In “The Torch-Bearers’ Race,” Jeffers reflects on the progress of Western civilization as “it gleamed across Euphrates mud, shone on Nile shore” and then “lightened / The little homely Ionian water and the sweet Aegean.” Passed along by poets with “names like the stars’ names, Sappho, Alcaeus, / And Aeschylus,” the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian tradition spread through Europe, crossed the Atlantic, and continued westward until, on the California coast, it reached a geographical—if not a spiritual and intellectual—end. As a late runner in that race, facing the “huge, inhuman, remote, unruled” ocean, Jeffers wondered what could possibly happen next.
I thought of this poem when I received word that Robert Brophy died, for Bob was a torch-bearer in the field of Jeffers studies. He was the primary link between readers and scholars who came of age in the first half of the twentieth century and those who came after. Melba Berry Bennett, the founding editor of the Robinson Jeffers Newsletter, reported on Bob’s dissertation research in the February 1964 issue (no. 4), telling readers that he “has tapped every source of information on both the east and west coasts and has been generous in keeping us informed.” By the time Bob completed his graduate studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill—with a dissertation titled “Structure, Symbol, and Myth in Selected Narratives of Robinson Jeffers” (1966)—he was already teaching at the University of San Francisco. Two years later, he accepted a position at California State University, Long Beach, where he remained for the rest of his career. In 1969, following the death of Melba Bennett, Bob took over as editor of the Newsletter, a position he held for almost thirty years. During that time, as Jeffers’ contemporaries passed away and new generations of scholars appeared, Bob was at the very center of Jeffers’ world, in touch with an international community of readers interested in the poet’s life and work. As a founding member of the Robinson Jeffers Association when it was established in 1990, and as the founding senior editor of Jeffers Studies when it was launched in 1997, Bob continued to inspire others. The course he set is the one we are on today.
Because many current members of RJA never met Bob and may be unfamiliar with his legacy, I asked former presidents and our president-elect to say a few words about him. Their names are listed in the order in which they served. Two former presidents are no longer with us—Alex Vardamis, who died in 2014, and Ron Olowin, who died in 2017. Both shared Bob’s passion for literature and his selfless commitment to a higher cause. Please visit our website to read more about Bob, and to offer your own memorial message.
Tim Hunt: “Those of us who worked with Bob over the years knew him as a gracious and generous mentor. Through his scholarship, through his editorial work, through his work with RJA, and through his teaching, he was the architect of what has become the Jeffers scholarly community, and he was its informing spirit.”
Robert Zaller: “Although several fine studies of Jeffers’ work existed, Bob’s study of myth, ritual, and symbol in his narratives achieved a range and a depth of insight that made it the foundational work of modern Jeffers scholarship, as it is indispensable to any student today. But no less important was his guidance and friendship for so many of us over the years, and perhaps most of all his great graciousness of spirit and his unwavering commitment to the values of justice and compassion he held so dear.”
Fran Vardamis, for Alex Vardamis: “He was, in his way, and in all ways, the soul for the Robinson Jeffers Newsletter and the godfather of Jeffers Studies. Jeffers scholarship owes an enormous debt to him. Lucky he was with us, and with his students, all those 93 years.”
Jim Baird: “I met Bob in 1974 when he came to North Texas to give a talk on Jeffers and thereby began my work as a scholar as well as a reader. He helped me gain access to Tor House for my first visit there in 1977, reviewed and improved my contributions to the newsletter and the journal, surveyed my publications and recommended that I be promoted—and those are just a few of the things he did for me. I know he helped countless others in the same way.”
Peter Quigley: “Without Bob’s generosity of spirit and welcoming warmth combined with his careful and loving treatment of Jeffers’ verse, the last three decades of my life would have been very different and much less rich.”
