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Incest and Robinson Jeffers


Yesterday I made a post and then deleted it. I took it down because a word used, in the hands of some on line people who look to do me harm, could have come back to bite me. Sometimes it is hard being both a public employee and a poet.

It has been a bloody hard week on this old bod. By today, Thursday, I still don't know if the ache is heat or flu related. The heat has been intense and I've spent the week in beeyards. But there is a virus circulating. So I don't know. Yesterday at home I posted a note that I've decided to revisit, only using language less subject to misconstruction.

Robinson Jeffers was frequently criticized because of a motif he revisited from time to time. The theme of incest. Brother and sister, father and daughter, mother and son. But for Jeffers incest was a metaphor for the human condition. Late in life he explained himself this way:

"A man whose mental processes continually distort and prevent each other, so that his energy is devoted to introversion and the civil wars of the mind, is an insane man, and we pity him. But the human race is similarly insane. More than half its energy, and at the present civilized level nine-tenths of its energy, is devoted to self-interference, self-frustration, self-incitement, self-tickling, self-worship. The waste is enormous; we are able to commit and endure it because we are so firmly established on the planet; life is actually so easy, that it requires only a slight fraction of our common energies. The rest we discharge onto each other - in conflict and charity, love, jealousy, hatred, competition, government, vanity and cruelty, and that puerile passion the will to power - or for amusement. Certainly human relationships are necessary and desirable, but not to this extent. This is a kind of collective onanism, pathetic and ridiculous, or at noblest a tragic incest, and so I have represented it."

I for one think this paragraph captions the course of the human story since the first urban-centric civilization, Sumeria, about 6,000 years ago, when the species, for good AND ill, managed to secure a position in the world removed from other animals. Which is Jeffers' point - the removal. And who can argue the point? Viewed from a certain perspective all human interaction has become incestuous. From the conflicts between nation states, to the African ethnic conflicts, to the politics getting played out in Iran, to the conflict between so-called red and blue states, to the conflict in the U.S. Congress. Pure incest. It is all just an incestual relationship played out in power politics. I see no difference between these relationships and that set tragedy involving Oedipus, his mother he screwed, his father he killed, his son and his daughter. The Agamennon story comes to mind too, as it would have for Jeffers, being trained in the Classics. So I think he is right. The story of human history is a story of familial self-absorption, which, on whatever level it gets played out, is incestuous. It is good to keep in mind here something Jeffers could not have known. Mitochondrial DNA has demonstrated all of the species sprang from the same African mother.

Jeffers had an antidote for the problem of human self-absorption, the incest as he called it. He developed a philosophy of what he called Inhumanism and defined it this way:

It involves "a shifting of emphasis from man to not-man, the rejection of the human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificance."

I get what he was after. I get what he was saying. And long before the environmental movement became popular there was Jeffers. Long before Gary Snyder there was Jeffers. Long before there was an Earth Day there was Jeffers. But in my view Jeffers didn't go far enough. He himself was subject to the same kind of human solipsism he railed against. For him if God was not benevolent and intimately concerned with the fate of the human race, he must be indifferent. There is only a God, he said "who does not care and will never cease." This does not go far enough for me. This is nihilistic. And the notion that some sort of transhuman magnificance is the ideal is, when considered, still humanly ego-centric.

So I guess I figure Jeffers was half-right, albeit it was a big half-rightness. Let me put it this way. People like to think animals can become their familiars and their totems. Witches think so and so do sports clubs. But what do these familiars and totem animals think about us? It is a question worth the asking.

I would propose, and metaphorically speaking, a certain bestiality in which the species relearns what it means to be an animal, not a self-absorbed human.

Tere
Aug/13/2009, 7:57 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Incest and Robinson Jeffers


hey Tere,

I'm glad to see this post back up, I went looking for it yesterday. Please take care of yourself. Whatever is ailing you deserves kind attention, lots of fluids, rest, chicken soup...

Interesting post Tere. I think what Jeffers described has reached a fever pitch. Watched much cable news lately? I don't recommend it. But where can we pitiful burb-dwellers get that perspective-adjusting experience?

