they take his rejection of modernism (as exemplified by Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Ezra Pound) as a rejection of contemporary poetry or the process by which modern poetry came into being.



Publié par
Date de parution 15 septembre 2015
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611175486
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,2100€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.


Towers of Myth Stone
Towers of Myth Stone
Yeats s Influence on Robinson Jeffers
. . . .
Deborah Fleming

The University of South Carolina Press
2015 University of South Carolina
Published by the University of South Carolina Press Columbia, South Carolina 29208
24 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data can be found at
ISBN 978-1-61117-547-9 (hardcover or cloth)
ISBN 978-1-61117-548-6 (ebook)
background , VTsybulka/ ;
insets from top , Thoor-Ballylee, courtesy of the author;
Robinson Jeffers setting stone, courtesy of the Tor House Foundation;
Hawk Tower, courtesy of the author
For Clarke
Chapter 1 .
Robinson Jeffers, W. B. Yeats, and Ecoprophecy
Chapter 2 .
Landscape and the Self
Chapter 3 .
Two curves in the air -Prophecy and Eternal Recurrence
Chapter 4 .
Solitary Hero versus Social Man-Jeffers s Dear Judas and Yeats s Calvary
Chapter 5 .
Rationalism and the Great Memory of the World
Chapter 6 .
Radical Traditionalism
I would like to thank James Denton, Tim Hunt, Ann Saddlemyer, and Robert Zaller for their suggestions on this manuscript.
Chapters 1 , 4 , 5 , and 6 were originally published in Jeffers Studies . Chapter 2 appeared in Ecopoetry: A Critical Introduction (2002), edited by J. Scott Bryson.
1 .
Robinson Jeffers, W. B. Yeats, and Ecoprophecy
Robinson Jeffers s place in American literature continues to elude comparison. His work does not belong to the tradition of J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur s New Eden, Frederick Jackson Turner s frontier, or Ralph Waldo Emerson s moral philosophy. His landscapes are not those of preservationists such as John Muir. According to Wilson O. Clough, Jeffers, removed from the center of American culture, ends the long trajectory to the Pacific in a kind of geological determinism ( The Necessary Earth , 186) that evades category: he was not transcendentalist, romantic, or naturalist. Facing the Pacific in The Eye, the speaker launches into prophetic spaces without Walt Whitman s backward glance in Facing West from California s Shores (211). Jeffers s writings seem to voice Thomas Jefferson s yeoman-farmer ideal and isolationism, but far more imminent in his poetry is the doctrine of wilderness perhaps best articulated by Max Oelschlaeger as that set of beliefs derived from Paleolithic nature worship and augmented by Darwinian evolutionary theories ( The Idea of Wilderness , 245, 255). George Hart s Inventing the Language to Tell It: Robinson Jeffers and the Biology of Consciousness explains that Jeffers s development of a sacramental poetics that expresses a holistic vision of a divine cosmos and expression of a nonanthropocentric environmental ethic set him apart from other poets of his age (11-12). He was the first major poet to articulate the idea of nature as supreme and human beings as part of rather than master and rightful owner of the biosphere.
Described by Helen Vendler as occupying a place in the tradition of oratory rather than poetry ( Soul Says, 58), Jeffers famously distrusted the trend of modern poetry toward private symbolism and art for its own sake, renouncing intelligibility in order to concentrate on the music of poetry. 1 He articulated his poetic practice in Point Joe, saying Permanent things are what is needful in a poem, things temporally / Of great dimension, things continually renewed or always present ( CP , 1:90), and in his essay Poetry, Gongorism, and a Thousand Years (1948), explaining Permanent things, or things forever renewed, like the grass and human passions, are the material for poetry; and whoever speaks across the gap of a thousand years will understand that he has to speak of permanent things ( CP , 4:427). He chose to make his work entirely different from what he saw as the poetry of arcane illusion; although Jeffers disavowed any interest in Whitman ( Selected Letters , 201), like Whitman he favored direct statement and the long narrative line. Jeffers s stated opposition to the trends he found in modern poetry forced him for several decades to the margins of critical appraisal until a new generation of scholars found the voice of ecocentrism or deep ecology in his work. He may stand alone as the first voice of what may be called ecoprophecy, or he may be seen as a Modernist whose themes and focus expand the idea of what it is to be modern. While not an imitator, he belongs in the tradition of his poetic mentor W. B. Yeats, in whose work Jeffers found sources for his aesthetic and philosophic theories. Jeffers s enforced marginalization is perhaps the major reason no full-length study of Yeats and Jeffers exists. This volume seeks to help fill that void, focusing on Yeats s and Jeffers s poetic and social philosophies, which bear uncanny similarities and continue to find relevance in critical and cultural theory.
