Art

"We know that all governments/ Are thugs and liars"

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At the American Conservative, Justin Raimondo presents an impassioned encomium to antiwar poet Robinson Jeffers, whose publisher Random House once felt "compelled to go on record with its disagreement over some of the political views pronounced by the poet in this volume"--mostly because of "frequent damning references" to FDR.

Raimondo sums up the reaction to the 1946 volume of verse in question, Jeffers's The Double Axe:

The chorus of jeers that rose up from the critics was deafening: "A necrophilic nightmare!" declared Time magazine. "His violent, hateful book is a gospel of isolationism carried beyond geography, faith or hope," scolded the Library Journal. The Milwaukee Journal concurred: "In this truculent book, Robinson Jeffers … makes it clear that he feels the human race should be abolished." His critical reputation shattered on the rocks of the postwar One-World consensus, the poet never regained his former stature. As William Everson wrote in the foreword to the 1977 edition: "Hustled out of decent society with antiseptics and rubber gloves, The Double Axe was universally consigned to oblivion, effectively ending Jeffers' role as a creditable poetic voice during his lifetime."

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The poet Stanley Kunitz warned Jeffers that if he didn't get with the program, and "accept moral obligations and human values," he would "range himself on the side of the destroyers." The Marxist critics of the New Masses and the fellow-traveling press, who had initially embraced Jeffers's poetry because they mistook it for an indictment of "decadent" capitalism, noted his lack of "social consciousness"—and, of course, disdained his antiwar stance, which no longer suited the party line.

Jeffers' values were far more human and humane than his critics, who judged "humanity" solely on enthusiastic support for world wars, granted, and his work was grand and wide in subject and language far beyond the antiwar and nature-worshipping for which he is most remembered.

For just one example of Jeffers' exquisite craft, "Love the Wild Swan" is the perfect poem for any writer who wonders whether he'll ever get it right, and if it matters. Jeffers took seriously the task of works of art and imagination, which, as he wrote in his "Roan Stallion," "without being are yet more real than what they/are born of, and without shape, shape that which/makes them."