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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 6. The Hawk’s Dream


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One would obviously not be hard-pressed to observe parallel structures which exist between Jeffers’ bird of prey symbolism and the artifacts and iconographies of many cultures, particularly in view of more general and fundamental relationships. In Greek mythology, for example, the falcon is associated with that speedy warrior, Apollo.1 Hieatt points out that “Homer compares the speed of the ship bringing Odysseus finally home to Ithaca to a flying falcon.”2 Equally, one can find swift flying falcons in Jeffers’ poetry: “Falcons for swiftness,” he writes in “Woodrow Wilson” (CP 1: 107). Recall, too, the passage of the swift falcon that stirs the headland grass in “Granite and Cypress.” In fact, all birds of prey in Jeffers’ poetry, particularly his eagles and hawks, have their respective associations with symbols found in other cultures. For example, his poem “Shiva” contemplates the destructive and regenerative cycles of the universe. This work presents the controlling image of a hawk which is based upon Siva, the God of destruction and renewal in the Hindu sacred triad.3 “Nothing will escape her at last, flying nor running,” he writes (CP 2: 605).

Aztecs conceived the hawk as an emissary of the Divinity; to the ancient Hebrews, hawks exemplified the power to sustain and guide human destiny. Similarly, Jeffers’ hawk is a symbolic deity which guides the Inhumanist through the cosmological order. Rudolph Gilbert writes that “Homer called ← 73 | 74 → hawks ‘the swift...

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