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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 4. The Hawks of Jeffers Country

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THE HAWKS OF JEFFERS COUNTRY

Many clues in the archive reveal Jeffers’ passion for all types of birds, and each has its respective place in the evolving psychological dynamism which inspired his symbolic image of the hawk. Unquestionably, Jeffers’ poetic representation of this animal was shaped by many factors: his familiarity with a multitude of literary texts, travels abroad, education in the sciences, and other experiences to which he had been exposed in his culturally varied life. His many poems reveal the sensibilities of a poet who could have only penned such realistic descriptions of all birds of prey had he engaged in some type of focused observance of them in nature.

In his lecture at the Library of Congress Jeffers indicated a determined effort and enthusiasm to identify all bird of prey species: “[S]o many [hawks and falcons live] in our mountains,” he said, “and of so many kinds,” e.g. “marshawk,” “red-tail,” “Cooper’s hawk,” “sparrow hawk,” and “duckhawk”…“but I won’t continue the list.” By no mere coincidence then, if, in fact, Jeffers had continued “the list,” he would have likely illustrated several other raptor species, both indigenous and migrant to his locale.

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