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Robinson Jeffers, poet and builder in California – Le Courrier des Amériques

In 2022, it will be sixty years since the poet Robinson Jeffers died. His story is not trivial, it is a story of extraordinary will and a man of conviction.

Robinson Jeffers was born 10. American poet and playwright is known for his work sublimating the beauty of West Coast nature and antagonism to human society. He will be recognized as an icon of the environmental movement.

Article by Isaline Rémy

Training course

The son of Dr. William Hamilton Jeffers, a Presbyterian pastor, professor of theology in Pittsburgh, and Annie Robinson Jeffers Tuttle, he received a rather classical education based on Greek, Latin, and the study of biblical writings. His family traveled a lot, especially around Europe, Robinson graduated from high school boarding schools in Switzerland (Zurich and Geneva) and Germany (Leipzig). And in 1902, the Jeffers family returned to the United States. Robinson enrolled at Presbyterian Occidental College in Los Angeles, California, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1905, allowing him to immediately enroll at the University of Southern California and pursue literary studies. He meets Una Call Kuster, who will become his muse and whom he will marry in 1913. From this union her twins Donnan and Garth are born. Una is a great pianist, she is also a marriage of art. The couple therefore settled in Carmel-by-the-Sea in Monterey Bay. Meanwhile, Robinson went to Switzerland to study philosophy, history, but also French, Spanish and Italian literature. In 1907, he began studying medicine, which he did not pursue, in order to make room for university studies by taking forestry courses at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.

Remarkable “Tor House” architecture:

Tor House.
Tor House. Photographic credit: Isaline Rémy

In 1919, Robinson Jeffers built a cottage overlooking the Pacific, but as strange as it is, how spectacular, the neighboring tower gives it an extraordinary horizon. Most notable is that he first built his cottage with his own hands, then this building. In the morning he writes while his wife does the scales, and in the afternoon he becomes a simple bricklayer who grumbles on huge stones and does not hesitate to go and find them far enough. It is his pessimism towards humanity that gradually leads him to withdraw from society and find himself in harmony with nature. His inspiration grows, his poetry draws on the wild beauty of the California coast, enriches the knowledge of ancient literature, Greek tragedies and Nietzschean philosophy …

Considerable and diverse work:

His first two volumes of poetry, Flagons and Aplles (1912) and Californians (1916), will go unnoticed. But under the influence of the California website and his wife Una, with overflowing energy, his career will start on Broadway, where he will be offered arrangements and orders as well as lyrics. Poetry and theater go hand in hand in Manhattan today.

Very involved in his writings, without networks and complacency, he will often be controversial, his activist poetry referring him to a specific socio-political context in the 1920s and 1930s. Present as long as there will be followers.

Jeffers rarely leave the California coast, except for short trips to Ireland, New Mexico and the east coast, always made at the initiative of Una.

It was at Tor House that he died in 1962 in his cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a few years after Una (1950), leaving more than thirty-five long stories in verse and more than three hundred poems. Not to mention his theatrical and musical abilities.

Now a museum, Tor-House Foundation: 26304 Ocean View Ave. Carmel CA 93923 – phone (831) 624-1813 (ask Melinda for a private visit).

– Isaline Rémy

Poetic and theatrical works:

• Flags and apples. Los Angeles: Grafton, 1912.

• Californians. New York: Macmillan, 1916.

• Tamar and other poems. New York: Peter G. Boyle, 1924.

• Roan Stallion, Tamar and other poems. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1925.

• Women in Point Sur. New York: Liveright, 1927.

• Cawdor and other poems. New York: Liveright, 1928.

• Dear Judas and other poems. New York: Liveright, 1929.

• Thurs’ landing and other poems. New York: Liveright, 1932.

• Give your heart to hawks and other poems. New York: Random House, 1933.

• Solstice and other poems. New York: Random House, 1935.

• The advice you gave me and other poems. New York: Random House, 1937.

• Selected poetry by Robinson Jeffers. New York: Random House, 1938.

• You are angry at the Sun. New York: Random House, 1941.

• Medea. New York: Random House, 1946.

• Double ax and other poems. New York: Random House, 1948.

• Hungerfield and other poems. New York: Random House, 1954.

• The beginning and end and other poems. New York: Random House, 1963.

• Robinson Jeffers: Selected Poems. New York: Vintage, 1965.

• Sur stones. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001.

• Medea, Random House ed., 1946, (premiere on Broadway in 1948). (Theatre)


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