Jeffers: America's Neglected-At-Our-Peril Poet-Prophet
Robinson Jeffers: America's Neglected-At-Our-Peril Poet-Prophet
By Gary Corseri
My "bridge over troubled water" is Literature and the Arts. But, these days, with the exception of a few cherished authors and websites, I am apt to get more sustenance from re-reading the Classics--even 20th Century Classics--than from reading the frothy outpourings of identity-poets and lauded, establishmentarian shills. A much-thumbed Vintage Book is one I've held dear since my 20s, by a poet I've introduced to university students surfeited on too much Frost in high school and too much Yeats and Eliot beyond that.
Now, that trio did write some great works, of course, but not one of them had much to say about American politics. And when they are taught in our public and private institutions, their politics--personal or literary--are studiously avoided. And there's the rub! Because, if we are ever to grasp our fleeting Zeitgeist, we need the whole round picture--politics, the Arts, slang, sexuality, food--the whole cascading shebang!
The American poet who best provides that, for his time and ours, is Robinson Jeffers, who died one year before JFK was killed, but at 75, had lived to see terrible presentiments:
"While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity,
Heavily thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops
And sighs out, and the mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make
fruit, the fruit rots to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances,
ripeness and decadence; and home to the mother."
Thus, the first 2 stanzas of what may be his best-known poem, 1925's "Shine, Perishing Republic." In five quatrains, Jeffers plays Laocoon to the fast-food, quick-to-the-draw Empire the Republic would become--"You making haste haste on decay"--sounding his alarm while fortifying his moral stance: