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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 10. The Hawk Poet of the Tower

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· 10 ·

THE HAWK POET OF THE TOWER

When Jeffers died in 1962, Mark Van Doren eulogized him as a “man of improbable, grim, abstracted beauty, indeed a hawk, a figure of granite, rather than a man at all.”1 These few, most thoughtful words—likening Jeffers to the Santa Lucia stones, to the predators of the headland skies—marked the ultimate tribute one could give to the California poet upon his death. Van Doren not only celebrated the powerful legacy that Jeffers left behind in the wake of his passing, but he also expressed the feelings of many dedicated followers who rejoiced in the raw vitality of Jeffers’ life and work—a spirit and essence often associated with a hawk. Even today those birds of prey which have swooped and soared for decades across the lines of Jeffers’ poems symbolically represent some unique, albeit enigmatic presence in Jeffers’ person.

Indeed, some unfathomable life-force seethed in Jeffers. The carved and stoic features of his countenance, grave manner, relaxed speech, tall frame, and the deep, gray-blue of his eyes created a presence which seemed to many to be larger than life. Melba Berry Bennett once “watched this hawk-like man soar over his continent’s end, striking at civilization with his cusped pen.”2 Lawrence Clark Powell wrote: “I have never before seen a face like his … If I called it an animal face I might be misunderstood, but that is what it is...

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