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Voices of the Headland

Robinson Jeffers and the Bird of Prey


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 2. Words of Prey


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In “Triad,” Jeffers claims that in order for the poet to compose legitimate verse one’s moral and aesthetic intentions must be scrutinized and the selection of authentic subject matter must be considered:

The poet, who wishes not to play games with words, His affair being to awaken dangerous images And call the hawks (CP 2: 309)

Poetry is not enigmatic nor is it clever; it is not self-conscious. Rather, it consists of simple, stark, and thought-provoking imagery such as found in the symbol of the perilous hawk. This animal figure not only appropriates content which Jeffers believes is worthy of serious composition, but it also functions as a valuable tool, enabling image constructions that are “capable of expressing many things at the same time” (CL 2: 710).1 From here, given the multiple modes of analysis which provide points of access into Jeffers’ poetry, perhaps it is not too exaggerated to claim that his hawk symbolism is as vast and expansive in its interpretive breadth and scope as is the immensity of the great wide blue in which these creatures swoop and soar in nature? For in light of the poet’s thoughts and expression in any given context, it is symbolism ← 9 | 10 → which makes possible multiple referents and their correlated ideas through the description and construction of even one select image.

For example, in “The Beaks of Eagles” the deadly keratin...

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