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Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) was an American poet, known for his work about the central California coast. Much of Jeffers' poetry was written in narrative and epic form. However, he is also known for his shorter verse and is considered an icon of the Environmental movement, which his poetry often celebrated and advocated.

Literary Background

Jeffers was educated in classical languages and literature, and his work is deeply imbued with classical themes and forms, often reflecting the epic tradition. He studied at various universities, including Occidental College, the University of Southern California, and the University of Washington. A proficient reader of Greek and Latin, Jeffers translated several classical works into English. His rich literary background laid the foundation for his distinctive poetic voice that combined classical motifs with rugged modernist sensibilities.

Early Influences

His early influences were the Greek tragedians and poets such as Aeschylus and Euripides, as well as English Romantic poets like Shelley and Keats. The stoic and panoramic landscapes of the Greek classics and the turbulent emotional landscapes of the Romantics converge in Jeffers' poetry, giving it its unique character.

Poetic Schools or Movements

Jeffers is often associated with the American movement of Modernism because of his experimentation with form and his interest in the topics of individualism and nature. However, he stood apart from his contemporaries in his philosophy and style. He developed a philosophy he called 'inhumanism,' which posited humanity as just one part of a vastly more expansive universe. This put him at odds with much of the anthropocentric literature of his time.

Poetic Oeuvre

Jeffers' oeuvre is notable for its exploration of the natural world, often juxtaposing the beauty and cruelty of nature with the tumult of human passions and concerns. He saw humanity as often hubristically out of balance with nature, a theme that he pursued throughout his work.

Themes of Jeffers' poetry include:

*Nature and Inhumanism: His work is permeated by a profound, almost religious respect for the natural world and a belief in the ultimate insignificance of human affairs in the face of the universe's vastness.

*Tragedy and Transience: Drawing from Greek tragedy, Jeffers' poetry often revolves around the transient nature of human life and the inevitability of decline and fall.

*Civilization's Corruption: He critiqued the modern world, industrialization, and human self-centeredness, contrasting them with the purity and eternal beauty of the natural world.

*Mysticism and Pantheism: There's a mystic element in his poetry, a pantheistic celebration of the cosmos as a divine entity.

Jeffers' poetic style is characterized by its stately and unadorned narrative. He preferred using shorter lines, sometimes monosyllabic, which added to the gravity and blunt force of his verse. He often employed a narrative form, creating long, epic poems and verse novels, which allowed him to develop complex characters and explore philosophical themes in depth.


Jeffers' influence is particularly strong in the realm of environmental literature and thought. His work anticipates many of the ideas that would become central to the environmental movement, such as deep ecology and the critique of anthropocentrism. His poetry has inspired environmental activists and writers, and his home, Tor House in Carmel, California, has become a pilgrimage site for those who admire his dedication to the natural world.


While he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature during his lifetime, Jeffers' star has waxed and waned in the critical sky. His work was enormously popular in the 1920s and 30s, but fell out of favor as literary tastes shifted. However, he has been rediscovered in recent decades, particularly with the rise of environmental consciousness, and his work has received renewed appreciation.


Robinson Jeffers remains a towering figure in American poetry, particularly when one considers the intersections between literature and the natural environment. His "inhumanism" presaged many of the concerns of contemporary environmentalists, and his poetic style—a clear, unornamented narrative combined with an almost classical dignity—gave his themes a monumental gravity that is both austere and deeply moving. As ecological concerns become ever more pressing, Jeffers' vision of humanity's place in the cosmos is more relevant than ever, and his work continues to challenge and inspire readers to consider their relationship with the world around them.

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