The Symbolic Interpreter

Nearly thirty years after his death in 1962, Robinson Jeffers occupies a secure niche in the pantheon of American poets. I suspect, indeed, that his place may well be the most secure of all. He has long since weathered the storm of disapproval that centered on his prophetic verse written before, during, and after World War II. Over the past two decades his out-of-print books have been reissued in various editions. And now we have the first two of the four volumes of his collected poetry, beautifully printed and bound; they are, in fact, models of the art of bookmaking.

Certainly no other American poet has approached Jeffers in his ability to endow character with life; his people, tormented and tormenting creatures, haunt the memory like grisly phantoms rising from some atavistic depth of which we were unaware. Passing before the mind's eye, they reveal those gulfs over which we daily pass. In their strengths and weaknesses we see ourselves; they reveal to us, above all else, how slippery is our hold on reason and how tempting are the lures of irrationality in all its forms. Which is to say, Jeffers did what all great writers have done: he provided insight into the human condition.

Insight, above all else. And that insight does not stop with the human condition, but extends outward into the larger and, for Jeffers, more important natural world. No other poet of this century strove more successfully to "catch the...

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