Monday, September 26, 2016

Kati Short writes

Thoughts on Robbinson Jeffers' Poem
“Summer Holiday”

I read a poem today by a real poet
one of those famous ones whose name
everybody knows and says, oh yeah, I’ve
heard of him. The first time I read the
poem I thought of what a cool thing to
write about and what a cool take on the subject
Then I looked at the poem and thought
of my friend who wants commas everywhere.
She would hate that poem. Of course then
a bunch of people would say I don’t know
about poetry and I’m not sure I understand this poem
but if they read the poem again and paid attention
to the words and didn’t try to get all weird about it
I think would really like this poem I read today.

 Robinson Jeffers -- Justin Sloan


  1. Summer Holiday

    When the sun shouts and people abound
    One thinks there were the ages of stone and the age of bronze
    And the iron age; iron the unstable metal;
    Steel made of iron, unstable as his mother; the towered-up cities
    Will be stains of rust on mounds of plaster.
    Roots will not pierce the heaps for a time, kind rains will cure them,
    Then nothing will remain of the iron age
    And all these people but a thigh-bone or so, a poem
    Stuck in the world’s thought, splinters of glass
    In the rubbish dumps, a concrete dam far off in the mountain...

  2. Robinson Jeffers was the son of a church organist who was 23 years younger than her husband, a Presbyterian minister and professor of Old Testament literature and exegesis at the Western Theological Seminary, and the older brother of astronomer Hamilton Jeffers. He attended boarding schools in Geneva, Lausanne, Zurich, Leipzig, and Vevey. By the time he was 12 he was fluent in German and French, and by 15, Greek, Latin, and Italian. At 18 he graduated from Occidental College, the oldest liberal arts college in Los Angeles, founded in the year of his birth by Presbyterian clergy, then studied literature and medicine at the University of Southern California. In 1906 he began a love affair with a married graduate student three years older than he, Una Call Kuster. By 1912, as his first book of poetry was being published, the affair was a public scandal, and the couple lived together in Seattle, Washington, while her prominent attorney husband finalized the divorce. They married in 1913 and stayed together until Una’s death in 1950. In 1914 they found their "inevitable place," the Big Sur coast south of California's Monterey peninsula, and moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea. From 1919, his routine was to work on his poetry in the morning and then, in the afternoon, work on the construction and expansion of Tor House and then Hawk Tower, built by hand on a granite outcrop that seemed to him like the "prow and plunging cutwater” of a ship. Tor House was a two-story stone cottage which Stewart Brand called “a poem-like masterpiece. It may express more direct intelligence per square inch than any other house in America." Stonework from 1924 onward included fragments from around the world, including stones, tiles, and various carvings, and many quotations etched in the stone and woodwork. During the construction of the 40-ft. Hawk Tower between 1920 and 1924, he mastered his poetic voice, self-publishing a limited run of “Tamar and Other Poems” as he was completing the tower. (Meanwhile, Una’s ex-husband Edward "Teddie" Kuster followed them to Carmel and, in 1920, built his own, larger, granite Kuster Castle next to the Jeffers property.)

  3. In 1925, Boni & Liveright issued “Roan Stallion, Tamar and Other Poems,”laying the basis for Jeffers’ fame. His longest and most ambitious narrative, “The Women at Point Sur” (1927) was heavily influenced by the work of the 19th-centry German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and in 1934 he met the Indian philopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, which led to the poem “Credo:”
    My friend from Asia has powers and magic, he plucks a blue leaf from the young blue-gum
    And gazing upon it, gathering and quieting
    The God in his mind, creates an ocean more real than the ocean, the salt, the actual
    Appalling presence, the power of the waters.
    He believes that nothing is real except as we make it. I humbler have found in my blood
    Bred west of Caucasus a harder mysticism.
    Multitude stands in my mind but I think that the ocean in the bone vault is only
    The bone vault’s ocean: out there is the ocean’s;
    The water is the water, the cliff is the rock, come shocks and flashes of reality. The mind
    Passes, the eye closes, the spirit is a passage;
    The beauty of things was born before eyes and sufficient to itself; the heartbreaking beauty
    Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.
    At the peak of his fame, in 1932, Jeffers was featured on the cover of Time Magazine (rare for any poet). However, his popularity declined sharply after he staunchly opposed the US involvement in World War II. Even so, his modernistic adaptation of Euripides' “Medea” became a hit Broadway play in 1947; produced by John Gielgud, who played Jason in the performance, its Australian star, Judith Anderson, won a Tony Award for Best Actress. In 1948, Ramdom House published “The Double Axe” but included a disclaimer about its views that the UK’s wartime prime minister Winston Churchill and uS president Franklin Roosevelt were on the same moral level as the defeated Fascist leaders Adolf Hitler of Germany and Benito Mussolini of Italy. After Una’s death his health began to fail; he published poetry intermittently during the 1950s, but it never regained its former popularity. He died in 1962 at Tor house. His complete works were not published until 2001, when Stanford University Press finally released a five-volume set.

