John Robinson Jeffers (January 10, 1887 – January 20, 1962) was an American poet, known for his work about the central California coast. Most of Jeffers’ poetry was written in narrative and epic form, but today he is also known for his short verse, and considered an icon of the environmental movement. His family was supportive of his interest in poetry. He traveled through Europe during his youth and attended school in Switzerland. He was a child prodigy, interested in classics and Greek and Latin language and literature. At sixteen he entered Occidental College. At school, he was an avid outdoorsman, and active in the school’s literary society.
John Robinson Jeffers and Una Call Kuster were married in 1913, and moved to Carmel, California, where Jeffers constructed Tor House and Hawk Tower. The couple had a daughter who died a day after birth in 1914, and then twin sons (Donnan and Garth) in 1916. Una died of cancer in 1950. Jeffers died in 1962; an obituary can be found in the New York Times, January 22, 1962.
Jeffers termed his philosophy “inhumanism,” which he explained was “a shifting of emphasis from man to not man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence…. It offers a reasonable detachment as a rule of conduct, instead of love, hate, and envy.” Humanity had been spurned by an uncaring God, Jeffers believed, so each individual should rid himself of emotion and embrace an indifferent, nonhuman god. To develop his philosophy of inhumanism, Jeffers drew on his extensive reading in philosophy, religion, mythology, and science. Critics have connected Jeffers’s ideas to those of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Lucretius, and cyclical historians such as Giambattista Vico, Oswald Spengler, and Flinders Petrie.
Jeffers reached the pinnacle of his fame early. In 1932 he was on the cover of Time, and in 1946 his version of the Greek drama Medea played on Broadway. [ As Euripides had, Jeffers began to focus more on his own characters’ psychologies and on social realities than on the mythic. The human dilemmas of Phaedra, Hippolytus, and Medea fascinated him. ] But popular opinion began to turn against Jeffers when a full formulation of his doctrine seemed to calmly foresee the extinction of the human race. Some of his political views, including references in his work to Pearl Harbor, Hitler, Stalin, and Roosevelt, were also uneasily received in the period after World War II. His collection, The Double Axe (1948), included a publisher’s warning on the potentially “unpatriotic” poems inside.
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