David Rothman: “It was Bob who encouraged me to revise a chapter from my dissertation on Jeffers’ verse craft for Robinson Jeffers: Dimensions of a Poet, a book he edited for Fordham University Press. Bob was unfailingly kind and patient, yet highly (highly!) attentive to detail, as he shepherded my essay through the publication process. Bob drew me into the warmest, most engaging, supportive community of scholars and writers I had ever known.”
Geneva Gano: “Bob was incredibly dedicated to the Robinson Jeffers Association and I believe it is an understatement to say that his work was transformational and enduring. He was so kind to me, and to so many. This world will miss him.”
Rob Kafka: “Apart from his perspicacity on matters touching Jeffers’ life and work, it is his mentorship and unstinting generosity that I remember most vividly about Bob—along with his quiet vivacity and engagement. I once knew someone who, after meeting Bob, commented to me that he had “dancing eyes.” Yes, he did. That is how I wish to remember him.”
Aaron Yoshinobu: “As an academic geologist presenting for the first time at a meeting of the RJA back in 2004, I had no idea what the response would be to my small contribution to Jeffers scholarship. After I spoke, Bob Brophy approached me with the kindest smile, an assuring handshake, and words of encouragement. I was floored; I simply could not believe that the man who had initiated the deep and rich scholarship of Jeffers was even marginally interested in what I said. Bob went on to send me many emails about Jeffers, my work, and the intersection of poetry, stone masonry and science. His gentle smile and earnestness I shall never forget.”
In Jeffers’ poem we find words for a fitting epitaph:
The torch-bearers’ race: it is run in a dusk; when the emptied racer drops
unseen at the end of his course
A fresh hand snatches the hilt of the light, the torch flies onward
Though the man die. Not a runner knows where the light was lighted, not
a runner knows where it carries fire to,
Hand kisses hand in the dark, the torch passes, the man
Falls, and the torch passes.
Ave atque vale
Hail and farewell
Department of English
Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities
California State University, Chico
News from Jeffers Country
We warmly welcome new RJA members ROBERT ATWAN (Pasadena, CA), JOSHUA BARTEE (Las Vegas, NV), KATHARINE BUBEL (Delta, British Columbia), and ANTONIA DOSIK (Yellow Springs, OH).
Volume 21 of Jeffers Studies will be mailed out within the next few weeks. The issue contains essays by TIM HUNT, JAMES KARMAN, ROBERT ZALLER, and newcomer KATHRYN CHEW, along with an editor’s note by JIM BAIRD and a review of GENEVA GANO’S recently published book, The Little Art Colony and US Modernism: Carmel, Provincetown, Taos, by WHITNEY HOTH. Plans for the September 2022 issue of Jeffers Studies are already underway, so please submit your proposals soon to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Guidelines for submissions can be found on the RJA website.
Our fifth webinar, co-sponsored by RJA and the Tor House Foundation, was titled “New Voices and New Directions in Jeffers Scholarship” and featured presentations by KATHARINE BUBEL, BRETT COLASACCO, and GENEVA GANO. The well-received event was hosted by TIM HUNT and produced by JESSICA HUNT. A video recording will be available on the RJA website soon.
The publication date of The Point Alma Venus Manuscripts, edited by TIM HUNT and ROB KAFKA, has been postponed by Stanford University Press to January 2022.
Like Mabel Dodge Luhan in Lorenzo in Taos, RACHEL CUSK frames her new novel, Second Place, as an address to “Jeffers.” Second Place is on the long list for the 2021 Booker Prize.
It’s Always 9/11, a dystopic political thriller by WENDY AVRA GORDON, begins with an epigraph by Jeffers—a quotation from “The Eye.”
For the protagonist of A Parable of Lies —“an experiment in healing fiction”—by LAWRENCE SPANN, Jeffers is an important source of insight and wisdom.
A student essay by ADAM LUNDQUIST, titled “Dark Mountain’s Uncivilized Writing and Robinson Jeffers,” can be found on the Göteborgs Universitet website: https://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/68305