Take care and feel better,

Chris
Aug/14/2009, 10:12 am Link to this post Send Email to ChrisD1   Send PM to ChrisD1
 
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Re: Incest and Robinson Jeffers


Thank you, Chrisfriend, for reading, commenting, and your kind thoughts. Today was much easier. I spent all of three hours out in the August heat. And I got to do a thing I absolutely love doing. I got to propogate queens. I go to colonies whose queens are genetically important. I find a comb with larvae at the right age, the younger the better. Then I scoop up the larvae and place it in a cell cup with royal jelly. Lastly I place all these cups attached upside down to a bar into a queenless colony looking to make queens. They will feed the larvae the right mixture of royal jelly and twelve days from now I will have new queens. So much fun.

I got to thinking about the incest and Jeffers post today. Tomorrow, Saturday, I should have another installment which, for easy reading, I'll attach to the original post.

Tere
Aug/14/2009, 7:31 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Incest and Robinson Jeffers


What happens to the queen bees who are not genetically important? I fear I am one of them. : )

Last edited by Patricia Jones, Aug/15/2009, 2:51 am


---
"Don't you worry--I ain't evil, I'm just bad".
~Chris Smither~
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Terreson Profile
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Not to worry, Pat. They get left alone to run a natural course. They will continue to supercede themselves. Their colonies become resource colonies for when I need worker bees to make new colonies. About the only time I am inclined to pinch a queen is when she starts passing to her workers the trait of extreme defensiveness. I was in one such colony last week and it was painful. It is like what I heard a beekeeper say once. 'You know you are in trouble when they start bouncing off your veil.'

Tere
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Re: Incest and Robinson Jeffers


Saturday afternoon.

I've changed my mind. Rather than attaching a second post to the original I'll carry it down through the thread. This should make for easier reading.

I am not quite sure where I am going with these thoughts Jeffers stirs up. I wish I could remember the British novelist who once said something like: 'How can I know what I am thinking until I've written it?' But I know what he meant.

I've been wrestling with Jeffers, his philosophy and attitude about life, for two decades. By account Jeffers was a hard man. I think it was in his nature. And there is poetry in how he worked in granite, cutting it out of a cliff face, dressing it, then building his home and Una's tower out of it. People who knew him said about him things such as: "He speaks little, and that little in a very low and uninflected voice, though each word is exactly enunciated. A sense of great will and considered restraint dominates his presence." And about his searching blue-gray eyes: "It is difficult to look into them, for in some unconscious way his eyes look through and beyond one. When it happens it is fearsome and disturbing because one feels so alone afterwards, so stripped! He seems so distant and apart from all of us." And here is what the famous Mable Dodge Luhan said about his eyes. "His [sign in to see URL] deeper than the sea and clearly profound. If one meets his eyes for more than a glance, there is something active in their effect upon one. Something painfully alive and raw comes out of his eyes, like an unknown ray that burns the mists one covers oneself with. Mercifully, he quickly slides them from one's own, and this is a [sign in to see URL] has the feeling that he sees All." Then there is what Edward Weston said about him after photographing him. "It was another gray day, but I now realize, knowing him better, that Jeffers is more himself on gray days. He belongs to stormy skies and heavy seas." Finally there is a story Loren Eisley tells about Jeffers. "I have also a rough memory that he spoke casually and without heat, of being called for jury duty in a homicide case, and of having been rejected by the defense because of the assumed cruelty of his countenance. The eyes looked me sidelong as he spoke, not with amusement, but with the remote, almost inhuman animal contemplation that marks his work..." Eisely also remarked that Jeffers had left him "with so strong an impression that I had been speaking with someone out of time, an oracle who would presently withdraw among the nearby stones and pinewood."

One more thing. Even as a very young man Jeffers' character was both complete and already distinctly elemental. In a letter to his soon to be wife, Una, written even before their move to the wild Pacific coast of Carmel, he said about poetry, "...poetry should be the blending of fire and earth - should be made of solid and immediate [sign in to see URL] are set on fire by human passion." (As an aside the one member of his circle who equalled Jeffers in his untamableness and his elementariness was Una. I've seen pictures of him after her death. What comes through for me is that, without his denmate, he is simply and patiently waiting for the end.)

It just now occurs to me that Jeffers' philosophy of Inhumanism is less a doctrine theoretically premised than it is an expression of his personality. Nietzsche said about philosophers that, once their systems have been debunked, all that is left of any interest is the question: how original were there personalities. He concluded that in the whole course of philosophy there have only been four such original personalities. Similarly I tend to think Jeffers' was an authentic personality, his character original to himself alone. Neither the product of environment or of nurture.

