Rediscovered Stories: Poet Robinson Jeffers’s Sanctuary: Tor House

by Jeannette Ronson

Most poets and writers dream of a reclusive retreat on a beach where the only sounds are the lapping of waves and the screech of seagulls. American poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) not only dreamt it but also built it. Assisting in the construction of his granite home known as Tor House facing the Carmel-Big Sur beach, his philosophy for living in awe of nature pervaded his physical living space as well as his poetry.

Influenced by the groundbreaking theories of Freud and Jung in the early twentieth century as well as the raw natural energy of the California coast, Jeffers usually drew on natural settings and showed humans as inferior beings to nature. Foreshadowing the hippy and green movements of the later twentieth century, Jeffers’s lines such as “Today in the midst of traffic I heard a quail calling,” from “Mountain Quail,” published in 1939, reflect the magnificence of nature and the ego-centeredness of man. Jeffers coined the term “inhumanism” to refer to these latter concepts.

Popular in the 1930s and even making the cover of Time magazine in 1932, Jeffers’s unflattering poetry about Pearl Harbor, Hitler, Stalin, and FDR was seen as unpatriotic during and after WWII. Thus, his work was shunned. Interestingly, in the eco-friendly twenty-first century, Jeffers’s work is seeing a revival to the point that several scholarly essays praising Jeffers’s poetry have appeared recently and a book entitled Robinson Jeffers: Poet and Prophet was published in 2015.

Today aspiring poets and Jeffers admirers may take a tour of Tor House. Proclaimed as  number 10 out of 101 sights to see in Carmel by Trip Advisor, Tor House is now on my “must see” list. Somehow visiting a self-made home of a writer physically connected to nature, who warned of our self-absorbed practices, and whose voice was once silenced, appeals to my own philosophy and state of mind. I am not alone. Thomas Piekarski’s poem “Tor Day” suggests that many others share my sentiments as he and others travel to Tor House for a taste of the sanctuary.

 

References

1. Murphy, Bruce F. “The Courage Of Robinson Jeffers.” Poetry182.5 (2003): 279-286. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Jan. 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20606258?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.

2. “Robinson Jeffers.” Poetry Foundation. 2015. Web. 29 Jan. 2016. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/robinson-jeffers.

 

 



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