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rock and hawk

Here is a symbol in which
Many high tragic thoughts
Watch their own eyes.

This gray rock, standing tall
On the headland, where the seawind
Lets no tree grow,

Earthquake-proved, and signatured
By ages of storms: on its peak
A falcon has perched.

I think, here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final

Life with calm death; the falcon’s
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud.

- Robinson Jeffers

The 2009 Dark Mountain Manifesto revived interest in Jeffers' work, which had been somewhat forgotten after enjoying great popularity in the U.S. in the 1930s. His long, epic poems are rather grotesque Greek tragedies, made up of "one part Sophocles, one part Lone Ranger, a dash of William Faulkner, and plenty of bitters," as a 1948 review had it.

But his shorter nature poetry, inspired by the California coast at Carmel where he lived, proved a revelation for 21st century disillusioned environmentalists who embraced its nature mysticism as well as its outsider perspective of sombre aloofness on the scourge of mankind.

Defiantly ecocentric and anti-anthropocentric, Jeffers' poetry developed a philosophy he called Inhumanism, and which he described in 'The Double Axe' (1948) as:

...a shifting of emphasis and significance from man to notman; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence. It seems time that our race began to think as an adult does, rather than like an egocentric baby or insane person. This manner of thought and feeling is neither misanthropic nor pessimist (...) It neutralizes fanaticism and wild hopes; but it provides magnificence for the religious instinct, and satisfies our need to admire greatness and rejoice in beauty.

In 'Carmel Point' he expressed the same attitude:

We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

But what we must do is really an afterthought for Jeffers. Nature itself is the real protagonist here, spoiled by encroaching suburbia but enduring man patiently. From this natural perspective Jeffers asks:

...does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve.

What Jeffers stressed was "neither misanthropic nor pessimist" comes to sound more like a kind of cosmic stoicism, a "mysticism of stone" reminiscent of Ecclesiastes rather than the Book of Revelation. Dark Mountain, however, certainly seems to flirt with a more apocalyptic mood - after all they titled their manifesto 'Uncivilisation'. It earned them criticism of fatalism and despair, which media-rhetorically left them rather cornered, but artistically opened up some interesting uncharted territory.

Some more of Jeffers' short poems: 'The Answer', another declaration of inhumanist principles, avowing the holism and "divine beauty / of the universe" to conclude: "Love that, not man / Apart from that". 'Vulture', where Jeffers turns his inhumanism upon himself, envisioning his own death in Tibetan fashion as "what an enskyment". And 'Rearmament', which gave the Dark Mountain Project its name.

There's also a documentary about him, showing his self-built Tor House and Hawk Tower in what back then was a pristine spot: 'Rhapsody & Requiem: The Life of Robinson Jeffers' (1967).



In ' The Story of My Heart ' (1883) Richard Jefferies coined the term ultra-humanity to describe how ...a great part, perhaps the whole, of nature and of the universe is distinctly anti-human. The term inhuman does not express my meani… Read the full post »

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