Sometimes I think or feel that for Jeffers the universe is a place completely indifferent to the fate of the human species. Again, for him God is He "who does not care and will never cease." But then I am forced to admit that my take on the man says as much about me as it does about him. Why should it bother me if he finds the universe indifferent to humanity? Other times, however, and this is the big thing, I feel as if reading a Jeffers poem is like listening to a different kind of animal, a cougar, say, or a rainbow trout, or even Jeffers' own roan stallion and they are giving me their non-human take on existence, on what it means to be alive and involved in universal proceedings. Of what existence looks like through their eyes. This last makes me stop. Perhaps this is what Jeffers was after both in his poetry and with his philosophy of Inhumanism.

Enough for now. Please let me know if all of this is boring. I got at least one more page to my thoughts.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Aug/16/2009, 1:21 pm
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Re: Incest and Robinson Jeffers




[sign in to see URL]~cooneys/poems/[sign in to see URL]

This is a link to a poem by D.H. Lawrence called "Snake." I have a reason for bringing to the thread the poem at this point. Theirs were two entirely different personalities and both original in the sense I mean above. What they had in common was the wholesale rejection of civilization and of towny ways. Lawrence's "savage pilgrimage" for an alternative to civilization was no different than Jeffers' stand alone on a Pacific Coast headland. And yet there was a fundamental difference between the two poets.

Tere

Last edited by Terreson, Aug/15/2009, 5:05 pm
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Re: Incest and Robinson Jeffers


Not boring. Please continue.

Chris
Aug/15/2009, 5:00 pm Link to this post Send Email to ChrisD1   Send PM to ChrisD1
 
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Re: Incest and Robinson Jeffers


Thanks, Chrisfriend, for the encouragement.

Rereading Lawrence's Snake poem yesterday and the big thing involuntarily came to me. If I had to choose between the way Jeffers showed and the way Lawrence showed I would choose Lawrence's, which in fact I have.

The Snake poem comes from a collection he called, "Beasts, Birds, and Flowers." The collection has such titles as Reptiles, Baby Tortoise, Turkey-Cock, The Red Wolf, and so on. Earlier I said that before Gary Snyder there was Jeffers. The same could be said about Lawrence. Long before there was an environmental movement Lawrence was looking to reallign the relationship between the human animal and other animals and with the planet's flora as well. I don't understand why his poetry is not better known, at least on this side of the pond. In an essay somewhere I wrote that Lawrence had to write his tens of thousands of prose words in order to finally sharpen and hone his word making to his poetry, most of which was written towards the end of his life and after the poetry of Walt Whitman freed him of certain Victorian conventions in poetry. Now for the big thing.

In Jungian psychology there are two archetypes of the religious experience. As such they are universal. There is the transcendent experience and the immanent experience. The first characteristically masculine. The second as characteristically feminine. The first experience is of a godhead that is other, outside experience itself, even outside phenomena, such as Yaweh in the desert or Allah in heaven. The second experiences the godhead inside phenomena through participation, such as can be found in goddess worship. A Jungian will also say that for the so-called sacred marriage to occur, there has to be the union between the two archetypes.

There is no question in my mind but that for Jeffers the godhead is experienced outside existence itself. It is always 'out there' somewhere. And since, in his view, it is indifferent to human fate, his stand is an alone stand, even more so since he guards himself against too much human commerce, which he considers incestuous. As such his is an heroic stance. In Lawrence's poetry there can be no question but that his is a participatory take on all living things, between human, animal, and plant as much as between man and woman. The godhead is experienced immanently, inside the here and now.

"And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate;
A pettiness."

Some may still remember a poem of mine that won a nod from the Tor House Foundation in the spring of '08. It was not Jeffers who incited that poem. It was Lawrence's Snake poem read a good ten years before my bear poem got penned and that has sat in the back of my head ever since. Kind of ironic, this. Or perhaps it is simply the case of how a poem can have two fathers.