W. B. Yeats (1865-1939) and Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) shared a vision of modernity that rejected contemporary values in favor of tradition and created a poetry that sought to change those values. Included among Modernist poets in spite of early Romantic influence and his commitment to formalist verse, Yeats fixed his gaze on the past in order to find his thematic focus, describing his own time as this filthy modern tide, 2 in which he and his people must forge their own nation. Both poets concerned themselves with permanence in times of fragmentation and established poetic traditions based on dramatic landscapes and cultural myth. Robinson Jeffers documented well his interest in and appreciation of Yeats s poetic example. A 1932 letter includes Yeats s name among those Jeffers read and imitated at times ( Selected Letters , 1:200-201). To Harriet Monroe he wrote that T. S. Eliot was the only contemporary English poet he found interesting since Yeats is Irish (191). In other correspondence (1938) Jeffers compared himself to Yeats in Among School Children (263). Jeffers s answers to an unpublished questionnaire mention Yeats among Thomas Hardy, George Moore, and a few books of the Old Testament ( CP , 4:555) under the heading ideas. This document also includes Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of Yeats s most important stylistic forebears, as an influence ( CP , 4:552). A fragment dated 1950 and addressed To Death declares You have Yeats and you have Una Jeffers: the voice that I admired and the woman I loved. You will never touch me again ( CP , 4:561). That Jeffers compared Yeats, whom he never met, to his lifelong companion may indicate something about the tenacity of Yeats s influence. Maureen Girard included thirteen pages of notations Jeffers wrote in books by Yeats in her bibliography of Jeffers s library at Tor House ( The Last Word ).
While Yeats s work established the poetic terms of decolonization and interconnectedness of culture, place, and nature, Jeffers s voiced those of what today is called ecocentrism : that is, the earth or natural world, rather than the human mind, is the center of all things. Robinson Jeffers s ecoprophecy stems from what he termed his attitude of Inhumanism, a reaction to the arrogance of humanism and its failure to provide human beings with god consciousness and understanding of their marginal place in the universe. Human beings, propelled by their own violent drives, remain the primary instruments of the recurring cycles of history, which will culminate in their termination. Jeffers believed that since the earth and the cosmos made human beings, only the earth and the cosmos can provide what little happiness human beings can have (ecodeterminism). Ecoprophecy is articulated by the old man in The Inhumanist when he utters There is one God, and the earth is his prophet ( CP , 3:304), meaning that the earth holds the key to all human endeavor, whether it is survival or the creation of culture. The prophet here does not foretell the coming of God but the manifestation of God through the sublimity of natural process. Nature is not benign but majestic, violent, and indifferent. Not only is its intelligence found in the rock and biomass but also in human consciousness that comprehends it. The cosmos itself stands as evidence that all things including human beings and civilizations will pass away and something else will be regenerated. The earth rather than religion should hold foremost place in human consciousness although myth is a way of explaining our place in the world. Ecoprophecy is not the doom-laden result of destruction, for Jeffers believed the earth will endure.
Inhumanism expresses his worldview, but ecoprophecy is his message. The earth and the cosmos determine the future. Human beings constitute a small part of the whole, but their meaning derives from their ability to appreciate natural beauty-not merely landscape but the intricacy of the microcosm and power of cosmic force.
Jeffers s narrative The Inhumanist , part 2 of The Double Axe (1948), probably contains Jeffers s bitterest condemnation of civilization as well as his clearest statement of faith. It articulates his belief that God is manifest in the cosmos and that all things that exist are God and therefore divine. Nicolaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin exploded the myth of the human-centered universe, the old man states ( CP , 3:274), and, through his encounters with people trekking on the mountain where he lives, he unfolds his philosophy that God is manifest in the daily, annual, and millennial cycles of the universe. Max Oelschlaeger termed Jeffers a psalmist for this pantheistic god (249) and explained tha

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