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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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Foreword by Peter Quigley


← x | xi →


In the early 1980s, American ecocriticism with its back-to-nature thematic attempted to extricate its themes from a European-based discourse of ambiguity and deconstruction. We studied and read Thoreau, Jeffers, Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder and talked about individual independence, and yes, beauty. Now those themes and authors are accused of being elitist, imperialistic, patrician, patriarchal, reified, sexist, xenophobic—the list goes on—and, ultimately, according to Ursula Heise, a “visionary dead end.” As Ira Brooker has recently reported, there has been “a school of thought that casts Thoreau and most of his era’s prominent nature writers as naive tools in a massive cover-up of the destructive force of 19th-century America.” Place, beauty, and the individual, once thought to be the basis for a Theoreauvian position of resistance and independence are, oddly now, thought to be part of a power structure to be brought down and deconstructed. Dana Philips, in The Truth of Ecology, has characterized this as a self-defeating and unproductive strategy. He summarizes these concerns by stating that constructivists, or radical relativists, “deploy this theory in so heavy-handed a fashion that they seem to be less interested in mounting a plausible critique…than in pursuing a Mutually Assured Destruction.” How and why did this happen? And how can Jeffers’ hawk save us? ← xi | xii →

Jeffers’ hawk was his touch-stone for truth; it kept him looking at the world clearly. Candidates come and go; history swings this way and that, but...

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