So there it is. For me, while heroic and elemental in the essential and authentic way, Jeffers' stance is not enough. Lawrence's lead, in the truest sense of the word, is the fruitful one. (And, Chrisfriend, this brings me to your early on question concerning what you call the burb existence. Maybe with Lawrence's Beasty poems in hand look around you.) For lack of a better term I'll paraphrase something the poet Ransom said. For Lawrence piety was a natural piety, immanently involved with or in the here and now, not much concerned with some 'other', transcendent, after-life question. And when you think about it, viewed immanently, what difference can it make if, as Jeffers thought, the universe is indifferent to the course humanity? Not a bit in my view.

One last thought and I'll stop dirtying the air waves. Lawrence's beasty poetry puts me in mind of ancient Egyptian religion with all its animal headed gods and goddesses. It is possible there has never been as intensely a religious people as were the ancient Egyptians. Perhaps it was because the Nile valley and delta are severely hemmed in by desert on all sides and they chose to look inward. For them what was divine, and what gave meaning to life, was all around them. In plant and animal and sky and earth. In scarab, ibis, vulture, cat, crocodile. In mountains and in the arch of the night sky. And the central passion play in their religion was inspired yearly by the flooding of the Nile, what phenomenon got symbolically told every year in the death by Set and resurrection by Isis of the god Osiris. I don't know. Maybe Lawrence was channeling the same urge.

Thanks, my friends, for putting up with me and letting me figure out what I think. Thanks Jeffers. Thanks Lawrence.

Tere
Aug/16/2009, 2:47 pm Link to this post Send Email to Terreson   Send PM to Terreson
 
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Re: Incest and Robinson Jeffers


 a lot to think about here. I've got to re-visit the Lawrence poem first. But before that, gotta cook dinner. I'll be back.

Chris
Aug/16/2009, 7:58 pm Link to this post Send Email to ChrisD1   Send PM to ChrisD1
 
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Tere,

Thanks for reminding of "Snake" and directing me to those terrific Tortoise poems.
I remember your Tor House winner was about a profound sense of sympathy and estrangement/separation on the part of the narrator re: a bear? A lot like the pov in "Snake," come to think of it.

Chris

Last edited by ChrisD1, Aug/18/2009, 11:25 am
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From "Robinson Jeffers, nature's oracle"

Here's a cosmic truism: The end of the Earth is just another item on the universe's to-do list. The poet Robinson Jeffers understood this reality. That such a perspective need not be bleak is something he spent decades telling readers. Until his death on Jan. 20, 1962 — 50 years ago — Jeffers celebrated the "transhuman magnificence" of nature, the beautiful things both vast and near that can provide even a 21st century reader with solace, even if we are often a muddled, ugly species and even if all things, as they do, fade away.

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Jan/21/2012, 9:49 am Link to this post Send Email to Katlin   Send PM to Katlin
 
Terreson Profile
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Thank you, Kat, for resurrecting the thread. You bring it back up at an excellent time.

Tere
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This is a riveting conversation that I have, serendipitously, just stumbled upon via a FB friend. The Jeffers/Lawrence comparison is fascinating. Thank you.
Jan/22/2012, 1:50 am Link to this post Send Email to Harry O   Send PM to Harry O Blog
 
Terreson Profile
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How cool is this? Sometimes I come across these threads, think maybe there is something to them, then post on FB. In the present case another board member, Katlin, brought the old thread back up. Funny thing about an old, all but forgotten thread coming back. It forces the question: do you still maintain your position? In the present case I easily can. What a fun dissertation it could make for, huh. Chewy too.

Welcome to the board, Harry O. Hope to see you again. Great screen name.

Tere
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This is an excellent thread to get back into some sort of poetic posture with again. Particularly liked the comment about Lawrence not needing an afterlife for his take on things. There is so much here, about Jeffers and Lawrence. I'm glad you're not delaying putting your thoughts and impressions down, fearing that they might not be read immediately -- today. Zak
Feb/12/2012, 5:58 pm Link to this post Send Email to Zakzzz5   Send PM to Zakzzz5
 
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Terreson:
Thank you for pointing me to this. I am grateful for this thread and to have read it and to have read the poem by Lawrence. I'd not read it before. It made me cry at the end-- the hurtfulness and the regret.

The thinking and richness in your sharing here, Terreson, is rather thrilling to read. I have learned a lot. I am one drawn to the view that the universe notices....
vkp
PS For what it's worth, Edna St. Vincent Millay, I believe if I remember correctly, had two pictures up on the walls of her private library. Shelley is one and the other is Jeffers.
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