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Voices of the Headland

Robinson Jeffers and the Bird of Prey

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Alan J. Malnar

Voices of the Headland: Robinson Jeffers and the Bird of Prey explores the image of the raptor in the poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Emanating from the continent’s end of the American West, Jeffers’ poetic eagles, hawks, falcons, vultures, and other birds of prey symbolize the compelling presence and voice of nature, a pantheistic universe of beauty and splendor, death and destruction. It is the perilous bird of prey which calls forth the very essence and life-force of Jeffers himself, winging its way through his expansive body of narrative and lyrical verse, a poetry fundamentally anti-social in its vision and primitive in its basic, instinctual surge. Voices of the Headland examines this distinctive imagery from many critical viewpoints.

 

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Chapter 1. Critical Viewpoints

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CRITICAL VIEWPOINTS

Scholars have long acknowledged the importance of Jeffers’ bird of prey symbolism, however, much of their analyses remains peripherally situated to other critical foci. Nevertheless, academics continue to probe this unique imagery and build upon its thematic significance in Jeffers’ expansive body of work.

Lawrence Clark Powell first recognized the many birds of prey that “wing their way along the edges” of Jeffers’ finely crafted lines: “fish-hawks, duck-hawks, sparrow-hawks, red-hawks, goshawks and Cooper’s hawks,” he wrote, in the first major study of the poet’s work. Powell most certainly honored Jeffers’ scientific acumen and artistic prowess when he stated that “With swift and able strokes Jeffers pictures these birds.”1 Eighteen years later Mercedes Cunningham Monjian set the course for further analysis of this dynamic symbolism. She noted that Jeffers “allied himself ” to these animals; that his hawks are “inevitably used to heighten characteristics which humanity has neglected to develop.”2 Monjian, at length, elevated Jeffers’ birds of prey to the status of primacy in his unique and engaging aesthetic: “the hawk represents the best to Jeffers,” she said, “strength of purpose, urgency without restriction, and the natural nobility of an untamed creature—a purity synonymous with his nature-god.”3 ← 1 | 2 →

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