Occidental College > LibrarySpecial Collections > Online Exhibits > Robinson Jeffers

A 1933 Edward Weston Photo of Jeffers from the Oxy Jeffers Collection

Occidental College has a fine collection of Jeffers letters,  manuscripts, books and  pictures.   

This website is a virtual gallery of Jeffers work and other rare items from the collection.

Jeffers at Occidental College

The Poetry

Jeffers' Fascinating Friends and Family

The Controversial Life of the Poet

Organizations Dedicated to the Man and his Poetry

Other Online Exhibits

The Life of the Poet & the Controversy that Surrounded Him

There are a few online biographies of Robinson Jeffers, including a good one at The Academy of American Poets. But the best way to explore the life of Robinson Jeffers is through the work of scholars and admirers who have dedicated their lives to researching the poet. Dozens of  biographies and critical examinations of the life and work of Jeffers have been published. Notable volumes are:

   Robinson Jeffers: The Man and His Work by Lawrence Clark Powell
   Robinson Jeffers: The Man and the Artist by George Sterling
   The Stone Mason of Tor House by Melba Berry Bennett

These books were all written during Jeffers lifetime and are still valuable resources for understanding Jeffers' life and poetry. The first was written as a doctoral dissertation by Occidental College alumnus L.C. Powell. George Sterling's book launched Jeffers career as a popular poet. This book represented the passing of the unofficial position of California's leading poet from Sterling to the young Jeffers. Melba Berry Bennett, author of the third book, was Jeffers' secretary and friend. She produced two volumes about the poet. In order to better understand the poet and his art, one must also study him from a distance. The aforementioned books are valuable for their intimate descriptions of Jeffers, but the best resources for a critical understanding of Jeffers poetry and lifestyle were published later, with a more developed understanding of the social, political and literary context of his work. Works by James Karmen, Robert Brophy, Tim Hunt and Alex Vardamis are the foundation of the field of Jeffers studies. For a thoroughly enjoyable read and an exciting introduction to Robinson Jeffers, however biased in favor of the poet, the works of William Everson (Brother Antoninous) offer creative, original and engaging insight on Jeffers' life and poetry.

Background: Drawing by friend of Jeffers and former Occidental President Remsen Bird

Images from his life

Bust of the Poet With
 a Goofy Inscription

Jeffers with his granddaughter

Jeffers the Stone Mason

A Controversial Artist

Robinson Jeffers was a steadfast pacifist and was one of the few popular U.S. writers critical of U.S. involvement the first and second world wars. This may have been a major reason for the decline in Jeffers' popularity and critical recognition after the 1930's. Many of his later collections of poems including, The Double Axe and Be Angry at the Sun, express explicit criticism of U.S. government and U.S. military efforts. Jeffers felt that the governments actions stemmed from a naive jingoism and imperialism. But it must be noted that Jeffers did not have a conventional political philosophy. His dedication to peace had an remote and enigmatic philosophical hue; an attitude for world political affairs more common in classical eastern religion than the classical Greco- Roman and Anglo Saxon cultures that most fascinated the poet. A 1938 pamphlet entitled, Writers Take Sides, put out by the American Writers League, asked writers, "Are you for or are you against Franco and fascism?". Jeffers responded, "You ask what I am for and what I am against in Spain. I would give my right hand of course to prevent the agony; I would not give a flick of my little finger to help either side win." Jeffers political philosophy was that of an inveterate naturalist and environmentalist. He denounced human lust for power and victory as short-sighted and self-destructive, while he hoped to glimpse at the larger natural scheme of the world not predicated on human relations- a reality which defied time, history, emotion and memory, but at the same time encompassed all of these aspects of human perception.

In an extremely unconventional move publisher Random House printed this disclaimer in the beginning of Jeffers' book, The Double Axe and Other Poems


This is a handwritten, possibly unpublished satirical piece from the Oxy Jeffers Collection titled "A Proposal for the Civilizing of Warfare", in which Jeffers proposes that the present system of fighting be refined to card games between generals and dignitaries who would wager with human lives.





A Southern California Scandal :
The Marriage of Una and Robin

 The marriage of John Robinson Jeffers and Una Call Kuster began amid a frenzy of sensationalized headlines. When Robinson Jeffers met his future wife they were both graduate students at USC. At the time she was married to a well-known local  lawyer named Edward G. Kuster. Una and Robin's affair ultimately led to the divorce of Una and Edward. The burgeoning local paper at the time, the Los Angeles Times, reported the story with front page exposés. The headlines blared:


"Parents   Wash   Hands   Of   It"

In the march 1, 1913 issue, announcing that the parents of Jeffers had "left the youth...to work out his own destiny". The paper reported that "John Robinson Jeffers, the lyric expounder of melancholy poems of passion...is declared to be the real reason for the Kuster divorce." 


The young poet and Una were featured prominently on the front page with the caption "Two Points of the 'Eternal Triangle'" apparently referring to the love triangle that had formed. Edward Kuster is described as an "attorney, clubman and member of a prominent family," in a subsequent article, which broke the news of the divorce.


The front page of the Los Angeles Times exclaimed on Feb. 28, 1913, reporting that Edward Kuster would be wed to another young woman and that Una would marry Robin  immediately following the divorce.
Ironically, Edward and his second wife, Edith June Emmons, would eventually settle in Carmel, California near Una and Robin. The four would remain close friends for the rest of their lives.

Page last edited by on 03/06/2013.
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