  4. On the day World War II began, the Anglo-American poet W. H. Auden wrote a presicient poem:
    September 1, 1939

    I sit in one of the dives
    On Fifty-second Street
    Uncertain and afraid
    As the clever hopes expire
    Of a low dishonest decade:
    Waves of anger and fear
    Circulate over the bright
    And darkened lands of the earth,
    Obsessing our private lives;
    The unmentionable odour of death
    Offends the September night.

    Accurate scholarship can
    Unearth the whole offence
    From Luther until now
    That has driven a culture mad,
    Find what occurred at Linz,
    What huge imago made
    A psychopathic god:
    I and the public know
    What all schoolchildren learn,
    Those to whom evil is done
    Do evil in return.

    Exiled Thucydides knew
    All that a speech can say
    About Democracy,
    And what dictators do,
    The elderly rubbish they talk
    To an apathetic grave;
    Analysed all in his book,
    The enlightenment driven away,
    The habit-forming pain,
    Mismanagement and grief:
    We must suffer them all again.

    Into this neutral air
    Where blind skyscrapers use
    Their full height to proclaim
    The strength of Collective Man,
    Each language pours its vain
    Competitive excuse:
    But who can live for long
    In an euphoric dream;
    Out of the mirror they stare,
    Imperialism’s face
    And the international wrong.

    Faces along the bar
    Cling to their average day:
    The lights must never go out,
    The music must always play,
    All the conventions conspire
    To make this fort assume
    The furniture of home;
    Lest we should see where we are,
    Lost in a haunted wood,
    Children afraid of the night
    Who have never been happy or good.

    The windiest militant trash
    Important Persons shout
    Is not so crude as our wish:
    What mad Nijinsky wrote
    About Diaghilev
    Is true of the normal heart;
    For the error bred in the bone
    Of each woman and each man
    Craves what it cannot have,
    Not universal love
    But to be loved alone.

    From the conservative dark
    Into the ethical life
    The dense commuters come,
    Repeating their morning vow;
    “I will be true to the wife,
    I’ll concentrate more on my work,"
    And helpless governors wake
    To resume their compulsory game:
    Who can release them now,
    Who can reach the deaf,
    Who can speak for the dumb?

    All I have is a voice
    To undo the folded lie,
    The romantic lie in the brain
    Of the sensual man-in-the-street
    And the lie of Authority
    Whose buildings grope the sky:
    There is no such thing as the State
    And no one exists alone;
    Hunger allows no choice
    To the citizen or the police;
    We must love one another or die.

    Defenceless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies;
    Yet, dotted everywhere,
    Ironic points of light
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.

    The whole tone of the poem is in sharp contrast to Auden’s take on the beginning of the war:

    The Day is a Poem
    (September 19, 1939)

    This morning Hitler spoke in Danzig, we hear his voice.
    A man of genius: that is, of amazing
    Ability, courage, devotion, cored on a sick child's soul,
    Heard clearly through the dog wrath, a sick child
    Wailing in Danzig; invoking destruction and wailing at it.
    Here, the day was extremely hot; about noon
    A south wind like a blast from hell's mouth spilled a slight rain
    On the parched land, and at five a light earthquake
    Danced the house, no harm done. Tonight I have been amusing myself
    Watching the blood-red moon droop slowly
    Into black sea through bursts of dry lightning and distant thunder.
    Well: the day is a poem: but too much
    Like one of Jeffers's, crusted with blood and barbaric omens,
    Painful to excess, inhuman as a hawk's cry.


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