“All things are full of gods,” said Thales twenty-five hundred years ago. Whatever he may have meant by that, I thought of his claim recently when I encountered the name of a Roman deity previously unknown to me, or long forgotten: Cardea, goddess of hinges. Yes, hinges. Cardea was a beautiful nymph of the wilderness when Janus spotted her and, as usually happens in such tales, fell immediately in love. In gratitude for surrendering to his will, Janus gave Cardea power over doorways—more specifically, over the dowel-like pivot hinges at the top and bottom of a door that allowed it to swing open and closed. This was a gift and a power only he could bestow, because Janus—the gatekeeper-god with two faces, one looking forward and the other back—presided over the beginning and end of things, over entries and exits, thresholds, and transitions. The first moment in every day belonged to him, as did the first day of every month, and the first month of every year: January. In accepting Janus’ gift, which marked a major change in life for her, Cardea became the defender of boundaries, the guardian of civil and domestic spaces, and the special protector of children within the home. Words like “cardiology” and “cardinal” derive from her, for she was at the heart of things, central to them, fundamental. Wherever something turned on something else—not just doors, but anything axial, such as the earth on its poles, or the heavens around the north star—she was there. Pivotal moments in a person’s or a nation’s life were a concern of hers as well.
Perhaps Cardea is with us still, or if not her specifically, then the numinous power she represents—for if ever there was a pivotal moment in American history, the one we are in right now, this very month of January, would qualify. Will Covid-19 be conquered? Will the Black Lives Matter movement make a difference? Can the environment be saved? Are women free and equal, along with all people generally, no matter who they are and how they choose to live? Is America a democratic country? Will the economy survive? With 2020 behind us, the year in which all these issues came to the fore, and 2021 just now underway, we’ll find out soon enough. One thing is certain: forces beyond anyone’s control have been unleashed—from the magnified fury of natural events (fires, hurricanes, pandemics) to the anger erupting in the halls of Congress and on America’s streets. A revolution of some sort is in the air.
Amidst all this, the Robinson Jeffers Association managed to fulfill its mission. Looking back at the past year, we see a number of new names added to our membership list (please renew your membership, if you haven’t done so already); guided by editors Jim Baird and Whitney Hoth, we published two issues of Jeffers Studies; Tim Hunt and Mick McAllister overhauled our website; and with the help of Jessica Hunt, we presented two well-attended webinars. As we look forward to the year ahead, we hope to maintain our momentum with two more issues of Jeffers Studies (contributions welcome), additions to our website, and a series of thought-provoking webinars. We also hope to host an October conference in Carmel, held in conjunction with the Tor House Foundation, provided it is safe to meet at that time. A talented team of officers is committed to helping us achieve our goals: president-elect Aaron Yoshinobu, executive director Brett Colasacco, and advisory board members Gere diZerega, Tim Hunt, and Robert Zaller.
Our next webinar is set for later this month—Thursday, January 28, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Pacific time. Tim Hunt will moderate a panel discussion of three poems by Jeffers that directly address political issues: “Shine, Perishing Republic,” “Shine, Republic,” and “Shine, Empire.” Participants include Shelley Alden Brooks, Whitney Hoth, and Robert Zaller. Additional information about the program will follow in a separate announcement.
The three poems selected for the webinar were published in 1925, 1935, and 1941 respectively—all major moments in American and world history. Jeffers regarded the entire period in which he lived as a turning point, or breaking point, for civilization. “I believe that we live about the summit of the wave of this age,” he says in the introduction to At the Birth of an Age (published in Solstice, the book that contains “Shine, Republic”), “and hence can see it more objectively, looking down toward the troughs on both sides.” However frightening it might be to live through a period of tumultuous change, the process—whether seen as rising and falling, opening and closing, or beginning and ending—is natural and, for Jeffers, divine. “All things are full of God,” he says in “De Rerum Virtute,” affirming Thales’ basic principle while giving it a pantheistic spin: “Winter and summer, day and night, war and peace are God.” Jeffers said the same thing in different ways throughout his career, but never more eloquently than in the closing lines of “Point Pinos and Point Lobos”: “For the essence and the end / Of his labor is beauty, for goodness and evil are two things and still variant, but the quality of life as of death and of light / As of darkness is one, one beauty, the rhythm of that Wheel, and who can behold it is happy and will praise it to the people.”
Department of English
Department of Comparative Religion and Humanities
California State University, Chico
News from Jeffers Country
RJA welcomes new members BRUCE and DEBBIE GRELLE (Chico, CA), TONY and SONDRA KARMAN (Chicago, IL), ADAM KLINKER (Genoa, NE), TRIFIN ROULE (Silver Spring, MD), and JOSÉ SENTMANAT (Riverside, CA).
ENRIQUE MARTINEZ CELAYA, Provost Professor of Humanities and Arts at the University of Southern California, plans to create a series of Jeffers-inspired paintings at Tor House as soon as travel allows. Celaya has written about Jeffers in Collected Writings and Interviews, 2010–2017 (University of Nebraska Press, 2020) and other works: nebraskapress.unl.edu/search/?keyword=Celaya. See also martinezcelaya.com.
Poet, cowboy, Jeffers scholar, and Old Norse professor JACKSON CRAWFORD has attracted a large following on YouTube. A selection of his videos, a few of which deal with Jeffers, can be accessed through his website (scroll down to “Miscellaneous”): jacksonwcrawford.com.
RJA member ED CROCKER noticed a detail on the cover of the first edition of Thurso’s Landing: a hammer and sickle beneath the gilt illustration of a crouching woman, made to look like the artist’s initials. Although the name of the artist responsible for the cover design is not known for certain, some evidence points to Franz Felix (1892–1967). Thurso’s Landing was published in 1932, when admiration for the Soviet Union was high.
