On January 10th, 1887, John Robinson Jeffers, most well known as simply Robinson Jeffers, was born outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His parents were somewhat of an odd fit. His father, Dr. William Hamilton Jeffers, was an extremely intelligent yet reserved, reclusive person who married a happy upbeat woman who was 23 years younger than himself (Coffin). Despite their age and personality differences, Dr. Jeffers and Annie Robinson Tuttle had a secure marriage. Dr. Jefferss widespread education resulted in a vast knowledge of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and the Old Testament. Dr. Jeffers was eager to pass on his knowledge to Robinson.
So, when Robinson was only five years old, Dr. Jeffers began to teach him Greek (Academy of American Poets). Also starting at a young age, Robinson traveled throughout Europe. From age eleven to fifteen, Robinson attended several different European boarding schools: in Zurich, Leipzig, Geneva, Vevey, and Lausanne (Coffin). Though Dr. Jeffers was responsible for Robinsons frequent transfers, his reasoning is unknown. At each school, Jeffers was seen by his peers as reclusive and pensivemuch like his father. In 1903, when Jeffers was 16, he relocated yet another time with his family to Pasadena, California where he enrolled at OccidentalOrder now
College as a junior. Here, Jeffers succeeded immediately and immensely in courses such as biblical literature, Greek, and astronomy. Jeffers natural ambition to learn and his knowledge of numerous languages impressed everyone around him. As a result, Jeffers made life-long friends and took up hikinga hobby that he would enjoy for the rest of his life (Brophy 2). Right after graduating from Occidental College with a BA in literature at age 18, Jeffers enrolled at the University of South California as a literature major (Brophy 2).
During his first year at USC, Jeffers met his future wife, Una Call Kuster, who was married o a Los Angeles attorney. In 1906, Jeffers went with his family to live in Europe. At this time, he attended the University of Zurich where he took courses in philosophy, history, Old English, and Spanish poetry. When fall came, Jeffers returned to the University of Southern California as a medical student (Academy of American Poets). Jeffers remained a medical student for three years, a long time considering Jeffers was enrolled in 9 different schools or programs in 13 years.
In 1910, Jeffers decided to leave USC and transferred to the University of Washington to study forestry. Though Jeffers only earned a BA in his many years at different universities, he benefited from his diverse education in many aspect of his life. Obviously, his literary and linguistic knowledge improved his poetry. The influence of his medical training persists in the physiological imagery and descriptions that permeate his poetry; while his studies of forestry served him daily . . . as he tended the hundreds of trees that he planted around his house (Butterfield 414).
Despite Jeffers frequent changes in location, school, and study, his love for Una Call Kuster did not falter. After meeting Una in 1905, eight years of confusion, emotional torm and struggle, and parental disapproval followed for them until 1913, when Una was divorced, quite unacrimoniously (Butterfield 414). On August 2nd, 1913, Robinson and Una were married. Like Jeffers, Una was diversely educated and intelligent. She earned a masters degree in philosophy and was an expert lecturer on Irish music, architecture, and art, and was an avid reader and a book reviewer for a small California magazine (Brophy Internet).
While living in La Jolla for a few months after getting married, Una and Jeffers planned on moving to Lyme Regis, England where Jeffers would pursue a career in riting. But in 1914 they decided against going abroad due to the commencement of World War I and Unas pregnancy. The beginning of the war caused him great angst because he was torn between an idealism that drove him toward enlistment despite domestic ties and the beginning of a philosophical pacifism (Brophy 3). Also very painful for Jeffers was the death of his first daughter, Maeve, one day after she was born (Zaller xiii).
In September of 1914, Una and Jeffers moved to Carmel, California whose rocky, fog-bound coast may have seemed the closest available approximation of England to Jeffers (Zaller 3). Unfortunately their new-found happiness was not to last. On December 20th of 1914, Jefferss father died. Dr. Jefferss death was deeply disquieting to Jeffers who expressed his mourning through poems such as To His Father and The Year of Mourning (Butterfield 415). Right around the time Jeffers published his second book, Californians, Una gave birth to twin boys, Donnan and Garth.
When the boys were 3 years old, the Jeffers family bought a piece of land that had a magnificent view of Carmel Bay and Point Lobos. Robinson Jeffers immediately began building a stone cottage by hand using only stones from his land. When the house was finished, Jeffers began constructing what would become a four-tiered, forty-foot tower, five years abuilding, from which he could overlook the Pacific, the coastal landscape south toward the Big Sur, and the night sky filled with brilliant stars (Brophy 4). This tower was very important to his family and influential and evident in his poetry.
Though his building projects took several years, Jeffers was constantly writing in the meantime. Jefferss daily schedule, since the early 1920s expansion of Tor House, was unswerving: writing in the mornings, usually in the upper floor of his cottage, and tone work or tree-planting in the afternoons (Brophy 6). After the days work was done, there were awesome sunsets, walks under the constellations, reading by kerosene lamps (electricity came only in 1949), occasional trips to the tower parapet to attune his micro-cosm to the universe of stars and galaxies (Brophy 6).
From 1924 to 1938, Jeffers published ten books. Consequently, Jefferss literary reputation skyrocketed in the 1920s crested in the 30s he was voted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters and was awarded with honorary in Humane Letters from Occidental College (Brophy 4, Zaller xiv). In 1941, Jeffers went on a reading and speaking tour paid for by the Library of Congress; he somehow also found time to complete and release Be Angry at the Sun. Three years later, Jeffers was voted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
This honor was followed by his much-liked remake of Medea which was featured on Broadway in 1947 by the National Theatre (Zaller xiv). Life took a turn for the worse in 1948. On a trip to Ireland with Una, Jeffers nearly died of pleurisy (Brophy 7). That same year, he published The Double Axe which produced a dramatic downturn in his critical reputation (Brophy 5). For several years before it arrived, Jeffers had been predicting and fearing a second World War.
His poems in The Double Axe were so harsh and capable of patriotically motivated treason that Random House publishers put a disclaimer on the book in an effort to disassociate themselves from Jeffers views (Butterfield 416). Many of Jefferss poems openly criticized the authority and decisions of world leadersStalin, Roosevelt, and Hitler and the negative events that came as consequences of their choices (Coffin). In addition to a downfall in reputation, Jeffers was disturbed by Unas serious illness in early 1949. Her health continued to disintegrate until she passed away on September 1st of 1950.
Above and beyond being a faithful spouse, Una was a forceful, possessive, protective woman and consequently, she had been an immeasurable source of strength to Jeffers (Butterfield 416). After Unas death, Jeffers kept to himself writing a few brief yet profound poems which he organized into a book called Hungerfield and Other Poems which was published in 1954. In the eleven years that Jeffers lived after Unas death, he received the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize, the Borestone Mountain Award, the Award of the Academy of American Poets, and the Shelly Memorial Award.
Jeffers took one last trip to Ireland to visit the countryside that Una had loved so much (Zaller xv). After this final excursion, Jeffers stayed at the Tor House and slowly wasted away. Despite his immense sadness, Jeffers did not break the pact he had made early in his career, not to take his own life but to drink it all, even to the dregs (Brophy 7). On January 20th in 1962, Jeffers died at the Tor House. Jeffers was a major poet, uncomfortable, disturbing, savage at times, yet inspiriting and enhancing (Butterfield 439).