Posts in: Robinson Jeffers

Catching up: Vacation in California

Happy belated solstice, everyone. We’re at the turn of the year – days start getting shorter and the heat really cranks up here in Indiana. I had good intentions of posting daily about vacation but obviously that didn’t work out. Flying to California As previously noted, we had some problems getting to San Francisco – but nothing like what was to come. (Cue ominous music.) San Francisco We already weren’t planning a lot of time for San Francisco but, with the additional delay, we basically just had one day.

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Visiting Tor House and Hawk Tower, home of Robinson Jeffers and his wife Una, was an amazing experience yesterday. I still can’t believe I was there, got to sit at his writing desk and climb to the top of Hawk Tower (second picture is the view of the Pacific from the top).


Nevertheless, I’ll be looking for you tomorrow, Jeffers.


Pretty excited to get confirmation of our tour of Tor House, the home of poet Robinson Jeffers, during our upcoming trip to California.


Introductory note: This poem surely lies behind what I’ve written lately about self-consciousness (here, here), even if I didn’t have it in mind at the time. Jeffers describes consciousness here as “unreasonable excess, / Our needless quality”, a characteristic that must arise in some way from our biology but is also outside it. He imagines our bodies and our consciousness as the creations of two gods (hello, Gnosticism!). The “uncalled for God” (demiurge?) adds consciousness on top of the natural beauty created by the “austerer God” (monad?). Consciousness becomes a burden for human beings, the poison in the well that corrupts all our experience.

I.

What catches the eye the quick hand reaches toward
Or plotting brain circuitously secures,
The will is not required, is not our lord,
We seek nor flee not pleasure nor pain of ours.
The bullet flies the way the rifle’s fired,
Then what is this unreasonable excess,
Our needless quality, this unrequired
Exception in the world, this consciousness?
Our nerves and brain have their own chemic changes,
This springs of them yet surely it stands outside.
It feeds in the same pasture and it ranges
Up and down the same hills, but unallied,
However symbiotic, with the cells
That weave tissues and lives. It is something else.

II.

As if there were two Gods: the first had made
All visible things, waves, mountains, stars and men,
The sweet forms dancing on through flame and shade,
The swift messenger nerves that sting the brain,
The brain itself and the answering strands that start
Explosion in the muscles, the indrinking eye
Of cunning crystal, the hands and the feet, the heart
And feeding entrails, and the organs that tie
The generations into one wreath, one strand;
All tangible things or chemical processes
Needs only brain and patience to understand:
Then the other God comes suddenly and says
“I crown or damn. I have different fire to add.
These forms shall feel, ache, love, grieve and be glad."

III.

There is the insolence, there is the sting, the rapture.
By what right did that fire-bringer come in?
The uncalled for God to conquer us all and capture,
Master of joy and misery, troubler of men.
Still we divide allegiance: suddenly
An August sundown on a mountain road
The marble pomps, the primal majesty
And senseless beauty of that austerer God
Come to us, so we love him as men love
A mountain, not their kind: love growing intense
Changes to joy that we grow conscious of:
There is the rapture, the sting, the insolence.
…..Or mourn dead beauty a bird-bright-May-morning:
The insufferable insolence, the sting.


Austin Kleon recommends studying something you love in depth - and it just so happens that I’m reading through the collected poetry of Robinson Jeffers. I’m keeping notes in Craft and hope to turn those notes into occasional posts. There are themes running through his work that very much interest me.

I’d also love to do something like this for the albums of Over the Rhine, or blog through the Tao Te Ching. Blogging through books (in the style of blockquote followed by commentary) was very common on the blogs I used to read fifteen years ago. I miss that sort of amateur scholarship.


Robinson Jeffers, standing beside Tor House and Hawk Tower, his handmade stone outpost on the Pacific Ocean. (Image source)

“I am building a thick stone pillar upon this shore, the very turn of the world, the long migration’s / End” (Jeffers, “The Torch-Bearers’ Race”)