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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 8. Beasts in Peril

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← 106 | 107 →

· 8 ·

BEASTS IN PERIL

Two short poems found in the Roan Stallion and Cawdor volumes—“Science” and “Bixby’s Landing,” respectively—create an ironic yet stunning effect that, with a bit of imagination seem to bear witness to the claim that Jeffers truly was a visionary poet-prophet of his age. Written long before the word “environmentalism” became popular, each of these short lyrics only adds to the mystique of Jeffers’ prophetic status, for when juxtaposed today, almost a century after they were written, “Science,” and “Bixby’s Landing” act, even if only by critical imagination and comparison (and certainly by no direct intention on Jeffers’ part), as a haunting prelude to the plight of the American Peregrine falcon and its near extirpation by DDT.1

Ironically, the release of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring coincided with Jeffers’ death in 1962. Carson’s influential book revealed the horrific reality of our developing industrial world and the death of avian creatures by exposure to pesticides across the country; Jeffers’ poetic voice prefigured this doomsday scenario, particularly if one were to read “Science” alongside “Bixby’s Landing” in light of Carson’s provocative work. Visualize in “Science,” for example, two white-coated figures acting out a scene in a modern day chamber-of-horrors scenario—two Dr. Frankenstein who proudly “bred knives on nature,” toasting glass beakers of bug poison to the agriculture industry ← 107 | 108 → (CP 1: 113). Place this image alongside Jeffers’ two peregrine falcons—those nesting “duckhawks”—the “voice of...

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