GENEVA GANO published “The Poetry of Ecological Witness: Robinson Jeffers and Camille T. Dungy” in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Vol. 27, Iss. 3 (2020): academic.oup.com/isle/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/isle/isaa088/5918080.
PETR KOPECKY contributed a chapter titled “Czeching American Nature Images in the Work of Robinson Jeffers and John Steinbeck” to Framing the Environmental Humanities, edited by Hannes Bergthaller and Peter Bjerre Mortensen (Brill, 2018): brill.com/view/title/36037.
Jeffers is included in a ten-disc set of audio CDs titled The Poets’ Collection: Englischsprachige Lyrik im Originalton und in deutscher Übersetzung [The Poets’ Collection: English-Language Poetry in the Original Language and in German Translation], edited by Christiane Collorio and Michael Krüger (der Höverlag / Random House, 2018): randomhouse.de/Hoerbuch/The-Poets-Collection/Christiane-Collorio/der-Hoerverlag/e496225.rhd.
MARIA POPOVA included an article on Jeffers in her popular Brainpicking newsletter. See “Robinson Jeffers on Moral Beauty, the Interconnectedness of the Universe, and the Key to Peace of Mind”: brainpickings.org/2019/06/03/robinson-jeffers-sister-mary-james-power.
Recently completed PhD dissertations and MA theses:
FRÉDÉRIC POUPON, Trois poètes du sauvage: Robinson Jeffers, Gary Snyder et Kenneth White, thèse de doctorat, Littératures française, francophonees et comparée, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, 2020.
KATHARINE BUBEL, Edge Effects: Poetry, Place and Spiritual Practices, University of Victoria, 2018. Bubel’s PhD dissertation “focusses on the intersection of the environmental and religious imaginations in the work of five West Coast poets: Robinson Jeffers, Theodore Roethke, Robert Hass, Denise Levertov, and Jan Zwicky.” Bubel also wrote the Jeffers entry for The Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, edited by Stephen Ross (Routledge, 2016).
JOSHUA D. BARTEE, Reality and Nature in Robinson Jeffers, PhD dissertation, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2017. In this study of the words Jeffers uses to communicate his thoughts, Bartee contends that Jeffers’ “poetry is ecological, but it is also cosmological, and with this equation Jeffers created some of the most profoundly wild and spiritual language of the Modernist era.”
MARK A. HUTTON, “Only the Earth Remains: Exploring the Machine in Selected Lyric Poetry of Robinson Jeffers,” MA thesis, East Tennessee State University, 2017.
CHRISTINA M. BERTRAND, “Place, Space, and the Not-Self: A Study in Ecopoetics,” MA thesis, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2017.
Books containing chapters about or extended references to Jeffers:
Robyn Creswell, City of Beginnings: Poetic Modernism in Beirut (Princeton University Press, 2019): press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691182186/city-of-beginnings.
Gouven Le Brech, Échappées océanes: sur les pas de Jean Grenier, Albert Camus, Fernando Pessoa, Llewelyn Powys, Nescio, Kenneth Rexroth, Robinson Jeffers et Jack Kerouac (Éditions du Petit pavé, 2018): petitpave.fr/petit-pave-echappees-oceanes-710.html.
David Mason, “To Humanize the Inhumanist” in Voices, Places: Essays (Paul Dry Books, 2018): pauldrybooks.com/products/voices-places?_pos=5&_sid=c11e54177&_ss=r.
Peter O’Leary, “Robinson Jeffers: The Man from Whom God Hid Everything” in Thick and Dazzling Darkness: Religious Poetry in a Secular Age (Columbia University Press, 2018): columbia.edu/book/thick-and-dazzling-darkness/9780231173308.
Joy A. Palmer-Cooper and David E. Cooper, editors, Key Thinkers on the Environment (Routledge, 2018): routledge.com/Key-Thinkers-on-the-Environment/Cooper-Cooper/p/book/9781138684737.
Peter Betjemann, “The Ecology of Desire: Coastal Poetics, Passion, and Environmental Consciousness” in Coastal Heritage and Cultural Resilience, edited by Lisa L. Price and Nemer E. Narchi (Springer, 2018): springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-319-99025-5.
Claudia Keelan, “A Hinge-History: Robinson Jeffers and Brenda Hillman,” Ecstatic Émigré: An Ethics of Practice (University of Michigan Press, 2018): press.umich.edu/9867982/ecstatic_emigre.
Leslie Williamson, Interior Portraits: At Home with Cultural Pioneers and Creative Mavericks: A California Design Pilgrimage (Rizzoli International, 2018): rizzoliusa.com/book/9780847861569.
Julian Murphet, “Astonied: The Mineral Poetics of Robinson Jeffers, Hugh MacDiarmid, Francis Ponge and Muriel Rukeyser,” Textual Practice, Vol. 34, Iss. 9 (2020): tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0950236X.2020.1808298.
Pradip Mondal, “‘These Grand and Fatal Movements Toward Death’: Apocalyptic Visions in Robinson Jeffers’s Poetry,” Literary Criterion, Vol. 53, Iss. 1-2 (2018): printspublications.com/journal/the-literary-criterion.
Jarosław Zawadzki, “Robinson Jeffers’s Inhumanism vs. Tao’s Unconcern,” Studia Litteraria Universitatis lagellonicae Cracoviensis, Vol. 13, Iss. 4 (2018): ejournals.eu/Studia-Litteraria/2018/Volume-13-Issue-4.